She was unforgettable, graceful and intelligent.
Aunt Daya’s passing left a cipher in my heart. She was eighty two, incredibly active till a year before her death. She was admitted into my brother’s hospital in an unconscious state, a week before she died. She stirred a bit, but slipped back into a tired slumber. By the end of the week, she left her only daughter and all of us for heavenly abode.
Aunt Daya was my dad’s second sister. My memories of her go back to the time when I was five. She was a like a silent soldier attending to the needs of the family. My little heart used to wonder whether she ever relaxed, apart from night’s sleep.
“Daya, get me the paper,” her father would call.
“Daya, could you help me serve the kids’ breakfast?” my mother’s request. I am sure others too had her valuable service for different reasons.
I remember her as nineteen-year old tall and fair girl with long black stresses, draped in a beautiful cotton sari, moving with quiet grace in and around the house. Now, when I think of her, I am reminded of the beautiful girls of Jane Austen’s novels. Just like those Victorian women, despite intelligence and competence, she stayed at home, excelling in areas like house-keeping, cooking, reading and book-keeping skills.
During those days, girls above fifteen were not allowed to go to school. She would have made a mark in the outside world if she had the education she deserved.
However, there was no stopping her desire to study. She persuaded my mother to join her, to study for matriculation privately. That means they should obtain permission from the university to study at home and attend the public exam at the end of the academic year. Both joined the course with my dad’s encouragement.
Their master used to come in the afternoons and both were tutored in various subjects, including English, Science, Social studies, Math and an elective. Both opted for home science as they had practical experience in it.
Writing exams at the university was like a festive occasion for many students. Splendidly attired in silk saris I remember my aunt and mom going to the examination hall. They truly enjoyed writing exams.
Within a month after the completion of exams, results were published in the daily newspaper. Both passed, with aunt Daya scoring stellar marks in all her subjects.
I visually recall the evening walks that aunt Daya, her sisters and my mother used to take through the fields around our house. They used to chitchat cheerfully. I tagged along.
Ours was a joint family consisting of paternal grandparents, my two paternal uncles and two more aunts, all younger than my father. As a government official, my dad was given a huge bungalow as a living accommodation that served the big family very well indeed.
I used to confide in her. My pleasures and pains, my hobbies and weaknesses were known to her. She knew me better than my mom. Aunt Daya was like my godmother, a guide, friend and philosopher.
“Come on, all of you! She is ready with her paper,” said my grandma to me, my sibling and the other aunts and anyone else besides.
Aunt Daya started reading out the serialized versions of the Indian Epic, The Ramayana, from the Sunday Special edition of the daily regional newspaper.
“There comes Rama and his brother armed with bow and arrows!”
The scene was in a clearing in the midst of a dense forest, with the rishis performing a holy yagna or vedic rites for the appeasement of elements and for the welfare of the world.
“Suddenly, there was a rain of blood and unholy things on the worshiping sages with loud and mocking laughter of the devilish kind echoed through the woods.
Rama takes aim at the demons hidden in the clouds guffawing at the puny mortals. With his arrows finding the targets, there are howls of pain in the sky and they were demolished by Rama’s unerring archery.”
Thus every week, for an hour, we roamed the worlds of tall, handsome men of adventure, fair-minded and evil-minded ladies of uncommon beauty, the joys and sorrows of kings and common men, detailed history of plants and animals of divine nature, the stories of gods and the evil deeds of ten-headed or single headed-demons, lessons on morals, ethics and family values, of love and devotion, impact of sin and good nature, and of several other things essential to lead a contented life and die in peace.
Aunt Daya’s reading of the Ramayana had shed an immense influence on me and my siblings. I am forever grateful to her for introducing us to an immortal epic of eternal values.
My mother tried to wean me from being constantly attached to aunt Daya. She was concerned about the hurt I might be subjected to after of her marriage. But that didn’t work with me.
Here’s an example.
My grandma and aunts used to go to the movies once in a fortnight. My siblings and I were to go with my parents separately on the weekends. I preferred going with my aunts and grandma. To make it possible, I used to hide in the car so I could go with them without my parents’ noticing it. I was scared but I felt assured that my grandmother and aunts would come to my rescue, if I had to face fire from my dad and mom. Luckily, there was no such clash.
The mature company of my aunt Days had me understood the need to be careful with teen-age boys. We used to have two, sometimes three college -going boys, to whom as a close and prosperous relative, my father provided lodging and boarding. Not all of them were saints. Boys are always boys, ready to take advantage of young girls.
Thanks to aunt Daya, who kept an eagle eye on these guys with certain susceptibilities.
Once she was married I felt lost and weepy. She went with Uncle Rao, her husband, to another town. We used to visit her as often as possible. Our visits to her home were memorable. I continued to talk about my thoughts and plans with her.
With my studies over, I got married. Throughout the wedding ceremony, Aunt Daya was by my side lending me moral support.
We kept in close touch and she guided me through the difficult phase of adjusting to a new milieu of my husband’s house.
Despite her physical absence, I am deeply impacted by her service- mindedness, her devotion to duty and her excellent taste for a good book.
I hope she is resting well in God’s presence.
May her soul rest in peace.
Word Count: 1,134
Written for Honoring the Dead hosted by Warped Sanity