Updated: May 9
By Amrita Valan
As my tender tales of loving reminiscences draws closer to my final goodbye to my mother on this earthly plane, I am tempted to make this a never-ending journey. In a sense, though, it is. The journey continues inwards towards a greater light of peace, acceptance, and understanding. And taking these final few steps with her help me understand that some goodbyes are without end.
They begin at the ending, but don’t end at the beginning as we retrace our life’s journey. The arc of love just spirals exponentially outwards to a reunion with a unity that is cosmic in its harmony and magnitude. My soul clings to this beatitude, this beautiful certitude, desperately as I come to the close.
According to our Hindu customs, mother, having died a wife and not a widow, was dressed in the resplendent attire of a wedded woman, in a creamy thick raw silk, (Garad) with broad crimson borders. She looked as soft, tender, and innocent as the day she had garlanded my father as an eighteen-year-old bride. I watched in awe, as we brought her home from the hospital, to lie in her own bed the last time.
The marriage bed is important for Hindus, a wedding gift from the bride’s father, where her children are procreated. There it was: my daddy applied Sindoor, red vermilion powder to her forehead, and smeared them on her marriage bangles and wrists, for one final time, all the while gently weeping at her beauty.
The husband applies vermilion, the sign of his wife’s love and loyalty towards him only twice, once on the day he marries her, and on the day she leaves him forever. For the rest of their lifetimes, traditional Hindu women, apply a dot or a straight line of Sindoor in their hair partings every day, as a prayer for their husband’s well-being, a symbolic mark of protection.
My eyes took it all in like a human recorder of love. As relative after relative touched her wrists or forehead with a spot f vermilion or placed flowers on her, I realized from their sad broken faces how much she had meant to them. This gentle, fragile bedridden mother of mine won over everybody with her smile of welcome, her childlike purity of joy whenever they visited. At their homes, she would insist on helping with the washing up, after tea had been served, and was always eager to be of some service. In later years, as ma’s brain got befuddled, the spirit of service did not diminish. I recall after marriage, I returned home from work one day, took one look at my flat, and asked my husband, “Ma has been here, hasn’t she?”
He grinned and answered in the affirmative, asking, “How did you know?’
Every article of clothing, bed sheet towel, the handkerchief that needed folding, had been folded into the tinier than tiny squares that ma’s brain compulsively insisted on as she got older and more unwell. Towels were reduced to almost handkerchief-sized squares, and napkins and hankies were tiny tea party sandwich-sized triangles! Every water jar, jug, and bottle in the house had been filled and li