‘I was nine when you went away, anna…’
Nattu anna. One of my most inspiring cousins. Armed with dynamism and a sense of humor, you could literally feel the pulse of his energy when around him.
My most vivid memory of being with Nattu anna would perhaps entail the first time my parents and I went to his house in Bangalore. I must have been around five or six years old, and was already displaying signs of my current obsession with heights- I love rather than fear them. There was a ladder of sorts, leading to a broad ledge where Bhabhi had artfully placed showpieces. I decided that the adults wouldn’t really notice a kid climb above their heads, considering the amount of life and laughter in the house, and perched myself there gleefully. Dad noticed soon enough, and went paranoid, demanding that I get down r-i-g-h-t that instant. Nattu anna? He climbed up and sat with me, and continued conversing with the others as if nothing untoward had happened! Of course, I was ecstatic! Here was somebody who shared my randomness, my spontaneity..and yes, here was a rare somebody who remembered that once upon a time, he was a kid too.
I remember Ishu being helped into a sweater while he grinned at me. He was so protective towards the dreamy little kid I was, like we had always known each other. Ishu would constantly brim with love and warmth, without the thorns of bias or prejudice. To me, hope was spelled I-S-H-U. In many ways, I looked up to him for the humane being that he was. In many ways, I still do.
Fast forward: three years.
A beautiful day, overcast sky and a light sprinkling of sunshine. I was home then. Somebody telephoned, and Ma was in tears. I remember her standing by our bedroom window, with a cheery light streaming in, but not reflecting in her eyes. ‘Such a young boy… How do I tell your father?’ she asked, deep in thought. ‘Why, write him a card!’ was my supposedly logical reply. I simply could not comprehend the enormity of death. Yes, I did lose my neighbor- my little friend’s father-when I was five, but they went away soon after and it felt like all of them merely lived far away. This was different. I grew up with stories about the quirks and fancies of my extended family- they are an integral part of me in a rather inexplicable way. But where would Nattu anna go now- if everyone was saying he isn’t ‘in this world’ anymore? Quite a paradox, this death.
I came down to the living room, and got engrossed in a book. The balcony door was wide open and a cool breeze gently flitted in. Suddenly, I heard a shrill shriek, something like a grey stone came in at breakneck speed, hit the whirring fan, emitted another ear-splitting shriek and fell on a shocked me. A baby sparrow. Her eyes looked dolefully at me as I held her in my hands in wonder. Mom came rushing, tried to make sense of my frantic story, took one look and decided that the bird needed some water to revive it, if nothing else. The baby’s eyes were almost closing as I sprinkled water on her, even tried to spoon feed. She cooed, and I held her closer. And just as suddenly as she flew in, she shuddered in my hands and stopped twitching. The baby feels warm, but why isn’t she throbbing against me anymore, I asked Mom. ‘The baby was hurt badly, Munni, she died because of that. Do you want to help me bury her in the garden?’ I nodded numbly.
Dad returned. The look of absolute shock on his face when he heard that his nephew was no more was alarming. He had always wiped my tears and hugged me when I was sad; now that the roles were reversed, I was at a loss of how to step into the new one. Hours of phone calls to a mourning set of parents and siblings followed. He then took me to work with him, unusually quiet. We walked down a shady canopy of trees, and birds chirped in welcome. Almost in tears, I told him about the poor baby sparrow which had died in my hands. He sighed as we entered the University ‘They needn’t have died, both Nattu and the sparrow. Time snatches the good in this world too early, too young…’
Time. It has been ten years since that day. I wouldn’t have known the exact date, if not for Lachu bhaiya. It feels like just yesterday that I could hear Nattu anna’s laughter and feel those twinkling eyes on me. I suppose he would be happy with Ishu, wherever they are. My baby sparrow is perhaps fluttering cheerfully around them, considering the amount of charm the father-son duo exuded.
Short lives, but lives which left an imprint on the souls of their near and far.
I haven’t referred to anyone as anna since. Bhaiya, yes, but to me, anna equals to just one beautiful brother, who lives on in the lives he left behind.
‘Nineteen now, and it feels like you are still around, watching over all of us from far above, a silent spectator to our trials and tribulations. Do you like it there, I wonder?
After all, anna, you did love perches…’