I was getting ready to leave for my office. It was 9.00 am. The landline in the house started ringing. I picked up the phone.
“Hello, this is Ram here…”
“Hello, I am Veda mami, remember me...” I immediately recognised the voice. It was Veda aunty a relative who was living in a distant suburb of Chennai.
“What aunty, what is the news....”
“I am angry with you. There is some good news in your family and you did not even inform me..”
I realised that she was referring to the birth of the second grandson in our family, whose punyakavachanam (naming ceremony) we had conducted a few days earlier.
“Sorry aunty. It was a small function which we had at home with only immediate family members attending”
“Oh, that means I am not included in your close family…”
Aunty's tone was accusing. . I did not respond. After a few more exchanges, she said she will be visiting our house the following week to see the new born and bless him.
Veda aunty was related to me from both my side and my wife's side. She was married to Srinivasan, 10 years older than her when she was only 15. Srinivasan was the third among 5 brothers and two sisters. He was a qualified engineer. His job took him to different parts of the country. Srinivasan was a quiet and unassuming introvert. He would not mix easily with people. A voracious reader, he was also spiritually inclined. Veda aunty, on the other hand was a very friendly sort, who connected with people easily. She was enthusiasm personified. She was ever helpful to anyone in need of any physical help, any time.
Unfortunately the couple had no children. But that never deterred Veda aunty from being social and cheerful.
During her annual visits to Coimbatore, where a few of her brothers -in-law`s families stayed, she would enjoy the company of her nephews and nieces. Treating them like her own children, she would shower them with gifts. Naturally she became a popular lady in the family circle. As the nephews and nieces grew up, got married and settled down in different parts of the country and abroad, they would think of Veda aunty, whenever they needed physical help during the time of protacted illness or on the impending arrival of a new born in the family and so on. She would rush to offer her help to any one who summoned her services leaving behind her non-complaining husband to fend for himself By being constantly in the company of her nephews and nieces, she never missed the absense of a family of her own.
In course of time, Srinivasan retired and decided to settle down in a small two bedroom house, owned by one of his nephews, who was away working in the middle east and who had no plans of returning to Chennai in the near future.
While he was content spending his time reading and watching television post retirement, Veda aunty would be busy visiting friends and relatives. She would not miss any function, big or small being held in any of our relatives` homes. It did not bother her, that she had no invitation for the function. If she came to know about a function, she would be there to enjoy the company of her near and not so dear ones.
Years rolled on. Srinivasan passed away at the age of 85. Veda Aunty also had to move to an old age home, when her nephew's family whose house she was occupying returned from the Middle East to settle down in Chennai. It was the same nephew who was also looking after her expenses at the old age home, now. Veda aunty continued to be an uninvited guest at all functions of her relatives.
It was the first birthday of my third grand child which we were celebrating in a small hall located nearer our home. I saw an auto stop in front of the hall and an old lady, getting out. When I went nearer I realised it was Veda aunty.
After paying the auto driver, she looked at me and said, ”once again you forgot to invite me to the function. I heard about it from my sister-in-law and here I am.”
She grinned sheepishly. I was surprised to find her walking with a stoop and a stick as a support.
“Welcome Aunty, what happened? When did you become like this? You were walking straight the last time, I saw you.”
“Oh, it is nothing. Six months ago I fell down in the bathroom of the Home where I am living. My back was badly hurt. I was in the hospital for some time. When I returned, I was advised complete bed rest. I was getting bored. I found out that I could manage to move around with the help of the stick.” She was nonchalant when saying this. What she said next completely floored me.
“You know.. I am going to Bombay next week by train to attend the wedding of my grand niece”
“Who is accompanying you aunty? Hope you are not travelling alone in this condition... “
She laughed and said “what is the big deal? . I will ask somebody from the Home to help me get on to the train at Madras Central and my niece`s husband has promised to receive me at the station in Mumbai. If I need some help in the train some fellow passengers will surely help me, no...”.
I realised that it was this positive attitude towards life that had kept Veda aunty going, helping her live her life on her own terms.
While I was lost in thoughts, Veda aunty had already gone inside the hall to exchange pleasantries with my family members..
Over a period of time, Veda aunty's health started deteriorating . Yet she would continue to visit people's homes to attend functions. Sometimes trying to overstay their hospitality. People started avoiding her. They were worried that if something untoward happened during her brief visit, they would be stuck with the responsibility of looking after her. A stage reached when she could barely move around within the room in the Home where she was staying. I also heard a rumour, which turned out to be false, that she had passed away.
While relatives were breathing easy because she was not visiting them anymore, she continued to keep in touch with many of them through a mobile which had been presented to her by one of her nephews. The mobile phone became her lifeline to the outside world. While Veda aunty had almost become a forgotten entity in my family, I was surprised to receive a call from her one afternoon..
“Hello Ram, this is Veda here… Remember me?`.. I could sense a sarcastic note in her voice.
“Hello aunty, how are you? I heard that you were not well and you are not able to go out any more.”
“That was six months ago. Thanks to my grand niece from USA who visited me and took me to a specialist doctor, I am much better now. In fact, today is my 90th birthday and thanks to my nephew all of us in the Home are enjoying a feast for lunch today”
Her enthusiasm and happiness were evident in her voice.
“What else aunty? When are you going to visit us? The wedding of my grand daughter is scheduled next month. I will send you the invitation.”
“I will be very happy to come provided you arrange to pick me up from the Home and drop me back” She responded without hesitation.
“Sure aunty. I will ask my cousin Venu who is staying near your Home to bring you to the wedding. Take care.” I disconnected the line.
I could not stop marveling at the indomitable spirit of Veda aunty. Her enthusiasm and her love for people was amazing. I am sure she will live to see 100 years. At 80, with all my health problems, I am not sure if I will be alive to attend Veda aunty's 100th Birthday celebrations.
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