Wednesday, December 14, 2005

End of the road

End of the road

By Shevlin Sebastian

When I was at home in Kerala, India, recently, my mother asked me whether I could take her to visit a cousin’s wife who lived nearby and was dying. So we got into the car and went across to the house, painted in white and encircled by pole-like rubber trees. The woman was lying on a narrow bed, placed against a wall, in a small room. A white sheet was draped over her body. Only the head was uncovered. We stood silently and gazed at the face: the parchment skin, the jutting jaw, the hollowed cheeks, the eyes and lips pressed together. My mother had told me earlier that the woman’s kidneys had failed and doctors had given up hope. I thought to myself, this is how the end of the road is for some people: dying bit by bit.
In Kerala, where people live next to each other for generations, you can see the last chapters of people’s stories, unlike in fast-paced cities like Delhi or Mumbai where you only see middle chapters: nobody, except your immediate family, knows what happens to you when you retire and fade away from the scene.
We drove back in silence. I felt strangely uncomfortable: I just did not want to know about the end of life while I was in the thick of it, with a wife and two kids to look after.
At home, my mother said, as she made orange juice for me in the kitchen, her eyes pools of sadness, “You know, she had married a few months before me, 50 years ago, and I still remember how radiant and beautiful she was. Who could have imagined she could end up like this? I mean, she is of the same age as I am.” And the unsaid feeling: ‘Will I end up like this?’
My mother, touchwood, is fit. She has dyed her hair: it is jet black. Her face has hardly aged, even though she is 70. It is only at the back of her hands that the skin has wrinkled. And her cousin’s wife: could my mother ever have imagined at that time that one day she would see this elegant woman, her flawless skin crumpling up, the beauty ravaged by time, the body shrinking into itself and then sinking into that terrible loneliness just before death arrives. I could understand now why my mother looked so sad. Suddenly, I remembered what a girlfriend, whose father had just died, told me years ago, as we held hands and sat on a bench in a park in Kolkata, “Death is the only reality. All the rest are theories.”

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