“How are you, aunty?” I asked eagerly as soon as I saw the elderly lady from her balcony after so many days.
“I’m much better now, recovering.”
She replied with a gloomy smile on her face. She had a pale look.
“Take care,” I went inside from my balcony.
The neighbour aunty is in her mid-seventies, I guess. From her attire, it is evident that she hails from Gujarat. I did not know her properly, only occasionally we used exchange smiles from our respective balconies. She lived in a housing society that shares the boundary wall with ours. The aerial distance between our balconies would be around 40-45 feet.
Whenever she smiled at me, her infectious smile gave me a sense of happiness – similar to when I interact with my elderly relatives.
I usually see her performing Tulsi puja or offering water to the Sun in the morning everyday. But, I did not see her for about two weeks. Her window was open and I could see her clothes drying on the clothesline. Once I saw her son was drying two of her sarees. I assumed that she was not well, but could not muster up the courage to ask him, as I had not spoken to him before.
Next day, I saw a lady on that balcony doing the chores. A different thought came to my mind- has she left for her heavenly abode? In a certain community, old women end their life by starving as a religious ritual. They believe they will attain nirvana if they do so. How painful it would be to starve oneself to death!
I kept on thinking about it the whole day. That very thought stirred me so much. I shared my thoughts with my partner, he just gave a listening ear without saying anything.
The very next morning I saw the aunty with that lady on the balcony. I learnt she was her daughter. I was relieved to see her. Without any delay, I asked, “What happened to you, aunty?”
“I was not well.” She was really looking sick. In a hurry to ask, I had not noticed her looks.
Then her daughter described that she was detected with breast cancer, the first stage. She underwent the surgery and after one chemo she was recovering.
Again, I looked at aunty. Her ever bright face was dull and sparkling eyes were carrying tiredness in them. But, her never-ending spirit was in-tact.
“I will be alright in a month,” she said and went inside.
I chatted with her daughter. Aunty is indeed from Gujarat, a widow. She has three children, both daughters are married and live in Gujarat. Both the sisters had come to see her. She shifted to Bangalore fifteen years ago with her bachelor son. I asked her if she would be spending some days here to take care of her.
“How long can we stay here with her? Our children have school; we have jobs, family and other responsibilities. But, can we remain peaceful in Gujarat till she becomes alright?” She was obviously concerned. I nodded in agreement, keeping myself, for a while, in her shoes.
Next week, I just saw aunty was back to her regular life- her morning puja rituals were intact. Her daughters had gone back to Gujarat. She showed no sign of remorse or regret. She never complained about her situation also. I was astonished to see her speedy recovery, against these odds. Often, the positivity of the person is the real cure for many diseases.
The zest she has for life and living it well before it ends.
When alone in the balcony, I listen to the birds’ chirps or gaze at the vast blue sky with floating clouds in it. My mind fills with joy at a glance of aunty’s balcony- I feel her positivity and her presence there even when is not around. She teaches me not to give up hope and live life’s every moment happily.