I dragged out writing this chapter for as long as I could. I didn’t want to face the unresolved emotions that were waiting for me beyond the grief that I already felt – so I decided to tell the story in a factual narrative instead.
At the end of August 2019, I was ready to fly out to Canada and begin my MBA.
I’ve tried to relive that day over and over in my mind – But I don’t remember anything from what my last day in Delhi looked like. I have to strain my memory to recall even the larger details. Etched in my mind though, are the last ten minutes before I entered the airport. The small talk between both sets of parents, my boyfriend and my dadi. I remember hugging them all in turn before I dragged my suitcases to the entry gates, wanting to hold on to their embrace a moment longer. I remember as I was leaving, my dadi hugged me and I stood there crying, unable to believe I wouldn’t see her for the next four months. I remember noticing she was smiling at me, a sad smile that seemed to stop her own tears from flowing. At the time she held me, I remember the alarm that rang in my brain, “what if this is the last time I’m seeing her?” How quick I was to dismiss it. Unable to consider an idea that unbelievable. Unwilling to set it out into the universe. Instead I just hugged her tighter and felt the warmth that I always felt when she hugged me. Of everyone in my life, I was closest to my dadi. She was my parent, grandparent, friend, confidante and the only anchor I’ve ever known.
As I was about to leave, feeling guilty for leaving her, worried about the future and scared about the distance that would separate us, I almost broke down. And in thee way she had always consoled me, she rubbed her hand up and down my back and said, as dramatically as I would expect her to, “Go and make your life mera beta” (mera beta = my child)
I hugged her again and left, turning back only once to wave goodbye. I saw her laughing and chatting with my mom, the very last image of her and the last memory I have.
Often, moments of significance pass us by and we don’t acknowledge them in real time, not knowing they will turn out to be the ones that become the defining moments of our lives. A last smile, a final embrace, a goodbye conversation.
Two weeks later, I had loitered around every store in Toronto buying stuff for my campus apartment, jackets for the winter that was going to grace us soon enough and had made tons of trips to Ikea. I was settled in and starting Monday morning 8:30 am I would be starting school. I said goodbye to my dad, who was flying back to India on Saturday night. Before he left, we went out for dessert and I joked with him about how my dadi would call me in the middle of the night, forgetting that I was in a different time zone. He suggested I silence my phone before I go to bed – among other parently advice along the tune of “you must put your phone away an hour before bed.” This time though, I took his advice and silenced my phone that night.
I woke up on Sunday morning and decided, half-asleep, to scroll through my phone. It was 8:00 am when I picked it up and noticed I had several missed calls: from Mom and VB, my boyfriend, my best friend, my bua (dad’s sister) – and 8 missed calls from my dad. I had one text from my bua, asking me to call her. I knew instinctively that something was wrong. I knew it before I even called her. Somehow I knew exactly what it was but I don’t think anything could have prepared my mind to process it.
My dad’s flight was supposed to be a direct Toronto-Delhi route, but Air Canada had re-routed his trip via Vancouver. There was a 6 hour layover at Vancouver before he boarded for Delhi. Just as he was boarding his 13 hour flight to Delhi, he found out. And he called me 8 times at night to tell me, but I had silenced my phone.
We had lost my dadi, and when I found out from my aunt that Sunday morning, I felt my whole world collapse. My dad was on the plane, he had no information and neither did I. I can’t imagine what he went through in those 13 hours sitting on a plane flying home, receiving the news and knowing nothing else. Part of the pain was wondering what he would be going through. My dadi was most loved by him and I, and not being able to speak with him was tearing me apart.