Ammi loved trees. She talked about them like many of us love and care for our pets.
The first thing I noticed about Ammi’s home when I began to visit her regularly was how the house faced both ways. There is no back, the home has a front on both sides. On one side we would park the car and enter the home and on the other side we would sit, read, play and eat, facing the garden. It is called a haata and I have not yet found an English word for this garden that is at the back of the house.
Ammi spent her day in the inner courtyard, looking out at the flowers, fruits and birds. Occasionally, a langur would visit and create excitement. There are mango, papaya and pomegranate trees and many flowering shrubs. There are vegetable patches and a fragrant mehndi plant. The tallest and most majestic is a jamun tree.
A few days after Ammi, my mother-in-law, died, I went up to her trees to feel her presence. It had been raining and thejamun tree was laden with ripe fruit.
We organized the children in the house and got Muzammil to shake the upper branches with a bamboo stick. It rainedjamun all around us. It was voluptuous in our mouth. I wrote about the jamun tree. I took photos of it. It was a celebration of life.
Later, I was sitting at the dining table with my six-year-old daughter, Naseem.
Will you die before me, Mamma? She asked me.
Yes, Naseem, I said.
Will you be there when I reach heaven?
Yes, I will.
Will you tell God that I really like jamun?
Then he can make sure there is always some jamun for me, she said, putting another one in her mouth.
Keep it simple, I said to myself, taking a cue from the child.
A friend sent me an email with a photo of a sunflower from her garden in Canada. Sunflowers seem like people to me. Tall, with an expressive face, always commenting on the weather and waving at everyone who passes by.
“You know, sometimes I wonder how people cope with the death of a loved one without a bit of faith in the world after and the power of prayer?” Shazi wrote to me. “Prayer and faith help me in difficult times, in times of sorrow and grief.”
“I wish I was more religious,” said another friend, Sabrina, whose husband, Steve, died suddenly two years ago. “I can’t bring myself to believe in the afterlife,” she said. “People tell me to imagine him looking out for our son and me. I feel that if Steve can really see us, he must be miserable, because there is nowhere else he’d want to be except with his son.”
I listened to them and wondered if I am religious or not. I don’t say prayers. I don’t fast or read religious texts. But I believe. I have faith. I know where it comes from and that’s a long story, but for now, I hold on to my faith.
I’m thinking of my mother a lot. For years, when she would remember her parents and the homes in which she grew up, I could barely connect with her stories. She needs to remember where she comes from to feel alive in her present.
Our 10-year-old daughter, Aliza, went to school for a day after we returned from Ammi’s home and refused to go again. She was not ill. She would wake up agitated and remain like that till we agreed to let her stay at home. After that Aliza would be perfectly fine and well-adjusted for the day. She stayed close to me, sitting in a corner of a 5-hour work meeting one day and accompanying me to shops on another day.
On the third day, Aliza asked me if I knew why she couldn’t bring herself to go to school. I had a clue. Everything was so normal and routine in school. Aliza was hurting. She needed permission and space to grieve.
We experienced the same thing. When we are in spaces where we can talk about Ammi and her death, we feel better than when we are out there in the world where it doesn’t matter. We seek conversations with people who knew her essential self. There will be a time to move on. We will know when it comes.
It was my birthday exactly two weeks after we lost Ammi. I thought I was ready to celebrate and be happy, because I knew she would want us to do that. But it felt very sad to be happy without her.
I could have written about so many other topics today. I want to talk about the film, Inside Out. I want to write about Sania Mirza and Serena Williams. In this space, however, I could not bring myself to pretend that this is not foremost on my mind.
[This was first published here: http://www.livemint.com/Leisure/j0qS6ra7CarKpNAI3X6wGP/Heaven-is-where-the-fruit-trees-are.html ]