Dear Aba, I can still smell the jasmine in the balcony of your house that midnight, as I tried to make sense of things.
The evening was as average as any other. I remember sitting on the couch with the TV on as usual when the phone rang. “Aba’s had a fall again, you’d better come,” said Gran. And I knew then that this was about to happen. I knew when my parents said they’d be back in an hour, although I refused to accept it. I knew when Dad came back, his face devoid of expression. I knew before he opened his mouth, but I needed him to say the words before I let myself break – “He’s gone.”
They say time passes in a blur when something traumatic is happening. Your brain suppresses the memories. Maybe I’m unlucky, or maybe you wanted it to be this way, but I remember every second of that day. You’d hate it, though, if I spent your first death anniversary crying and shutting myself out the way I normally do when I miss you. So I won’t. There’s so many other things I know you’d want to hear from me.
I’ve lost count of the number of people who messaged, called, and met me just to tell me how loved you were. Friends from school, people I’d lost touch with, mum’s old friends, everyone remembered the pot bellied, sun tanned guy who had a joke for every sad day and a smile for every sad face in the city. “We’ll miss him,” they said, and for once I knew they meant it. I love it when people ask me if I’m your granddaughter. What a wonderful way to be remembered, Aba. And what a massive legacy you’ve left behind for me to live up to.
I think you spoiled me too much, although I’d never admit that to Gran. Ice creams and jellies and sips of beer when no one was watching, sneaking in those disgusting candies I was so fond of at that time. My childhood was a carnival of constant fun and you were the ever cheerful ringmaster.
I find it hard to explain to others why losing you was easily the worst thing I’ve been through in my relatively short life. You’ve taught me very many things, from how to polish my shoes to writing cursive Rs. But more than anything else, you’ve taught me the importance of being kind and vulnerable and soft in a world that is growing darker by the day. You taught me how it’s okay to feel too much and to cry, and that boys cried just as easily as girls. You taught me that your being a Muslim didn’t matter in the slightest, that your faith had nothing to do with your humanity. You taught me, above all, to choose love over bigotry and to love selflessly, the way you loved Gran when you turned your back on society to marry a Hindu in an India that hadn’t quite made it back then. And although I’m not as good a person as you were, I try for your sake every day. I struggle to be more like you.
It doesn’t get better Aba. It doesn’t get better with time. I still have panic attacks when I hear the booming of the ambulance cars on the road. I still dig my nails into my palm when someone talks about their grandfather. Sometimes, when something important happens, I make a mental note to tell you. I forget for an instant that you’re gone and then it hits me, a tidal wave of grief that hasn’t yet found a way to recede.
I wish I’d stayed long enough to kiss you goodbye the day before. But you were having your dinner, and I was late. So I ran out, yelling a casual “see you tomorrow!” I don’t remember waiting long enough to hear you say it back. I never got to hear it again. It eats away at me every day, but I’d like to believe you’re still around. I certainly feel your presence each time I reach out to you. I feel it when I wear all your T-shirts and in the faint smell of your aftershave that still lingers in your cupboard.
I miss you every day. It has been a year now. And a year can change a lot, I know, but the Aba-shaped hole in my chest is here to stay. I try my best though. I try every day to make you proud. So tonight I’ll go out and smell the flowers again. And maybe I won’t feel alone.
All my love,
Tanvi Deshmukh is a nineteen year old girl from Pune, India, with an affinity for words and books, cats and coffee, Nepalese food and hippie music, and the colour green (along with Oxford commas). Currently pursuing her undergraduate degree in English, she loves poetry, volunteers at an NGO and plays the keyboard in her free time. Along with devouring books of all kinds, unless of course, she’s in the middle of heated discussions on feminism, patriarchy, gay rights, or what to name the neighbour’s new dog.