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last word - greeshma balachandran

What does losing someone feel like? Using words to describe it is difficult.

I imagine it is as sometimes just not feeling whole. But perhaps it is something you deal with better over the years and eventually learn to let go.

When my friend Maniti's father passed away, all I could remember were the good parts at first . How he'd made us breakfast after a night of binge drinking. His dad jokes and his laugh. I could never imagine what losing a parent must have felt like until Ketan Uncle left.

The funeral was at Maniti's house. It was filled with people dressed in white, all coming to pay their respects to Ketan Uncle.

I imagine he'd have made a joke about being at his own funeral. How he'd have probably hated the fact that all these people were over and he just wanted to nap. I wish he would've just walked in at that moment and said “Hey, I was just messing with you guys.”

But he was gone and we were here keeping Maniti company. Coping was difficult but we were all together. I remember looking at Maniti and seeing her face so different than what it usually was. Her unsmiling face made me think about how he would try to make her laugh. Maybe he would have called her 'Memi' in front of us and she'd have blushed in embarrassment and we would have all laughed. He always liked to make her laugh.


When my friend Adit's father passed away, I was living in Chennai finishing my undergraduate degree.

My mother called in the afternoon to tell me. I don't remember how she knew. Probably one of the teachers at school that told her.

I grew up with Adit in Kuwait. We were in the same classes through school. He's one of the few people I've known almost all my life.

His father Srinivasan was a man who treated his son with respect. A huge change from the ‘angry-dad’ Indian father stereotype. He was so different from what I expected. He always encouraged Adit to try new things and was consistently supportive.

When I would spend hours at their house working on our school projects, he would always ask about our work and actually remember what we said.

When Adit's mother died a few years later, it was Adit who messaged me.

He said she passed away because she had a sudden seizure and that there was a blood clot in her brain. The clot had stopped all of her motor processes and she could no longer speak or respond in any way.

But she was alive. Adit was given the responsibility of choosing whether to keep her alive or not.

Sujatha Aunty would bring us snacks when we worked on our school magazine at their Salmiya home. She always made me want to be a better person. Not just because she fed our perpetually hungry whines but it was how she carried herself so beautifully. She was a kind woman who always had a smile to offer even on her worst day. I would speak to her from time to time over the years before she passed. She would ask me about college and I would tell her I missed her food. I think I learnt how to want to be genuine with the people I encountered by knowing her. I was upset that I never got to go to her funeral. I remember crying in my flat in Chennai regretting that I never got to tell her how much I respected the person she was and how she had raised such a wonderful son.

photo: aryan nair

When I moved to Australia in 2018, I knew there would be moments that I would miss. Birthdays, anniversaries, reunions. The one I feared missing out on the most were deaths.

Carrying the regret of not seeing off a person took the heaviest toll on me. Even if it was 'just' their funeral.

When my granduncle Chinna Kuta Mama (Uncle) passed away in March 2020 I was shattered.

Our family never had his birth certificate so no one even knew how old he was when he passed away. The obituary did not mention his age.

When Chinna Kuta Mama was about 10 years old in 1930 something, his doctors decided he was mentally handicapped.

He couldn't remember too many words and couldn't speak as well as his older sisters at that age. But he knew exactly how to milk Lakshmi (our family cow), what time she needed to be fed and taken for walks. It was like they understood each other.

He was never married off since he was considered a “retard” as my bitey Uncle Devan would say.

On his walks with Lakshmi, Chinna Kuta Mama would collect flowers and bring them back for me. He'd bring me yellow ones, blue ones and pink ones. He never knew their names and I didn't need to know.

He was always impatient with my nephews though. He'd chase them around the living room with his walking stick and make indignant noise in their direction, his words never fully making it out of his mouth. I wondered many times what he would have sounded like if he spoke. The conversations we would have had. What would the first word he uttered have been?

I thought long and hard about what this ‘different’ Chinna Kuta Mama could have been. But then he would bring me flowers and I would melt the perfect image of him in my head and replace it with the toothless smiling version of him that stood in front of me (still perfect).

Whenever I'd walk into the house after landing in India from Kuwait (which is where I lived most of my life), he would shuffle as quickly as he could towards me. Stuttering cries of what I hope was happiness as he hobbled his way across the corridor into my hug. It would only last 3 seconds as he was never fully used to them.

Towards the end of his life, he would always steal small objects from around the house.

Once he stole my cousin Balu's glasses. The entire household was searching high and low for the gold-rimmed buggers when the maid finally went into his room and discovered it under his pillow on a hunch.

She said that she had seen him put a pen in the hollow top of his walking stick and figured he must have done the same with the glasses.

Under the pillow she also found the following:

  • 5 pens of a variety of colors

  • 2 Hajmola candies (unopened)

  • A nail cutter

  • Cut nails

When she pulled out the glasses and told us the story, I burst out laughing. But my father was very upset. Acha (my father) began yelling at his silent giggling Uncle and he was asked to spend the rest of his night in his room by himself.

Later on, I went to see him before I went to sleep. He was lying flat on his back on his bed, staring at the fan slowly spinning above.

“You can't do that, Chinna Kuta Mama,” I said with a smile on my face.

He looked at me and smiled. As usual, he never had anything to say.

His last few days on earth were spent in the bed of a hospital room. I wish I could have brought him flowers. I wish I could have had one last word with him. But then again, we never had anything to say.


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