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A Journey Ends

Meena sat at Savithri’s feet, rubbing them gently, as she watched Elisa tightly hold Savithri’s wrinkled, withered hand in hers. The older woman’s eyes were closed and Elisa watched her chest rise and fall as she listened to her raspy breath, reassured that Savithri lived. Elisa studied the still face through unshed tears. Their time together had been the best in both their lives. They had shared a bond that went beyond that of a grandaunt and a niece. Both had shared a love for the arts, Elisa’s was innate while Savithri’s had been renewed. They had gone to classes together and sat for hours afterwards, just talking about what they had seen, heard and learned while Elisa danced. Meena would watch them silently, a cheerful smile fixed on her face and her eyes dancing excitedly. Every now and then, she would interject with her comments through actions, which only Savithri and Elisa could understand. Their world was secure in their affection for each other and complete with the bonhomie that they shared. 

Savithri would often talk about Neela, her grandmother, and Elisa’s great-great grandmother. Most things she said were what she had heard from Mary. She would tell Elisa that she thought that Neela had come back into the family in the form of Elisa. Elisa would, in turn, laugh at Savithri’s imagination, which she described as “wild.” “But that is what makes you so different Patti. You are so open to everything unlike others in the family,” Elisa would say. By others, she had meant Rangan who had never really accepted Dharmishton or Elisa completely. Savithri would smile benignly at this and say, “Forgive him. He is really a very good man; in fact, he is a better person than I am. He is very generous and capable of a great deal of kindness. He was a wonderful brother while I was growing up and I can’t forget that.” “If he was so kind and generous, why can’t he accept my father who is, in fact, the better man? He has never expressed a negative thought about Rangan Tata and he has also never made mummy give up her religion. He has always been welcoming of anyone and everyone from mummy’s family despite the fact that Rangan Tata has made it very clear that he still does not think daddy is good enough for mummy,” Elisa had responded with exasperation. “Well, everybody has their little problems, even you do, you little devil,” Savithri had said while poking her niece in the side. “You got mad at me last week when I forgot to have your dance costume washed. You said I was getting old and forgetful. You can be mean,” she had added while smiling at her niece, who was beginning to protest her innocence. 

Elisa brushed away a wisp of thin white hair which a warm, gentle afternoon breeze had blown onto the wasted face and stroked the old woman’s forehead gently. Savithri’s once thick, raven black hair was almost all gone. A suppressed sob broke through Elisa as she watched life slowly but steadily slip out of the old woman. Meena watched the other two women, her face tear stained and red. She had not eaten in two days and had refused to leave Savithri’s side despite all the coaxing from Lalitha and Dharmishton. At all times of the day, she watched Savithri’s face, waiting and watching for some sign of life. Unlike Elisa who was resigned to losing Savithri, Meena’s simple mind reassured her that Savithri would not leave her because she couldn’t. Savithri knew that Meena needed her in her silent world. Meena was firm in her knowledge of this. Obviously, she was wrong. Savithri’s time was up and she, just like her brother and her mother before her, died in her sleep.  

The funeral brought a slightly peeved Natarajan and his family to Kuala Lumpur. “She could not be bothered to come back and die in her son’s home. Having been born in a good Brahmin family, she had to spend her last days in a Christian home. That was her misfortune,” he confided in a friend, knowing very well that his cousin Lalitha and her husband Dharmishton would hear about it. He clearly did not care. He and his wife were a little reluctant, almost antagonistic in the way they conducted Savithri’s last rites, while Dharmishton and Lalitha ran around doing their best to get everything that the priest needed. When finally, the cortege of the woman who came to Malaya as a teenaged bride left, Natarajan turned to his wife, and said, “It’s all over at last. Pack your things. We need to get back to Singapore in a hurry. There is no one there to take care of the shop.” Lalitha was sure that her final tie with the family of her father was now broken forever. Natarajan and his family left for Singapore as soon as he returned from cremating Savithri.

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