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Time travel

By Nickunj Malik - Jan 11,2017 - Last updated at Jan 11,2017

Even as you read this today, I will be quietly turning one year older. More than half a century of living in this planet has taught me many lessons. The most enduring one is that time is the greatest asset we have, but unfortunately, that is the one thing we fritter away carelessly. There are many things I wish I could have done differently and given half a chance I would go back into my past and correct them instantly. 

Twenty-two years ago, a day after my birthday, I lost my mother-in-law. Her name was Swadesh, which is a combination of two words in Sanskrit that are joined together to mean “one’s own country”, or literally “my country’. My Saasuma (as mothers-in-law are referred to in India) was nothing like the other Saasumas who I had seen in a television serial called “Kyunki Saas bhi kabhi bahu thhi” that translated to “because a mother-in-law was once a daughter-in-law too”. This Indian soap opera was one of the longest running daily serials and was dubbed in Sinhala language where it was known as Maha Gedara meaning “Big Home” in Sinhalese. It was also dubbed in Dari language and was aired in Afghanistan, but here I digress. 

My Saasuma, like I was saying, was not plump, old, limping or grey-haired, not at all. She was slim, agile and stylish with long black tresses that she tied into a fashionable bun at the nape of her neck or left loose to trail below her shoulders. When I met her for the first time I could not believe that she was who she was. Enveloping me in a bear hug she told me she would love me to be her new daughter, and that is what I became, from the moment I married her eldest son.

True to her word, she never introduced me to her friends as her daughter-in-law but always called me her daughter. This led to some hilarious situations where I got mistaken for my husband’s sister and was asked when my school term was ending. My Saasuma was a fantastic cook and an extremely fastidious homemaker who could not stand untidiness. She painstakingly taught me the little tricks that were used to make certain dishes, which were passed down from her own grandmother. Extremely diligent about supervising her children’s schoolwork, she emphasised that I must do the same with my own child.

Once we moved out of India, my interaction with her was limited to our annual vacations for which the countdown started days in advance. The last time I met her, she was bedridden. The autoimmune disorder that she suffered from had adversely affected her limbs and she had lost most of her luxuriant hair. 

Her favourite activity was asking whoever came to her bedside, to run a comb through her scalp with a baby brush.

“Will you comb my hair?” she asked, the minute she spotted me.

“I just combed it,” I protested.

“Four times already,” I added.

As I bent down to hug her, she pulled out the gold bangles from her arms and put them on my wrist.

“Happy birthday dear daughter,” she said.

“But it is not till next month,” I corrected.

“I might not be around then,” she murmured.

“You will be, don’t worry,” I assured.

“Can you comb my hair?” she requested again.

“Sure,” I said, running the brush on her scalp.


“Thank you,” she exclaimed, closing her eyes.

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