Oct 29, 2016

Peace. Joy. Grace.

The first time I met her was when I was making a phone call from her phone-booth on my way home after college.
Those were the days when I didn't have a cellphone and phone booths were popular. 
As I stepped in to pay for the call, I noticed she was blind. Yet, she had the most amazing smile on her face. She was looking at my direction and smiling. 
That was the start of a relationship that lasted 15 years. 

Aunty was not born blind. She, however, had juvenile diabetes which got worse when she was 10. As her vision got weaker, her poor parents took her to a quack who ended up snipping the nerves to her eyes. She lost more than her vision that year. She lost both her parents soon after that.
Being the eldest among 4 siblings, she had to leave home to earn, fend for herself and provide for her family. 
I hear she traveled far - until Gujarat to learn basket-weaving, and candle-making. She did fairly well in all these, managing to support her sisters and brother through college and getting them married.
When I met her in 1999, she was in Bangalore only a couple of years and living in a government hostel for the physically disabled. 
She had given up on weaving since it was taking a toll on her health. She couldn't compete with people who did the same at a cheaper price. 

That's when a local politician helped her set up the phone booth. 
While occasionally, people would not pay for calls, she would keep track of calls and the cost of each call and did a pretty good job managing the phone booth and living off the money she made. 

We soon become very close and I was her eye. She became a mother-figure to me. 
She moved on from the dilapidated government hostel to a home of her own and has seen me grow in my life, with motherly pride. She may not have seen me but she knew when I was there. We would pray together everytime we met. Everytime I went through a crisis, she would be there with a prayer and an encouraging word. Everytime I was celebrating, she had the most joyous laugh and the biggest smile on her face.

I was born a Christian, raised as a church-going, Sunday school attending, Christmas skit playing Christian. But I never prayed. I never believed in God. God was just a name in the Bible. My entire faith can be summarized to -  'You do something wrong, you get punished. If you want God to give you something, you must be a regular church-goer Christian'. 

Aunty changed this for me.

She was a Pentecost Christian. Couldn't go to church as much as she wanted to, but had the strongest faith in Christ I've ever seen. 
I would marvel at her faith. There were always dead-ends, unfulfilled needs, and challenges. And I would worry for her, but then the next morning, that roadblock/dead-end would miraculously vanish. I've seen absolutely corrupt politicians and bureaucrats come to her aid. I've seen churches which had no money themselves, donate to build her home. I've seen God work in and through her. Surely, a lot of people benefitted off her circumstances, but she has never held grudges towards those who cheated her.

Aunty would remain single because no one wanted to marry a poor blind lady in her 50's. Her diabetes would worsen through the years and towards the end, she was home-bound. Unable to walk for long distances, she had to give up the phone booth and survived on charities from the local church and well-wishers. I've seen aunty cry, sometimes she would wail in sadness on the phone with me, yet through every crisis in her life, she didn't stop praying. She would always talk with the absolute assurance of Christ even when she wasn't sure where her next meal will come from. 

The last time we spoke was a day before she died. She was being hospitalized because several organs were beginning to fail and didn't want to stay there any longer. She just wanted to go back home. 
2 years ago, on this day, I received a phone call late in the evening telling me she breathed her last. I wept. 

By the time I got to her home 60 kms away, she was being placed inside a mobile mortuary. Neighbours recognized me as 'the son' she would always talk about with pride. She still had her smile. I searched for her brother and sisters among the mourners, but they weren't there. 

She always wanted me to take her on an airplane ride and now, every single time I take a flight somewhere, I miss not having done this. 
I could have done more for her. I didn't. I hope she sees my remorse at not having done more when she was here. 

Sometimes, you meet people who are so wonderful inside, that you know they are going to heaven.  I know she is in a much much better place now. I know she is another angel who watches over me. 
She doesn't have to struggle with the pettiness of our abilities. 

In the beginning, I used to wonder aloud and ask aunty if she ever felt angry and resentful towards God. She would smile and tell me 'No' and then tell me how wonderful God is. She was indeed content with little or much. I couldn't fathom it. 
I don't even have a picture of her, but then I don't need one. Like how she has never seen me, yet loved me as a son 'she didn't give birth to', I have aunty etched in my heart. 

Towards the end, one of the things she would tell me is how much peaceful she is. This inspite of pain wracking her body. A week before she passed on, she would tell me she is ready to die. 

Today, as I wish my loved ones 'Happy Deepavali', I pray that we all have joy and peace in ourselves. 
Because happiness is transitive. Joy is permanent and we don't need a lot to be joyful. 
A peace that is beyond our comprehension. Because when we are peaceful, then we can love each other and appreciate how much you are loved. 

Happy Deepavali to you all!
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