I’ve told D a hundred times since the divorce – you’ll always be family to me. I’ve meant it every single time. I’m his family, whether or not he wants me to be.
I couldn’t think of a reason why I should be upset over the death of his mother (other than the fact that I lived with her for a few years), but I went anyhow. He needs his entire family around, I kept telling myself, even though he won’t say so.
My eyes welled up as soon as I saw a distant relative (a random one, not even someone I knew well) from across the road. As I got closer, other people shifted into focus. Bhaiya. Bhabhi. Didi. Mamaji. One of the other daughters-in-law, the one whose kid used to have an imaginary dinosaur as a pet. The four-year old kid who was so smitten with how I looked as a bride that she slept in our bed for the first few days, suddenly towering above a lot of elders, who had now begun to stoop. Everyone looked different.
I saw dad sitting in a corner with his hands folded, eyes closed, and head bowed, stoically listening to the hymns that were being sung. And then I saw D’s older brother, looking just like dad. I was surprised I never noticed the striking similarity when I lived in their home.
I heard murmurs. People were talking about how the ex-daughter-in-law had decided to show up. I avoided making eye contact for as long as I could, but I could feel the sides of my face burn with the attention. It was almost as though they were shocked that I came and were waiting for me to betray some emotion.
I think I did a pretty good job of staying stone-faced through the ceremony, but my walls crumbled the second the priest asked the family to step up.
I wanted to stand up but I couldn’t – I have considered myself family for ten years. I still call his father papa, his sister didi, and his brother bhaiya. I never stopped. I had been worried about his mother’s health for months before she finally passed. Why must I stop now?
Because the day I decided to leave D, I crossed some kind of invisible line out of that family.
On my way home, it occurred to me.
She was nearly seventy when she had objected to the length of my knee length skirt. It was too short by her standards. I was late three nights every week.
She had pestered me about the undercooked onions so much that I pushed myself to learn to cook them perfectly. I now make the best baingan bharta Mister claims he’s ever had.
She tried to teach me how to make amla sherbet. I didn’t want to learn until one day, many years later, I was no longer living with her and I wanted to have some. I tried a recipe off the internet, but it never tasted as good.
She told me every time I pulled out a saucepan to make tea, wash it first. I got upset every single time because she never waited to see if I would wash it on my own. I didn’t want to acknowledge that I wouldn’t do it if she hadn’t told me.
She hated it when I bought a red bedsheet, one I thought she would like, for the diwan in the living room. It’s too bright, she had said, while she sat on the diwan, munching on muskmelon seeds. I stormed out of the room, convinced that she was being mean on purpose because she was sitting on a red bedsheet that she had bought. Years later, I exclaimed, ‘my eyes! my eyes!’ when Mister’s mom pulled out a bedsheet the exact shade of red.
When I got home, my eyes were burning with everything I had held back for two days. It’s been a week, and though still don’t really miss her, I am grieving.