By Nazia Dhanju:
The last time my phone beeped with ‘mommy’ calling was almost three years ago: 22nd October 2012. I was in Satalana village of Jodhpur, on field work conducting a survey on child marriage. It was a typical October day, sweltering heat, and there was no electricity. I was visibly irritated by the heat, the over enthusiastic sun and my phone beeping with my mother’s call. I put it on silent, thinking I would call her after finishing my work. My mother had a habit of calling me every morning, afternoon and evenings. We would talk for a minute, maybe two in each time. Sometimes she would call me continuously if I didn’t answer her phone the first time. She was very protective of my brother and me. She repeated the same exercise with him.
That day, after finishing my work, I went back to the house I was staying at and went for a shower, considering the heat. I completely forgot to call her back. Once I got out of the shower and checked my phone, I remembered that I need to call her. Otherwise she would be unnecessarily stressed. I made the call; she asked me how I was and whether I had lunch. I replied with irritation in my voice.
After the conversation, I decided to go to sleep. Since there was no electricity, I had to sleep on the terrace along with the housemates. I went up and tried to sleep, failing miserably. After tossing and turning a while, I called home. My mother answered and was taken aback since it was unusual of me to call. She was the one who called, always. She thought something went wrong with me, I pacified her and told her that there was no electricity, and I couldn’t sleep. She sensed the uneasiness and asked me what the matter was. I told her I was bored and missing home. That was it, she broke down and started crying, asking me to come home as it had been five months since I saw her last. I was not the most expressive daughter, so the fact that I said that I was missing home made her cry. I wasn’t good with dealing of emotions face on. I didn’t know how to soothe her. I just told her not to cry and that I would be home in a week’s time. After that, I made up an excuse that I’m sleepy and hung up.
The moment I hung up my phone’s battery died, and I couldn’t charge it. I kept awake till the wee hours of the morning, tossing and turning, playing with my thoughts. It was for the first time in my life I was having thoughts like how would I survive if something happened to my mother. I quickly pushed that thought away, took God’s name, offered a small prayer for the sin I had committed in my mind.
The next morning I woke up around seven, groggy eyed, tired and mentally fatigued. I couldn’t get over my thought from the previous night, I felt I had committed a sin. My phone was switched off; I assumed if mom called she would know there was no light so I couldn’t charge it. Around afternoon, I started worrying that I need to call my mother otherwise she would panic, considering my phone was off all day. By one pm that uneasiness grew to a level that I started looking for phones to put my sim in. I found the neighbours phone to do the same.
The moment I switched on my phone I called her. There was no answer that was strange; she usually answered my call in the first four rings. I called her again. No answer. That moment I got a call from my brother, he was crying, and I knew something had gone horribly wrong. He told me I had to take the next flight and come back to Punjab, and that mother had met with an accident, she was in a coma. Little did I know then that she had an accident and had passed away due to brain hemorrhage. My world froze; I went numb. I disconnected the call. The phone beeped with a message. I opened it. It was from Airtel. 17 missed calls from my mother. I started getting continuous calls after that, from family, friends, relatives, coordinating my return. In my head, she was in a coma, and she would be fine eventually. There was no second option. She had to be fine. There was no other way. I, in my state of numbness, like a mechanical robot, packed my stuff and made preparations to go back.
On my way from the village to Jodhpur, I kept calling my mother’s number. I don’t know what had engulfed me. I reached Punjab and was taken to the village. When I reached turn that took me to my village, I saw white tents and white sheets and cars and loudspeakers. That moment, I knew I had lost her. The rest happened in a trance; I knew I would never hear her voice again, never have my phone beep with ‘mommy.’
Till today, three years later, those 17 missed calls haunt me. What would she have wanted to say, that she called me 17 times? I curse myself, curse my fate and curse the electricity. I hate myself for every single time that I was rude to her, that I put her phone on silent and didn’t talk to her. I resent myself for never expressing how much I loved her, what she meant to me, how I would give my life thousand times over just to hear that warm voice again, to hug her, to hear her call me “beta”. I live and fight these demons inside me every day, every hour. Sometimes I get busy in my life, and the guilt grows bigger, that how can I forget that integral part of my existence and keep living.
I decided to write this out after three years to give a message, a message that I learned the hardest way: don’t take anyone, anything for granted. Pick up that phone call her, tell her how much you love her, miss her. Express and be vocal. I am living with my guilt and demons, I still call on that number sometimes, thinking in vain she would answer. But that’s never going to happen. I don’t know if this pain, this void, this guilt will lessen with time. But I do know that every day I long to tell her how much she means to me. And I vow never to take my family for granted. I answer my father and brother’s call without fail. I learned it the hard way. And I’m living with that.