The sky was overcast and a light drizzle filled the day. As it
was Sunday, my mother Nandini Mehta, who had recently
turned 85, and I spent the day together at home. I noticed
that her breathing had appeared slightly heavy from the
morning, but she neither mentioned it nor complained.
At about 11 a.m., as was his daily routine, Kaka, my brother
Vikram, dropped in to see Ma briefly. She was delighted to
see him. Gazing at him with adoring eyes, she held his hand
and kissed it. He showed his affection for her by teasing her
a little and ruffling her hair. After he left, Ma had lunch and
an afternoon nap.
At home with us was Bhagyashri, a young student of Bal
Anand, Ma’s school for the underprivileged. She was
spending Sunday with us so she could practice conversing in
English. Ma asked me to give her an evening snack and then
Bhagyashri turned on the TV. Ma sat with her to watch.
Doordarshan was covering the funeral of Dhirubhai Ambani
who had died the day before on 6th July, 2002. Ma shook
her head and asked the young girl to put on a hilarious
Marathi play instead. She sat upright watching the show,
laughing heartily at the jokes and banter. At 7 p.m. we sat
down for dinner. Ma had peas, her favourite vegetable, and
some tomato soup and toast.
Around 8 p.m. the phone rang. It was my son Aditya. He’d
returned from Alibag and was very tired, but wanted to
know how both of us were. I told him we were fine, and
mentioned Nandinima’s occasional heavy breathing. Being
quite exhausted, he wrapped up the conversation quickly,
saying he would come by some other day.
Ten minutes later the doorbell rang. I was surprised to see
Aditya walk in. Ma was sitting in her usual chair and she said,
“Aditya has come”. She was so obviously happy to see him.
Aditya sat beside her, leaned over and kissed her. She placed
her head on his shoulder and smiled at him. Then, very
clearly, she said, “Oh Ghanshyam,” referring to my other
brother who was travelling in Europe. There were no signs
of distress, no change of expression, no outward signs for
me to think she was leaving us, but for some reason, without
really thinking about it I involuntarily said: “Ma, go in peace,
don’t worry about anything”. She closed her eyes, head still
on Aditya’s shoulder. Less than thirty seconds later he felt
for her pulse and shook his head. There was none.
On a Sunday night, where would we find a doctor? Who
should we contact? Luckily, Dr Vandana Merchant from our
building was able to come by. She said Ma had passed away
peacefully. We contacted Kaka, and called Ghanshyam as
well. Kaka rushed back, hurrying into the flat calling out
Then we laid her down on her bed and sat beside her in
silence. No crying out, no wailing or clutching at her. I put a
piece of the bark of the pepper tree from Ojai, California in
her mouth. It was from the same pepper tree under which
Krishnamurti is believed to have had his first revelation in
1922. Aditya and Kaka made the arrangements for her
cremation. I asked that she be put down on the ground,
under the stars, just before she was transferred into the
ambulance to be taken away. There, I held her feet for a few
seconds and kissed them.
Ma had truly gone in peace.