Memoir / Essays: Until We Meet …

Meenakshi Mohan

Life is ephemeral; we all know that.  But I often wondered how some people already get a hunch on how it will end for them! My mother and my husband, Kshitij Mohan, both had intimations about this.  They both expressed their feelings in their poems much before their end. My husband wrote in his poem Sanjh-Savera (Tamam Shud, a collection of his poems, posthumously published in 2010):

Saanjh huey us paar mujhe

Jab kewat lene aayenge

mere lahoo ke do deepak

iss tut se disha dikhayengen. (1)

 

January 2nd, 2010 was a calamitous day for us.  Kshitij took his last breath at the Sibley Hospital in Washington, D.C., due to complications following chemotherapy.

At the time of his death, he was surrounded by his family and friends.  My two children, Vivek and Kavita, were on both sides of his bed.  I often wondered what he could be thinking. Was he able to hear us as we said our goodbyes?  Perhaps he recalled the lines from his poem, “mere lahoo ke do deepak

iss tut se disha dikhayengen.”

 

Kshitij and I both enjoyed traveling and had traveled all over the world.  The summer of 2009 was our last trip together to Europe.  Soon after our journey, we planned our next holiday, and Kshitij, while looking at one of the catalogs, commented, “I will buy matching suitcases for us.”

He often talked about early retirement.  One day, as I was cooking, he came and put his arms around me and said, “I want to enjoy life as much as possible with you before I go.”  I laughingly disavowed his claim saying that it could be me who would go first.

Kshitij loved life, and he wanted to make the most of each experience – whether it was spending time with family and friends, traveling, or just enjoying good food.  He wrote to my daughter, Kavita,

There is great beauty in this world – from the glisten of a snowflake to the shimmer of a cobweb – from the purity in a child’s eye to the principles of mathematics.  Explore it all, enjoy it all and revel in it.  (Tamam Shud. Letter to Kavita, 2010).

 

Just a few months before his death, he took early retirement as a CEO and President of the Cytomedix Corporation, a medical device company.   He wanted to spend the rest of his life pursuing his interests.  He was a person with extraordinary breadth and depth of knowledge.  He could discuss quantum theory with physicists, keep doctors on their toes with his knowledge of the latest medical research. He was passionate about literature and was an avid reader of English, Hindi, and Urdu texts.  He could discuss poetry at length, whether it be by Dylan Thomas or Anna Akhmatova.  He loved art and could appreciate the abstractionism of Picasso as well as the modern paintings of India, Indonesia, and Argentina.  He was a connoisseur of good food and could name his favorite restaurants in almost every country in the world. He had a desperate yearning for knowledge for knowledge’s sake, and he believed in perfecting all things he did. He participated in a play, Dara Shikoh, produced by Global Performing Arts.  It was a huge success.  His performance, diction, clarity, and resonance of his voice enchanted not only the audience but drew the attention of many performing arts organizations. He got himself involved with drama rehearsals and poetry / Shayari consortiums.

 

In the summer of 2009, soon after our Europe trip, he went for his routine colonoscopy.  He was diagnosed with stage one lymphoma.  At the doctor’s office, as the doctor was explaining the treatment protocol, I clutched on to him.  My mother’s painful death with cancer a few years ago resurfaced before my eyes.  How could life end so soon? He gave me a reassuring smile as if saying, “Don’t worry; it is only stage one.”  We came home, he was behaving as if nothing happened, but my world had taken a topsy turvy turn.

 

Four rounds of chemo went by smoothly.  We would spend a lot of quality time together, watching movies, going to restaurants, meeting friends, but fifth and sixth rounds of chemo became tougher.  He would often have fevers; his white blood cell counts were going down.  He was losing weight, from hundred-sixty pounds to almost one-hundred- ten pounds.

 

We were still hopeful that this all would end soon. We talked about all the fun vacations we took, and we even planned for our future holidays.  After the sixth chemo round, we practically lived in the hospital.  His immune system was down; platelets, blood transfusions became the regular regime of his treatment.  He was incubated and attached to a ventilator to assist with his breathing.  He was heavily sedated. His organs had started failing.  I was still surviving on hope.  On January 2nd, 2010, this little driblet of hope also evaporated when the doctors gave up and said that it was just a matter of time for him.

 

****

We took his ashes to India to disperse in the Ganges. As the yellow and orange of the ascending sun peaked through the pinnacles of Himalayas, my two children, Vivek and Kavita, my grandson, Anant, and I gathered on the banks of the Ganges to perform the last rites for my husband, Kshitij.  The Ganges flowed with full force, piercing the hearts of the mountains.  The misty-eyed clouds watched the religious performance of the old priest.  The only thing that broke the serenity of the occasion was the sound of the rain, the serenade of the Ganges, and the chanting of the shlokas.  The transience of life stood naked before our eyes as my children dispersed his ashes in the Ganges.  The lines from his poem, Alaska ki Salmon (Tamam Shud, 2010) kept ringing in my ears:

[Tamam Shud, 2010, Cover page]

Har Jeevan path ka ant waheen

Janm jahan who paata hai

Jis shunya se hum aate hain

Usme hi kho jaate hain. (2)

 

Similarly, though Kshitij lived most of his life in America, his ashes traveled through the holy water of the Ganges, passing through the place of his birth, finally merging with the Bay of Bengal.

 

After my husband’s last rites, I stayed back with my son in Mumbai for a few months.  My son was in Mumbai as an ex-pat with Abbott corporation.  It was during that time when I compiled Kshitij’s poems in a book, Tamam Shud.  While working on putting his works together, getting it published, and having a few launches, I felt as if I was filling in the empty crevices of my heart with his love; I was reliving him again.

 

Finally, it was time for me to get back home to Potomac, Maryland, a suburb of Washington DC.  Tears welled my eyes as I stepped into the empty house without him.  His memory was there everywhere for me.  This is the house we had decorated together – everything was as is – his well-arranged office, all the files labeled, his library with a reclining leather chair where he often sat to read his books with a glass of cognac.  The book on the side-table had a bookmark where he had left it half-read next to his reading glasses.  My heart was filled with an empty hollowness.  I was contemplating what to do next when the doorbell rang.  I ran to open the door; my neighbor was there with bags full of my mail and two large cardboard FedEx boxes.  After my neighbor left, I put my mail aside to deal with them later, but I was wondering what was in the boxes.  I got a knife from the kitchen and opened the sealed containers – each box contained grey-colored matching Tumi suitcases with carry-ons inside each large one.

I sat there on the floor and cried.  The matching suitcases had arrived, but this time my husband had left me far behind on his eternal journey …. until we meet!

[The empty chair: pic given by the author]

 

In Saanjh-Savera (Tamam Shud, 2010), he wrote:

Kal phir nai dharaa par priye

Ek nootan swarg banaunga

Tera maadak sneh saraa

Har baadal se barsaunga. (3)

 

Reference:

Mohan, Meenakshi, Ed.D. (ed). Tamam Shud: Poems in English and Hindi –

    Kshitij Mohan. Bibliophile South Asia, 2010.

 

Translations (Roughly translated):

(1):  At the dusk of my life, when my time comes to depart, and the ferryman arrives to get me; my children will be the lights to guide me … to the other end of the world.

(2):  Life ends from where it begins.

(3):  Beloved, tomorrow, we will build new heaven on this earth with our love. 

Saanjh-Savera:  dusk-dawn


Bio: Dr. Meenakshi Mohan is an educator, art critic, children’s writer, painter, and poet.  She has taught at universities in Chicago, Boston, and, more recently, for Towson University in Maryland.  Her specialization is Early Childhood Leadership and Advocacy.  She has published widely in this area and presented numerous papers and workshops. Her book reviews, art critics, interviews, and poems regularly appear in different journals. She has been listed twice in the Who is Who Among American Teachers. She authored two children’s picture books, The Rainbow in My Room and The Gift, and edited Tamam Shud, poems of Kshitij Mohan. She recently had a solo exhibit of her paintings in Potomac, Maryland. Most of her paintings are in private collections. She is currently on the Advisory Committee of the Montgomery County Library System in its Potomac, Maryland branch. She is on the Editorial Team for Inquiry in Education, a peer-reviewed journal published by National Louis University, Chicago, Illinois.


1 comment :

  1. A moving memoir. Leaves one sad. and makes one wonder at the quirkiness and the mysterious ways of 'life.'

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