By Adarsh Madhavan
“Prasiechi (my dear cousin) — not well,” my sister (from India) had WhatsApped me (a year or so back).
She was admitted to a hospital in Mangalore, she added.
A few weeks ago, prior to this message, I had been thinking of making a long-distance call to my cousin, a well-known chemistry professor who used to work at the S. N. College in my hometown, Kannur. Out of the whole body of cousins and relatives from both my mother’s and my father’s side, my cousin was the only one whom I used to call, albeit rarely. The reason was simple: Other than my mother, Prasiechi (or rather Prasanna teacher or simply teacher) was the only person from India who would call me. The calls would end in minutes but would pack in a warmth that would cloak me for days.
And she was one of the very few persons whom I genuinely looked forward to meeting when I used to visit India during my vacations. You could be free with her; tell her anything. I used to address her as “peningale (as in ‘woman’)” and she would only laugh it off. I never felt a strain in any conversation with her because she never had the habit of judging me, or anyone for that matter.
Agewise, we were separated by at least two decades. Yet, the generation gap was non existent.
She has a certain chemistry that melted our hearts. She didn’t see the glass half full or half empty – she saw it half liquid and half vapour! (Ah, a trite attempt at chemistry!)
I was concerned. I frantically messaged back to my sister asking what exactly happened. It was bad, she said. But I did not want to believe her. I mean, I know my sister was passing me authentic information yet in this age of advanced medicine, wouldn’t they be able to save a woman, who was steeped in the world of chemistry, from a moronic disease that had no clue as to when and whom to attack? Diseases are meant to be conquered, not the other way around.
And this is a chemistry teacher that it was battling with. She knew all the tricks.
Chemistry can save your life, they say. We are all made of chemicals, they say. All matter is made of chemicals, they say and so, hey, a chemistry teacher (mind you, she is a professor!) can wring herself out of a dumb disease’s mindless clasp, right? Besides, she was a woman who just gave and gave. All her life, she just gave. Death can’t touch a person who is a giver, right?
For, soon, the other dreaded message came: “…prasiechi passed away.” (*)
And so I learnt that valuable lesson: even a chemistry teacher could not unravel the chemistry of death.
As a student, I had cheated her once. She used to hold these quarterly tests for her tuition students and luckily for me I was in the second batch. The test was conducted for the first batch and then she was to hold it for the second batch in a few days’ time. By this period, most of us, from the second batch got hold of the first batchers and wrung out the questions that came for the test and we sort of by hearted them. And in this manner, for the first-ever time, I got a near 95/96 percent in a chemistry test (or any other test for that matter). Even then I could not get 100 percentage.
But, I never cheated her again – or anyone — after that.
I remember how we all used to gather around her in the living room of her home as she tried to teach us. An atom surrounded by protons, electrons and neutrons. She was the nucleus. I couldn’t attend her classes for long. One, she never would accept the tuition fees from me as I was related to her. Two, I soon dropped out of college. But, that’s another story.
This one, I relate here because I just thought of saying some lines about a woman, who was quite dear to me. Not that these lines would matter to her or to anyone. Because they hold no meaning now. And my regret is that I never get to really tell the people I care about how much they mean to me. They tend to slip away before I do.
And in this case I failed the litmus test.
I should have at least made that call.
(*) The anniversary of her death is this June end; she passed away – a year ago; this is just an attempt at a tribute, however late.