Monday morning the old lady quietly slipped into eternal sleep. She was in her late 60s. Sober and pious. Whenever I met her she would talk to me about stuff that I was least interested in. For instance, how she was recently in her kitchen garden and saw army men going in a long queue. "Neat uniforms, big, shiny boots with guns on their shoulders," she added for effect. I was personally fascinated by her stories. Old tales of deceit and affection. Small town gossip, which she seemed to have in layers.
Last time I went home, papa asked me to go and see her. They are his friends. She sat in a large room -- with little light -- on a hand-woven, simple rug. She told me that she was very happy for me. "It is good that you are away and safe." (Kashmir still is a bloody violent place). She looked a little glum in her blue eyes but in no mood to die.
"You know Khazir?" she asked.
"Khazir, err, Kha....," I said before being interrupted.
"You won't know him. You have been away for so long. He is my niece's second cousin who sells candy in his little store just around the bend."
"So what about him?"
"Nothing. I just wanted to tell you that he sells the best candy. Not that 50 paisa candy which is available everywhere. Times have changed. These new boys are selling good stuff. Eclairs and all."
I think Khazir was something like the Sopore version of Hope and Greenwood in Covent Garden, London. I was mentally comparing them.
She offered me tea, which she made with such ancient love. It didn't taste good at all but I pretended not to mind. She prattled on for nearly an hour, giving me no time to speak or explain anything. Much of what she said was pure poppycock. She revealed that their cow has been behaving oddly these days. "It must be pregnant, old fat thing. I saw a black-and-white calf in my dream," she added.
After a while I sought permission to leave because I was expected for lunch elsewhere. She insisted that I must have lunch with her. I politely declined.
She saw me off at the door, asking me to see her again before I fly out. I said OK. I didn't keep my word. I feel somewhat bad, I couldn't.
On November 21, 2005, the unmarried 68-year old, kind and affectionate aunty died peacefully in her sleep. I don't even know if the calf really was black-and-white.