The sparse hairs – meagre remnants of ravaging chemotherapy – were brushed back neatly from her forehead. The lines of pain on her face were smoothed over with Yardley’s lilac face powder. The dull eyes showed up brighter against the kohl outlines extended outwards from the corners, in an approximation of the ‘fish-shape’ eye makeup so popular years ago. The thick gold mangalsutra weighed down the weak neck. A red scarf was wound around her face, camouflaging the papery skin stretched over the sunken cheeks. Wafts of perfume masked the ripe smell of disease permeating from her skin.
The bindi on her forehead was a scarlet dot between the thin eyebrows. Raj slowly underlined it with a small white dash of ‘udi’ – sacred ash – carefully brought back from the temple, with the hope of infusing the power of prayers into a fast ebbing life. Then he gazed at her for a long minute. “You are beautiful, you know”, he said, gently. And Kala’s face flashed into a satisfied smile.
This happened over twenty years ago. Kala died a couple of days after, slipping into a coma brought on by the metastasis of cancer. Raj died four years later, of what was suspected to be a heart attack, but in reality was probably a broken heart. And this scene has long since been forgotten, expect by the fifteen year-old who happened to witness it.
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It didn’t impress me much then – older romances never do, when seen through younger eyes. Back then, it just seemed cheesy and embarrassing.
Now, however, I can see the beauty and pathos behind this little byplay. My grandfather did not say those words because he was sorry for my grandmother, or because he wanted to make her feel better…he truly did feel she was beautiful. I realize now, that there was no trace of sorrow, pity or commiseration in his statement – it was simply unadulterated love.
Now, I am old enough to realize that a love that can see beauty in a face emaciated by sickness…a love that stands unaltered by the passage of time, disease and death, must have been the rarest and strongest kind of love, indeed.