In memory of Ammu – Loss transformed into something positive

Today is August 23, 2020. 20 years ago, on August 23rd, 2000, Ammu passed away. Many people ask me about the memories of that time. I always maintained, “This is my personal sorrow and I don’t want to talk about it because this sorrow is not relevant for the whole world.” The loss of Ammu affected us as a family. It affected me, especially, because I was deeply connected to her. I used to talk to her as a friend. Even though she was only four years and 10 months old, I always interacted with her as a friend, not as a father. She somehow made me connect to myself, connect to that aspect of love, which I was missing, or one that I had never experienced in life. And I respected her, for her individuality. 

I always tried to provide the best I could, within my means, at that time. We were living in Dubai and it was quite expensive there. Most of my salary; about 40% of it used to go for rent. So it was not that easy for me to provide many things, because I didn’t have a lot of money. Still, whenever I used to go to buy grocery etc., she used to come with me and would pick up some toys or other small playthings. She was usually happy about it. I came to India for holidays towards the end of July for almost a month. I planned to spend some time in Kerala, with Ammu, my ex-wife, her mother and my parents, and then to go to Pune to look at some land which I had bought at that time and then further to Rishikesh to feel the Himalayas; and then come to Delhi and then fly to Dubai. That was the plan. 

On the 23rd of August was my flight from Kochi to Pune. So I decided to leave on 22nd afternoon. I had an appointment in Kochi that day, so I decided to honour that, and then proceed further to Pune.

On 22nd, post-lunch, as I was preparing to leave; a taxi had already come; almost suddenly Ammu started crying. She was used to my travels; she was used to my absence. So this was unusual, and she asked me to lift her, to hold her in my arm. I lifted her up; I held her and with her right hand, she was kind of soothing my chest. She said, “Papa, please don’t go”. She was crying. I kissed her and said, “We will meet in a few days; after 10 days we’ll be meeting in Dubai, Papa has to go.” And she was still crying; my mother, my father, and all of us tried to pacify her. Then I kept her on my lap, and I sat on the chair for a little bit. She was still soothing my chest with her right hand and she was still crying, ”Please don’t go”. And I said, “I have to go, but I will meet you soon.”

Then I got ready to leave; I sat in the car – the backseat of the taxi, on the right side; the glass was down, and through the window, she kissed my cheek – my right cheek. It was wet with tears. My father was holding her, and she was leaning in through the window, and she kissed me on my cheek. My cheek was wet for some time. The taxi left for Kochi. I never saw Ammu alive again. 

On 23rd early morning, I left for Pune. I reached Pune. I came out of the airport; while I was in the car, I heard the news of Ammu’s accident. They didn’t tell me that she died. They told me that there was a major accident and that Ammu was in the hospital. Intuitively, I knew that she was no more. This was August 23rd. I did not visit the land; I tried to find a way to reach Kerala, but there were no flights from Pune to Kochi. I had to go to Mumbai. Somehow, we managed a taxi. And I had to find some money to pay for the additional flight because I had already booked to fly from Pune to Delhi etc. Everything had to be cancelled. I reached Bombay (Mumbai); got a night flight, and by morning 6 am on August 24th, I reached Kochi. I went directly to my ex-wife’s house where Ammu’s body was kept. It was the end of a part of my life, rather, Mohan, died that day; died with Ammu.

krishna

Ammu was with my mother and father on 22nd. And on 22nd, there were preparations for Sri Krishna Janmashtami which was on 23rd that year, and Ammu insisted on going to the temple to see the decoration of Krishna.

She kept insisting, and there was rain. So my father said, “It’s raining, so let’s not go”. But Ammu said, “No, we should go!”. They took her to the temple. She went straight up to the Sanctum Sanctorum, as much as she was allowed to go. She stood there watching the beautiful Krishna, and she prayed for a long time.

My mother and father were watching her from behind; they kept calling her, but she did not look and kept praying to Lord Krishna for a long time, quite unusual for a four-year-old child. Then, while coming back, my mother asked why you were praying so much. “What were you praying for?” She said, “No, I’m playing with him. I’m playing with Krishna. I play with Krishna”. My mother said, “We are human beings, we can’t see Krishna. We can only see the idol, we can’t see the real Krishna”. She said, “Of course, I can see Krishna. I see him. I play with him!” Then she said that you cannot see because you are not praying enough. You are not surrendering enough!” A four and a half-year-old child is saying this to her grandmother!

So, on the 24th, we cremated Ammu. We gave her body to the fire. And 10 days I had to spend there, even though it was very painful to talk to people and to communicate when I wanted isolation. A lot of people were coming. There was a huge crowd, on the day of her cremation, unusually large for a four and a half-year-old child, and at that time I was not known as Mohanji; this crowd was unusual. 

And then, as I said, one phase of my life ended. I came back to Palakkad, after all the ceremonies. When I opened my briefcase, which I had packed to take to Dubai, three unusual things were there in the bag, which I had not packed. One was a ‘Pears’ soap; a soap with the brand “P-e-a-r-s”, a transparent soap; the second was a small bouncing rubber ball; the other one was a bangle. The bangle and the ball belonged to Ammu that was the last gift, which she had wanted and we bought for her, just a few days ago and she had kept it in my bag; she had returned it. And the bangle, I don’t remember when we bought it for her, but she had kept it also there, in the bag, to give it to me.

As for the ‘Pears’ soap, there is a brief history. When I came from Dubai, in July, I came home around 5 am, it was a night flight, and I wanted to take a bath. So I told my ex-wife,” I’d like to have a soap”, and she gave me the soap which Ammu uses. Ammu said, “ No, I want this soap, don’t give it to anybody. Don’t give it to Papa”. So my ex-wife gave me another soap. And I used it for my bath. 

Probably out of guilt, she had kept the same soap; Ammu used to love Pears soap and she always wanted to use that soap. She kept that soap, a fresh one, in my bag as compensation, because she didn’t give me hers. Later on, my ex-mother-in-law said they had bought and kept a few soapboxes and one box was empty. She had taken the soap; Ammu had taken that soap. So, she was returning something, and that thing was in the bag; she kept it! Looking back, the whole event was extremely painful!

And when I came back to Dubai after all this, my company told me that they were reducing staff and that I would have to look for another job. After 2000, one by one, everything that I had built up crashed. I separated from my wife. I lost my belongings; it was stolen; I had kept it in the house in Kerala and it was stolen. I had invested in a house, in a flat and the builder ran away. Later we all assembled, and I could sell it, and pay back the loans. Then I lost my job; it was a crazy existence, literally. So many turbulence in life. Everything was falling. The sand beneath my feet was slipping. The agony which I experienced at the death of Ammu, the only closest connection I had in this whole world was lost; plus all the other materials. Later on in life, I have experienced betrayals, stabbing from behind, etc. But they seemed like nothing, compared to the loss of Ammu.

children1

So, these are some of my memories of that time. I am talking about it because some people asked me to recount it; not for any sympathy; I never accept sympathy at that time and even now; nor do I have self-pity. 

What the world should know is what I made out of that experience of sorrow. That’s probably important for the world. Ammucare happened. ACT foundation happened. Ammu’s energy touched many lives; transformed many lives; gave solace to many lives. What happened after this incident has more value than the incident.

There are so many children dying in the world; so many people are dying; because we don’t know them, it doesn’t touch us. We need a world where we should care; we should be sincere. We should be sensitive. And death will be there; diseases will be there; old age will be there. It’s all part of existence. But how we can transform that to something positive, this is what makes us. 

Thank you very much.

Transcribed by Ulla Bernholdt

Proofread by Vidya Rajagopal

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