On May18, 2012, at around 12 noon, Babimasi, my maternal aunt passed away.

And with her last breath a generation passed away.

Over the last few days, our family – the entire extended family on the maternal side – has been expressive in their outpouring of condolences for the bereaved – but in truth all of us are feeling a sense of loss, a sense of having lost every connection we had to our parent – the last vestige gone, never to return.

BabiMasi, as my aunt was fondly called, was my Mother’s younger sister, the youngest of her four siblings, the baby of the family, the one aunt who was a universal favourite, one who kept her heart close to all of us nephews and nieces and of course to her children.

A school teacher with a difference, my aunt taught in a unique children’s play school, called “Bal Ghar” – meaning House of Children and in teaching children in a  creative fashion, a novelty all those years ago, she herself remained innocent in a childlike way.

Come summer and my mother used to pack our bags and bundle all of us for a vacation in Ahmedabad: and in alternating turns I spent my summer vacations at both my aunts’ houses.  Looking back today, those summer months away from school were the ones during which I did the most learning – I learnt about my language and culture, about my family, about my grandfather but most of all about life and the people who loved me.

Babimasi was one of those people.  Come to think of it, I never saw her angry. Anxious yes. Worried yes, Hysterical even. Sad, serious, forlon, wistful. But angry… never. Now that I think of it, my holidays spent there were really carefree and the only strain on my little brain was to tell her what I wanted to eat at the next meal!

She loved children. And in that show of strength she’d call all her nephews and nieces and we’d have a grand lunch in her kitchen.

Yes she was a great cook. I was too young to decide what I liked. Maybe my older siblings and cousins remembered her best dishes, I only remember the love with which she cooked them. And the love with which she fed us. And all who came to her home.

In paying her a tribute one cannot leave out my Uncle, Mukundmasa, whose lust for life she shared. Between them their world revolved around making the worlds of those around them happy. Their enthusiasm for life remained unwavering, their excitement for simple outing, going to movies, having ice-cream or even getting the hand churned ice-cream maker home on a Sunday completely infectious.

I remember those Sunday mornings, when we went to Vadilal’s. Yes Vadilal’s a small shop which actually rented out ice cream churners. With lots of excitement, trepidation and huge handfuls of rock salt on ice, we proceeded to churn our own ice cream. Although we took turns at the churner, I don’t think we children did much. It was largely my Uncle and my grandfather. We largely helped in finishing it – encourgaged lustily again by Babimasi and Mukundmasa.

As years went by I’d not meet her so often as get her news from Mom. Her visits to Mom’s house were epic! Mom would call to tell me that she was coming. Then tell me what she was making for her. A little later Dad would call to complain. It was hilarious and we knew, that once both the sisters got together, it was just the two of them and their world. Mom who needed her regular dose of sleep night after night, stayed up and chatted, much to my Father’s dismay and disapproval.  Two days after Babimasi left, my father would call saying Mom was not well. Exhausted. Mom would then call later and sheepishly give some excuses for her illness, none remotely related to her overnight story telling session with her sister. I would listen to both sides of the story and not say a word. Sisters are important, we all know that.

When Mom passed away, Babimasi was disconsolate. When Bhartimasi their eldest sister passed away a little later, she hugged me and cried. My Uncle their brother had already passed on. “I am the only one remaining” Babimasi wailed. We shed tears with her. We felt her pain. But I know somewhere all of us, my siblings, my cousins, we knew that some part of our parent lived on in her. Some memory, some vestige of familial similarity, some trace of what had been was still there.

With a sinking heart I heard news of her being unwell some time ago.

With a saddened heart I got news of her passing away. She’s gone I thought. The last memory of the family. The last of the siblings. The last of Mom.

But I was still ok. Till I spoke with the family. And strangely enough, the grief all came out then. I broke down. To me and I may be presumptuous, but I think I am right, to most of us, she was a mother figure. At some time or the other she had baby sat us.  Looked after us.  Pampered us. And given us unconditional love.  And in her moving on to a place of no return she walks away in her own gentle manner with an entire generation.

That was the overwhelming truth for all of us.

Babimasi has passed on. Leaving a huge gaping void in our lives.

But wherever she is, she is reunited in a place of love with her siblings Bharatmama, Bhartimasi and my mother, her father and Mukundmasa who doted on her. In our grief, one can smile and feel her happiness.

RIP Babimasi. You live on in each one of us.

Dedicated to Prakashbhai, Vaishali, Ambar and Manali and to each of my cousins who has been touched by her.

And the follow up to this: