Urmilla sat through the meeting in a daze, not really grasping the meaning of the words that were being said. If some passer-by thought that she was asleep, no one would blame them.
It had been a normal morning…or as normal as could be expected for someone whose sister had just died. She vaguely remembered the morning, and the memory of her getting dressed for this meeting was even fainter. She did, however, remember a single instruction, given out in a precise but cold tone, ‘dress appropriately.’ And she had. She looked every bit the part of a mourning sister – white sari with a conservative gold border and a pair of dark shades that hid her curiously dry eyes. She wondered idly if people could see through the sham.
She had tried to listen in the beginning but the language and the humidity had gotten the better of her pure intentions. Besides, she knew Avi would listen, dissect and argue every bit of everything that came out of the lawyer’s mouth. She didn’t technically even need to be here. She was here because she was playing her part. Could anyone then fault her for not listening?
Her attention perked up when she saw the thickness of the papers reducing. Even in the lawyer’s tone, there was a definite drop as if he was preparing for the last bit of news…like a discernible drop in the music when a song is coming to its culmination.
The bit to which she paid particular attention was about her sister’s last wish. Her sister wanted her ashes to be immersed in the River Ganga. “I’ll do it,” she said immediately, unthinkingly.
Avinash looked at his wife disapprovingly. He had told her to not say anything during the meeting. Ideally he would have done it without her but she needed to be here seeing as she was the deceased’s sister, and he had no connection to said deceased apart from being the husband of the sister.
The lawyer paused and Avinash took that opportunity to beg for a break. They had been listening to his droning for the better part of an hour. Everyone could use a break. The lawyer readily agreed and called his secretary to order some tea and biscuits.
Avinash took his wife aside and spoke in a stern but placating voice, “You don’t need to do this.”
“Do what?” Urmilla looked surprised.
“You don’t need to go to Ganga to…put her to rest. She is already gone. She couldn’t care.”
“It was her last wish Avi. I need to do this for her.”
“Urmilla that is what I am trying to explain to you. You don’t need to do this. If anyone…let her children do it. Why are you getting involved?”
“Getting involved?” repeated Urmilla in a choked voice. “She was my sister! I am involved whether you or I like it or not.”
Avinash huffed with irritation. Why was she being so irrational? “Urmi, meri jaan, she wouldn’t know the difference. We live in Bombay city for god’s sake! We are surrounded by water. We can always put her to rest here…where she has lived all her life. Why go all the way to Ganga?” he said reasonably.
She knew he was right. Of course he was right. And practical…Avi was always practical. Practicality was his go to excuse when he wanted to avoid doing something. “Avi she was my sister. I have to do this.”
“Sister?” he snorted loudly, almost losing his cool as he grabbed her arm. He saw her wince and let go immediately. “You hadn’t even spoken to each other in the last nine months. You came to know about her death through the newspapers and she hasn’t even left you any…” he paused. “You don’t owe her anything meri jaan. This is foolhardy. Why are you being so stubborn?”
Urmilla couldn’t answer that question. She always, always listened to Avi, no questions asked, no answers demanded; no exceptions. Then why did she want to do this so badly?
Because she was your sister – whispered her heart in response.
So I am not being stubborn – she asked.
No matter what…she was your sister and your blood. That is something neither you nor Avi can change – continued the whisper.
Urmilla almost cried at the cadence of that whisper. If she was not extremely mistaken, it bore a shockingly strong resemblance to her father’s voice but he had died ages ago. She wanted to speak to it some more, share some of her thoughts but the connect she had felt had been severed…and she mourned it…with a fiercer grief than she mourned the death of her sister.
“I’m going alone.”
“Urmi if you think I am going to allow this than you are sadly mistaken!”
“Avi why can’t you understand I have to do this alone. She was my sister.”
“What is happening with you? You haven’t once tried so vehemently to acknowledge the bond that exists between you two before this. What changed?”
“Avi my sister died! Please try to understand. I have to go…”
The fight kept replaying in her head; like it was on a loop. And it didn’t look like she was going to get any respite from it anytime soon.
After the meetings with the lawyers and her sister’s children, Avinash had made impassioned speeches about togetherness and sharing in the wealth of the family since her sister hadn’t left much of her wealth to Urmilla. This had angered him but no matter what he said, the will was iron clad and he couldn’t do anything about it but crib, which he had done, loudly.
Everything her sister possessed from property to money to gold had gone to her children. Urmilla had received some jewellery that had belonged to their mother and the script of a play. Though the script meant nothing to Avinash, it did to her…it brought back memories of simpler times, of times where the dream of ‘making it big’ was still ripe and not tarnished by the harsh realities of showbiz and marriage.
After all this, they had finally gotten down to performing Renu’s final rites. It hadn’t taken long to convince her nieces that she wanted to fulfil her sister’s last wish. The elder one had even offered to accompany her but she had flatly refused. Convincing Avi had been difficult. He still couldn’t understand her simple reason – she was her sister.
It had taken her nearly a week to convince Avi and plan the trip but she had persevered and now she was on her way to Haridwar, travelling in a train after twenty-five years.