Sushma Mane – Gone but not forgotten online
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Sushma Mane

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For nearly as long as she was alive, Sushma Mane worked. At 8, she helped out with her family’s wedding decoration business. In her twenties, she found a job as a junior librarian in Mumbai, where she was born. She worked at the public library for 32 years before she retired as its administrative head. Then she became an insurance agent, making sales calls and visiting clients for 15 years. Along the way, she raised three children, separated from her husband, supported a daughter whose marriage broke down, and became a second mother to a grandson. On Aug. 30, 2020, she died from COVID-19 in a Mumbai hospital. She was 76. “When you think of grandmothers, you have a certain image in your mind — rocking chairs, knitting needles, books,” said Viraj Pradhan, Mane’s 28-year-old grandson. “She was nothing like that. She was Super Granny.” .While Mane’s daughter worked 12-hour days as a school librarian, she stepped into her shoes, ferrying Pradhan to school, attending PTA meetings, serving on school committees, supervising homework, and cooking meals — in addition to working full time. The first cracks in Super Granny’s armor came in 2017. A routine medical checkup revealed an unusual electrocardiogram. Soon after, Mane began to lose blood internally, and her hemoglobin levels plummeted. Doctors were never able to diagnose her underlying condition. “Every few months, when her hemoglobin levels went down, she became weak and found it hard to breathe,” Pradhan said. “She was too tired to even walk around the apartment.” WhatsApp, frequently forwarding jokes, funny videos, and “good morning” messages to her grandson. She texted him frequently, her long messages tapped out like old-fashioned letters: Dear Viraj, Did you eat? Did you reach on time? How was your meeting? Stay cool and positive. Take your medicines. I am fine. Don’t worry. What time will you be back? Have a good day, child. — Aaji (“grandmother” in Marathi) At the end of 2019, Pradhan quit his full-time job at a digital media company and went freelance so he would have enough time to look after his grandmother. Their roles had reversed. “She was used to being the person people depended on,” he said, “but now she was dependent on me. She wasn’t ready for that.” Their final conversation over the phone — right before Mane was put on the ventilator — lasted 45 seconds. Pradhan’s uncle had managed to send a phone to Mane in the intensive care unit through a nurse. Pradhan told her to stop worrying about hospital bills, get well, eat, and come back home as soon as she could. She told him not to worry about her and to eat his meals on time (“when she’s on the freaking deathbed!” Pradhan said). When that call ended, he said, he “somehow had a feeling that [he’d] probably spoken to her for the last time.” Mane had never wanted a big funeral, and the pandemic ensured her wish. Only three people attended her cremation — Pradhan, one of her sons, and a close family friend who was like a son to her. Mane’s daughter couldn’t attend; she was quarantining at the hospital after testing positive for COVID-19. Like all other people who had died in hospitals due to the coronavirus, Mane’s body was sealed shut in a bag. It was handled by staffers who were clad from head to toe in personal protective equipment, and nobody was allowed to touch her. Pradhan said he couldn’t bring himself to see her. He asked his uncle, Mane’s son, to place a letter at her feet, thanking her for everything she had done, along with flowers and a sari. “The thing that will always bug me is that she went away alone in a hospital,” he said. “She always wanted to go in her house, on her bed.” Mittal, Mane’s manager, said she was stunned to get the call. “My breath stopped,” she said. “She used to be in the hospital a lot, but we were used to her coming back every single time. We never thought that this time she wouldn’t come back. Wherever she is now, she is spreading happiness. Of that I am sure.” Months later, Pradhan's phone keeps surfacing pictures and videos he’d taken of Mane. He said he can’t look at them, because it’s too painful. In his, WhatsApp sits an unread message from his grandmother. It's the last time she texted him. It's been there for months, and he hasn't yet opened it. “It’s probably something generic, like a ‘good morning’ forward,” he said. “I haven’t checked it yet. I don’t have the courage.”