This is my favourite part of the house. The storeroom. It’s tiny, really; there was barely enough room for me to stand inside it when I was alive. Everything is exactly the way it was all those years ago, when the storeroom was built to accommodate all the worldly requirements of my life.

Here are the Godrej almirahs, all four of them, standing in pairs and facing each other. This one to my left has some of my sarees. The Banarasis. They no longer hang from satin hangers; they have been folded and wrapped in mul-mul, as though they were corpses of hand-woven silk and gold. Everything inside the storeroom is a corpse of some sort – here is the corpse of a winter evening, there is the corpse of a trip to Europe, everywhere there are corpses of charmed days and perfumed nights, stilled before their time.

I could wrap a Banarasi around what used to be my slender-but-pleasingly-plump-in-all-the-right-places body (my husband used to say) even now, when all that is left of me is this dismembered voice. It wouldn’t be obvious to my daughter – who has been coming into the storeroom for the nearly three decades that I have been dead, to unfold and refold the sarees in a variety of ways so that the fabric doesn’t tear – that I have draped one of my favourites around me. Maybe I’ll pick the cobalt blue katan silk with the meenakari work – I can still smell the zari on it.

Pure gold zari has the type of smell that can take you back to your own wedding, when you were beautiful, when your body was a flute, whispery with all that was yet to come. Pure gold zari has the type of smell that is part cool metal and part molten desire. It is finely woven, this zari, and it gleams with floral motifs that speak to you in slivery gold: may you bloom, may you be fertile, may your trembling thighs bring forth generations. It doesn’t tell of catheters inserted in the flute-like body and the sound of retching echoing through the house.

But I will dwell on my illness later. Or, maybe I won’t… everything will depend on how this tale unfolds. My illness is the reason why I must recount my memories as a voice, and not as a real person, and that’s enough by way of explanation, for now. I will try to sound like a real person, and will describe events, upheavals and the people who caused them with an obsessive attention to detail, and I can only hope you will stay with me till the very end. But if your attention wanders to the happier affairs of your life as a real person in the real world, I will try not to feel offended. Who can blame you for being distracted by the warm embrace of a flesh-and-blood world, who can blame you if you choose to turn away from me to pay your bills or drive your child to school or have a warm bath or make love? You, who are the living, are impatient with the dying, let alone the dead. You, who like juicy stories that are told in a Scotch-on-the-rocks stupor, might not find this tale an amusing one. You, who prefer the familiar comfort of happy endings to any other, might discover, if you choose to stay and listen, that this tale has upset you.

We will examine the contents of this storeroom together, you, the living, and I, the voice. We will return to it when everything that happens outside it overwhelms you. Together, we will open the old tin box that lies on the topmost shelf of one of the almirahs. Together, we will delight in the yellow topaz necklace, the diamond-and-emerald earrings, the string of pearls, the gold choker with its jhumkas, the mangalsutra that lie in a tangled mess inside it. I can still feel the heat of a gold clasp around my neck, the gentle grip of pearl drops or emerald studs that clung to my earlobes – the softest islets, my husband used to say, when we were still untouched by tragedy – the fevered glamour of polki diamonds, rubies and turquoise on parts of me still unscarred by surgery. My illness has a way of creeping in, so I will allow it to. Its malevolent grip on me is long gone, for it took me with it. Now all it does is interrupt this story and my fleeting happiness in opening the storeroom for you to peek inside.

There are letters too, and old postcards, which we will sit and read. Here they are, tucked inside the middle compartment of my buckled leather purse. There’s one from my sister in Calcutta – it was renamed Kolkata long after I was dead, so I still call it Calcutta. Let me briefly tell you what’s inside it, it’s one of my happiest keepsakes. Look here, the blue inland letter card that has a manually-pressed ink marking clearly mentions the date: 30 September, 1977. “You must be so big, by now,” she writes. I was a giant. I was carrying my firstborn, my daughter, the one who has spent all these years unfolding and refolding the sarees. “It’s hard to imagine you as fat, but by the time we are in Delhi you will be slim again and very busy with the new arrival,” she writes, from her home in Gurusaday Road. There is another letter, a Luftpostleichtbrief Aerogramme, from another sister who was settled in Germany. It is dated 12 December, 1978; my firstborn was a one-year-old then and this sister, Frau Aruna, was expecting her first child. “You must have heard my news by now,” she writes in a scrawl that is barely legible, “How about giving me company once again?” I didn’t want to be pregnant again, so soon after the birth of my daughter, The Wailer – the nickname was bestowed upon her by my husband, from the band Bob Marley and the Wailers. A stack of my husband’s LPs lies in that corner, over there, and we could browse through all the American and British pop, rock, classic ska and reggae albums that lie here in the dark. We could listen to a record too, if you feel like it, the Technics turntable is also here, together with the cassette player, the CD player and the boxy speakers that have all been replaced by astonishing new technology. I know you can listen to music on your smartphone, but imagine swaying to “Jailhouse Rock” or “Red Red Wine” in this room with its suitcases and almirahs full of a life unlived, a life abbreviated. We could sing along, you, the real person, and I, the voice, and I could take you back to an evening in 1982 when my husband’s best friend and his Spanish wife came over. Elvis – it was usually Elvis – sang his “Moody Blues” or “Return to Sender” while cardboard boxes of spring rolls, sweet-and-sour chicken, shredded lamb, Hakka noodles, and egg-fried rice from Golden Dragon were emptied onto the bone-china plates on the dining table. There was always music, at the dinner parties we had at home, or even when we were trying to put the children to sleep. There was always music, during the chemotherapy and after, when my body was trying to make sense of the violence of medicine. I remember how “Let It Be” –Aretha Franklin’s “Let It Be” – seeped into my veins, a deluge of love trying to overwhelm the illness that was everywhere. My eyelashes had disappeared. I had two beauty spots, one on my nose and one on my neck, a little below my Adam’s apple. Chemotherapy destroyed them both. But Franklin’s voice was a long pilgrimage to a place where I was whole.

I am dead, but music still makes me want to tap my feet or sing out loud or cry into my pillow or make another baby with my husband. The third child we wanted but could not have. There was not enough time; the disease came swiftly; it shrivelled my breasts and gnawed at my bones and turned my blood into poison.

Excerpted with permission from Of Mothers and Other Perishables, Radhika Oberoi, Simon and Schuster India.