Thursday, December 28, 2017

You, Me, We Are Here

Nanin lives on. I see him everyday these days. In my dreams. In my face in the mirror that resembles the one of his adolescence and youth. I place my hand on the crown of my head and shelter it with a spread out palm the way he used to when he would walk into the dining room when I would be eating lunch after school or before college. The palm would emanate love, blessing and a wordless protection and connection. In translation it would mean, "You are precious and special and I love you beyond words". But as we know, much is lost in translation. Much else is important.

I remember things suddenly, snatches. I want to know more, remember from my mother's memories and from other peoples' memories. At the same time, I don't want to be left remembering. Because remembering something means you cannot take it for granted. Remembering means you have lost something forever, beyond the border of having.

Christmas Day, 25th December, the hours of this day makes me think back to the hours of the funeral. There is an irony - of the sheer joy and togetherness of the Christmas festival and the culmination of the festive season...and... the sheer loss and loneliness that his passing means to me. The world celebrates, I go along. But this hiding of tears, this quotidian facade, this clenching of teeth stems also from a lack of currently being around almost no one who knew him. The irony is solely mine to bear.

This year, tiny, highly personal ceremony officiated in Madras helped. There were lights, there were candles, French Fries, cold water. Tears, free tears. And then the music took over.

Of course, Nanin wouldn't be going on about this. He would feel my sorrow and maybe shed tears for a short while. But we would find our joy, with a torchlight, reliving stories (our own or otherwise) from Paraguay to Pamarru. Instead, if Nanin were here, we would be making a list. So, let's do what Nanin would rather do.

If Nanin Were Alive Today:

  1. If Nanin were alive today..I would really, really listen to each and every one of 'his' songs with him. I would appreciate and analyse every guitar riff, every choice of instrument, every drumbeat and every vocalist's vibrato. The way I do now when I hear his music and turn to tell him what I notice anew and admire afresh about the precious treasury of collected, remembered, repeated music he has given me. I would tell him that I went through his record collection a couple of months ago (for the first time!) and it gave me pride to associate my pre-teen cassette (and later CD, and later iTunes) collection with his neatly preserved stacks of 60-odd year old records. And I would also marvel at the artwork on his 'That Bad Eartha' - Eartha Kitt, Unforgettable Legends from the Punjab, the Fire and Romance of Spain, An Evening with Belafonte/Mouskouri, 'Boot Polish', Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Warda's 'Ehdounoul Ayam' Live, Belly Dances from the Middle-East,  Cugat Caricatures, 'Sparrow Meets the Dragon' -  The World's Greatest Calypsonian The Mighty Sparrow & The Carribean's No.1 Band Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, Drums of India, Thom Kelling's 'Fiesta Latina', Music for an Arabian Night by Ron Goodwin and his Concert Orchestra, Calypso in Brass: A Belafonte Innovation,  'Aap Beati', Exotic Percussion by Stanley Black and his Orchestra, 'Shagird' - too gorgeous, so effortful and purely artistEtic (yes, more than artistic).
  2. I would tell him how the house that seemed to possess layers, depths and treasure troves now has shrunk and all has been discovered. The cordoned-off cupboards have been reorganised. The lofts have been restocked. The secret drawer where he kept the miniature Swarovski animal figurines is now easily accessible. Those were eagerly awaited occasions - the times when he would pull open that drawer (often on my bouncing from one foot to another requests) and he would hand me the awe-inspiring boxes which contained the tiny, preciously-crafted little animals. I would trace their indented, sparkling bodies - a duck, a pig, a hedgehog, a teddy bear and a fish. I had to stand on tiptoe to peer inside that mysterious drawer. Now when I loom over it, I don't open it anymore. Also, it is quite jammed now due to weather and my hometown's past few terrifying monsoon seasons. Same with the rows of leatherbound, hardback collectors' edition classics, the weathered Asterix & Obelix collection and the awards whose names I would relish pronouncing to my newly-reading self. Nowadays, it's not my father's things that are discoveries, like it was when I would excavate to find messages after he had died. It is my old childhood room that is the place of surprise - where I search for the truest parts of myself in whirlwind moments.
  3. I would eat all the delicious East Godavari food that my Mum made over the years to replicate his Grandmother's cooking. I only began to truly enjoy the podis, the mango dal, the pulusu, the paalkura, the gongura after he wasn't around to share it with. I yearn for them and for the way he would mix fiery podi and rice into scrumptious balls, neat and perfectly coloured and textured. I loved it when he fed me from his plate.
  4. I would write down every single experience he narrated, childhood memory he relived, story he whipped up, musician he loved, film he applauded.
  5. I would take more cellphone videos. Of him singing, especially.
  6. I would tell him that he should never have to feel like he was too old a father and didn't give me enough due to that. The summer when I was 8 or 9, he had planned to teach me cricket on our driveway and set up a net for us to play throwball in my uncle's compound. So what if he couldn't? He had fallen pretty sick after that and was always mostly weak after that. Later on, he attended a few of my school plays and most importantly, my High School Investiture Ceremony where I made one of the most important speeches of my life as Outgoing Captain. That day, he made me cry with joy. And later on, he hadn't been well enough to attend my Undergraduate Graduation Ceremony. So I had made him promise to attend the Ceremony for my Master's. He had agreed. The ceremony was scheduled in the January after he passed away; we missed it by a month. But this time, even though he couldn't make it in person, I'm sure he watched. 
  7. I would call him up on the phone more. I spoke to him on the phone rarely when out. I wish I did more. When we did, we had really tender conversations. I love the way he would say "bye" - in a rounded, sweet, innocent, utterly fulfilling way. I wish that wasn't the most important word I remember.
  8. I would sit through all the times he wanted to talk - just talk about people and places and I would truly listen. I wouldn't say, "Good night, Nanin. See you tomorrow" so soon every night.
  9. I would recognise that my late-nighters, sitting in front of the computer in the tiny study adjoining his room, my downloading music, PhotoShopping, blogging, story-writing, PowerPoint presentations, dissertation - the sound of me was part of our quality time together. Mum tells me he loved those times. Now, I would play his songs louder than I normally did.
  10. I would type out that film scene breakdown that he wrote. I would write down that amazing serial-form story about the 4 friends that he narrated to me one night. It was amazing that it so powerfully overlapped another story idea of mine. I was proud of our creative synchronisation.
  11. I would drive him around more....much more! Not just the 2 times. Back from a nursing home where we had received bad news about his heart and the other time for a check up nearby where he hadn't been able to wear shoes due to a diabetic foot. Not the other time I don't include - driving behind his ambulance that final time. We would have instead gone places, the places of his childhood, the ones of his early days with Mum and places I would introduce him to. I wouldn't have let his snorts of "Humbug!" deter me.
  12. I would have asked him for help. Advice. Encouragement. Career decisions. I would have asked him to choose for me. Because I trusted him as I trust Mum. Never felt they were the parents who didn't have direct access to my heart and soul. Maybe I would have been a doctor like him. Like he quietly wanted me to be.
  13. I would just hug him and cuddle him more and more and more - the only thing that is truly impossible now.
  14. I would learn Telugu and talk to him in Telugu. We would do the Telugu-Spanish coaching barter.
  15. I would be my most truest, honest, nicest self. Which I was when I had him and which is what he prided most in me and which is the only way he will recognise me.
Nanin, the world after you has sometimes been a scary place, sometimes lonely. Sometimes, it tests all that you taught me and all that I learned from you. But I know that we are all one, we are infinite, we are the universe. The stardust, Mum, you and I and all the people and places we love are the same. Just as I see you in me, you see me and love me as I am. Just have to remember it. To quote a line I wrote in my first professional play, that my husband as a 17th century prince performs beautifully. He realises with clarity, at the depths of despair after the loss of his beloved wife (a line that takes off from 'our' song 'Flamenco', 'Dance, gypsy, dance gypsy...'):

"But love does not die, a love like this cannot die… it merely transforms, from earth to the heavens, surrounding and embracing us all.  
You are always there. You are always here - with me, around me, in me. You are in everything. You are in me".

Saturday, June 10, 2017

The One

Every year, I write a tribute to Nanin, my father.

Every year, and every day, I think about him, dream about him, during Christmas time even more so.

Every once in a while, I get an urge to call him on the phone or turn around to tell him something - to agree about an opinion or to comment on a Xavier Cugat song or to analyse the roots of a melody or to just TELL HIM about my life at the moment and then it suddenly hits me that the isn't there, neither at the other end of the phone nor sitting on a chair in a room in the house.

Nor am I in the same house.

This year, or rather 2016, I missed the year on this blog. 

The calendar turned before I could formulate thoughts, get to a computer and unleash my most private corner of myself as I am wont to do. Moreover, 2016 was the 5-year mark. Yet, I missed it.

Then it came to me. While I celebrate my father and all that he wisely taught me, gave me, shaped me, I would like to celebrate the legacy of love that he left me. More than the beloved home that he built himself, the music he passed on to me, the education and thirst for learning, the values of goodness, honesty and kindness, more than all of those is the most tangible of all - the person who brought us together, my beautiful mother.

I've always believed (known) that my mother is the best mother in the universe. But it's true! It's difficult to be objective when you've been blessed with a mother such as mine. And I'm so grateful that my father found her and together, the two of them made the most wonderful combination of parents anyone could ever have.

Sure, we didn't really have picnic Sundays and family vacations. My father was too ill by the time I was in my teens for us to do a lot together. But we made it work. Although a movie buff, Nanin deplored movie outings, eating at restaurants, amusement park trips. He detested tomatoes, curd and varied such items in food. If we were watching TV together (mercifully, we got two separate TVs soon enough), it would have to be cricket/old Telugu movies/news/old Hollywood movies. And yet, Nanin didn't hold us back from adventure and life. Mum more than compensated for Nanin's lack of enthusiasm for things a kid my age sought. My childhood birthday parties ruled the roost - balloons, games, return gifts, and food, glorious food. It was as if the entire class at school looked forward to my birthdays, or so it seemed. I certainly did. We went for movies, all movies, we ate out, we drove all the way to Bangalore for an Enrique Iglesias concert when I was 15. Nanin said fine. And we did it. He didn't even chastise me when halfway en route, I realised that I'd left the tickets behind at home and had to come all the way back. And Mum, the best friend anyone could ever have is the best travel partner - if we're going someplace, let's live it up. Not about partying or splurging - but the little things, like eating well, checking out little shops, laughing loads and relaxing.

My father was a lot older than other fathers. He was also not as well as he would have liked to been, he once apologised to me. But why would I compare when I knew I had been blessed with the best? And when he connected me to a mother who leave alone, plays multiple roles, just simply, magically exists?

My Mum isn't a wild, woo-hoo, Mum. Her enthusiasm, easy laughter and sparkly brown eyes often get her mistaken for ‘being high’, even though she is a complete teetotaler. She isn't a big-time entrepreneur or social worker. But I am yet to meet someone as talented as her, as HILARIOUS, as much a force of nature as she is a dynamo of beauty, of kindness, of all the joyful, sweet and pure things life is truly made of. She is an amazing, soulful writer, was once an attempted flautist, was a fantastic Japanese interpreter in the making, definitely was a super Transcedental Meditation teacher, and would have made a hotshot IFS officer as her father wished, but she is so much more. My dream for us (and greed for me) is for us to travel together so that not only can she explore the places she dreams of seeing but so that I can see the world through her magical eyes. 

This Indian Air Force child who grew up all over North India, absorbing trees and nature, seeking spirituality, finding motherhood and domesticity, devoting herself selflessly to her child and constantly, uncomplainingly, wordlessly, BEING THERE for said child. 

Right from teaching me to read by surrounding me with books, making up the sweetest and most heartwrenching lullabies that still drive me to tears, orchestrating the coolest birthday parties, seeking out friends who had children my age so that this only child could have company to play with, being on time and every time at each annual day, school play, concert, guitar recital, reading every scrap of scribbled ‘prose’, being audience (and wardrobe supplier) to my directorial efforts at drawing room plays, being confidante to all my friends, sharing each other’s friends, being company at DTP centres for final projects, mobile phone repair stores, every college admission run-around, every dress material matching, every new clothes shopping (both whether I wanted or not), every jewellery fixing, every bookstore visit, my first ever job interview – waiting in the car, at the coffee shop, just around the corner - everything,  everywhere, always. 

You have taught me how to love life and see colour, innocence, truth, beauty, joy in every movie we have watched growing up together on Star Movies and HBO or at Sathyam and Escape, in every popcorn we share, in every pizza we indulge in on Sundays sprawled on the bed with newspapers, in every meaningful, spiritual message encountered in a book, on WhatsApp or in a dream. You have taught me, right from the start, to see the person beyond the judgement of their clothes. You have taught me to be polite to every single person one encounters in a day. That a smile, a gentle word, the use of their name is all it takes to bridge the gaping holes in humanity. That ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and ‘I’m sorry’ do not bring down your character, and rather redefine it. 

You have encouraged me to sing with my lungs, sing metaphorically, sing literally, sing unabashedly. You criticise my expressions, dialogues, movements on stage and my words, characters, storylines in my writing – not because you wanted me to become an actress and a writer, but because you know how passionate I am about both and how necessary it is for one to see their dreams through their course, never belittling or dismissing them.  

You have taught my friends and I to be ourselves, without fear, only gently steering them away from possibly regretful adolescent experiences, sans lectures, sans condemnation – just like Nanin, only through expectation of excellent character. You have taught me the value of studying hard, “every minute is precious” and working hard, through your own unparallelled example of home making and as a person who never leaves a task undone or imperfect. You have taught me the power of phone calls, of getting things fixed, of resolving problems by asking questions and getting answers.
You have taught me the wonder of rainbows, the thrill of chilli cheese toast, the comfort of a soft, old T-shirt, the luxury of  a freshly made bed, and the cornucopia of the ecletic cuisine you have nourished me on – muddu pappu-nayyee-potato-avakaai pickle, moong dal-rice-green peas-onion chutney, sambhar-saadam, gooey, melting khichidi, pasta with ‘roast’ potatoes, hummus, homemade pizza and burgers, Thai red curry after college, pad thai with crunchy, sprinkled peanuts, cheese parathas during board exam time, olan-rice, healthful spinach soup, delicious potato-leek soup and sautéed butter beans, hot chocolate and my favourite morning mug of cold coffee which ONLY TASTES GOOD WHEN YOU MAKE IT. 

You taught me that I am of value, of worth and made me see past the chubby child, the introverted teenager, the uncertain college-goer, the dreamy adolescent into someone who can BE anything she dreams of.  You have dreamed dreams of IFS and the UN and living up to my full potential for me. But are brave enough to let go of those dreams and think of a dream of ‘not being’, if I choose to!
You love me despite, inspite, regardless, nonetheless, nevertheless. And right now, when we’re miles apart due to circumstances of my choosing, putting you through unimaginable loneliness and discomfort – which no one in their right mind would do to anyone, leave alone to their pillar, the focal point of their universe, their most adored one -  you love me anyway. 

Songs about mothers make me cry. Movies. Stories. Because there isn’t enough that I can do to explain how much she means to me and that I feel the same yearning and pull as I did when I was a four year old, getting dropped at school for the first time. But tears apart, I get such a leap of joy in my heart every time I get a message from her. Not just because she’s my mother, but because she is possibly the most ‘anew’ person each moment – always an adventure, always peace, always progress, always acceptance and understanding, always, always love.

And for this, I must thank my grandparents for making her, my father for choosing her and God for sending her to me. 

Happy Mother's Day and Happy Father's Day, Happy Every Day thanks to you, Mum.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Four Years of Christmas


The day is exactly the same.

I remember a line from a 'Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants' novel by Ann Brashares that always stuck with me - "At Christmastime the world had celebrated birth and Bee had remembered a death".

It could have been that day. So much has happened, everything is different and yet, this moment is exactly the same.

It’s automatic. Maybe it’s the winter stillness. The coolness in the air. The faint music from a distance, notes and voices lingering in the air, their echo holding the silence moments after they’ve begun. Until this morning, the anticipation of festivals and celebrations of other people, smiling and counting down just like everyone else, and inside counting down to something else too. And then the actual day, when I wake up, silent and calm, the turbulence ended. A tear or two fall, but less than they have been in the past few days. As it was that day, four years ago.

Four years now. I don't think anyone really remembers. And I remember the defining moments of that day, of that previous night, of the nights that followed. The agony. But also, the people. The strength and warm arms of friends and family. Those moments changed my relationship with people forever, completely transformed the way I feel about certain people, the fondness and gratitude towards them, irrespective of the fact that they are in my life today or not.

I remember B’s ex-girlfriend who came in with a friend. And how the two of them stayed with us the whole night around the sofa positioned in front of the front door. How she lay down beside me as I lay in the darkness, over Nanin’s place in bed, trying to absorb the remnants of his last living being, his skin, his hair, his warmth, his smell now already disappearing. She cried with me in that semi-darkness, this girl whom I didn’t really know so well, and whose association was dependent on my loyalty to B. But she was comfortingly there, there with me. And I think we both fell asleep for a while. I can’t remember how I could fall asleep. Her friend was with Mum and my aunt in the drawing room, strong and silently protective.

The doors had to be open all night. And there were fears. There were unsavoury elements in that night, familiar strangers and dangers to my family, now reduced to two. There was Nanin in an ice box, looking like he was asleep. Completely healed and normal, like nothing had happened in the last five months. He looked like he was breathing. We all thought so. His hair grey-white, his shirt and lungi white, his skin ever so “white” like all my friends used to say about his complexion, the complexion that caused a lot of envy among his friends and relatives, when his own looks were something that never really mattered to him, this man who was often proclaimed “the handsomest man in Madras”.

There was my father, the man I called “Baby”, more than Nanin. He would never speak again. I would never hear his voice again. I would a few months later, one day, call my eldest Uncle and hear the similarity in their voices and break down.

There were the other Uncles and Aunties, the ones I hadn’t seen in months or years. They were there, gentle reminders of the childhood I was losing, gentle reminders that I was still someone's child. Someone nudged me to change out of my T-shirt and tracks. The tracks I had been wearing as armour, as if to strengthen my toughness during duty doctor calls on 3 different hospital stays, on pharmacy runs and in my mode of fierce protector.

I would never wear those tracks again. Or the T-shirt. Or the kurta that I changed into for the pre-funeral ceremonies in the morning. In the driveway where he would lie. The driveway which he built. Where photographs were taken of him walking me up and down as an infant, my short, stubby legs wrapped around his at-that-time rotund stomach, both of us freshly bathed, brown hair combed back and straight, faces scrubbed, twins across generations maybe.

This was his house. The product of his imagination and his sweat and toil as a professional ENT specialist and surgeon. All this belonged to him and he was being prepared to leave it.

He had already left. He was gone before anyone else came in. He was gone after he, by chance, watched a snippet of himself on an old Telugu film on TV and pointed it out to Mum, after he asked Mum to feed him pesarettu and pindi by hand, after he had pointed to the angels, the Divine presence surrounding him the next morning, Christmas morning, after he smiled and squeezed my hand one last time. He was gone before they took him to the hospital, me rushing in our car with Mum right behind that ambulance with the redundant oxygen tank. Gone as they wheeled him on to the wrong floor in that nursing home bedecked with halfhearted Christmas decorations, as I screamed at them for wasting time, as his nurse handed his watch to me for the last time, as my gentle and oldest cousin asked me to leave the room so as not to witness them pumping his heart, as I stepped outside reluctantly to my sobbing mother and we knew that it was this time, actually over. And we knew it was time to let go. And the one reason it was necessary is because his suffering, and it was suffering, was over.

And as expected, we would be in for a lot with the events that were to follow. And yet, strangely and by Divine Grace and God’s angels in our friends, we were guided through, as if an invisible boat through the torment. I remember sweet Jhinks’s vulnerable face as she helplessly stood, similarly clad in tracks and T-shirt that Sunday morning, wondering what to do. Her ever-generous and thoughtful parents swiftly sent flasks of tea and food even before we realised that we were not supposed to cook in the house. Same with M Aunty who was a powerhouse in a petite form. Who was firm and unrelenting in her bringing of homecooked food and loyal advice, but most of all, her solid presence throughout those days. There was B who was going through his own troubles, and yet stolidly pulled through Oscar nominated movies with me on DVD during the days much after, escaping with me to someone else's stories. There was Swe and Burie during the hospital days of X-Rays and tests, Burie whom Nanin had grown so fond of, this brilliant, hardworking boy who probably reminded him of his early medicine days. There were my aunt and uncle, loving and peacefully accompanying during the mundanities that followed, there with us during that peculiar New Year's. There were Nat and her parents. Of course, there was Tabi's parents, dearest Uncle no longer with us, my second father too gone this May, after one long last phone conversation, which somehow felt like the last even though I didn't want to believe it. 

And there's my beautiful Mum, who's back in Madras, keeping up her end of the tradition alone, whom I miss being with today. I yearn to talk about him to her, release some of the emotional memories, relive those specific spaces - the mosaic floors, the dining table, the cane verandah chairs, the diamond-shaped window bars- in our place, his place which I have been traversing in my mind. But when I speak to her, she reminds me about life to be lived. She herself as a person reminds me of the fact that life is to be lived and celebrated. Love isn't to be mourned, she tells me. Celebrate him, because he was not the wallowing kind. When I think about Christmas and how complex it has become for me now, she tells me it isn't. It's simple. Nanin left on a day when the world was in prayer, when there was holy music. So, this Santa Claus of my childhood tells me that Christmas has been made even more special as much as Nanin's Day adds beauty to Christmas. And there's my dear Alby whose face reminds me of the spirit of Christmas today as he willingly leaves out his sock to be filled with Santa's goodies. And who playfully, secretly fills Santa's sock in return. He reminds me of the love. In his eyes I'm reminded of the words from the song that I used for Nanin's obituary, the words of the flamenco tune that he sang and we sang together, etched in my memory:
"Love will not die, gypsy..."

And I think about the beautiful play (if I say so myself) that we created, embellished by Nanin's portrait as part of the set, travelling with us all over the country and some of the world, helping me tell my story, our story and now everyone's story. 

It's 1:16pm this 25th December. It would have been the time, though I don't remember how the hours passed so fast that day.

I close my eyes and I see tall, glittering Christmas trees, glowing like the one K has WhatsApped me of his Bombay house. I see snowy, bedecked New York, hear Christmas carols and want to taste hot chocolate. I open my eyes and think of my mother's smile (thanking God every moment that she is safe and well today, having braved the Madras rains). I think of yesterday, when I watched my brother-in-law walking with his infant son perched on his stomach, how bittersweet tears pooled up as I showed him pictures of another new father 27 years ago, who walked in such a similar fashion.

I think of the all the love I am grateful for. I think of the day ahead. I think I want to celebrate it with my Alby.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Three Years Only. Yet a Lifetime Away.

The sadness can still engulf, drowning you as it will in your own tears.
But there is calm down below.
There is peace, knowing it was a smooth and peaceful transition for the one you lost to the Unknown.
There is life, that goes on, its glorious ups and its 180 turns and its downs, the downs you thought you were done with it since the Big One.
There is peace.

And you still want to talk. You want to share how it happened. Where you were, where everyone else was, what you were thinking, how you knew but still didn't want to believe it.

And the night before was Christmas Eve. A night, as most nights of my life, where you heard echoes and distant choruses of choirs, unconsciously picking out the tunes in your mind of 'Silent Night', 'Hark Now Hear the Angels Sing', 'Joy to the World'. A chilly, peaceful, almost-holy night in Chennai. The last night.

And then it was Christmas day. Which did not mean much to a mostly-non religious, but deeply spiritual man. A man. He was more than a man - he is a presence, a background score to my life, a landscape in my mind. He can't be gone because I can see him dismiss things with his large, long-fingered fair hand. I can feel his silky silver hair as I would brush it in the last days. I can hear his voice belting 'Hava Nagilah', along with Harry Belafonte, their voices merging until now I can hear him in the recording.

But what gives me most peace is knowing he is not him anymore. He is beyond. He is so much more than his songs and his myriad life stories and his opinions and his body, so much more than his body. I know, deep within, he is more than happy with my life right now, he is content to see me Learning - stumbling, struggling, succeeding. He is free from even me.

That gives me peace.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Two Years

It’s going to be two years.
The weather is exactly the same – or at least feels like it. The spaces have been inhabited. The places that reminded are now revisited, unconsciously gotten over. The songs are still sung, almost always with the vain hope that an additional, unforgettable, and now forever unheard voice will join in. The tears in sleep are still shed. The dreams of a life continued are still woken up to. The conversations are still had but now they are prayers; prayers rooted in the faith that there is strength emanating from above beyond what could have ever been humanly possible.
I still go back to my father’s often unspoken values and principles to guide me in life – in my career choices, in my respect, love and protection for my mother, in my belief in unconditional love through its lowest and highest points, in my intuition, and in my conviction to be myself and that is, the best version of myself, and also to let go sometimes, because even the strongest and bravest man I know was not afraid to be vulnerable, not afraid to be a child and want to be taken care of, not afraid to show his heartbreak and his heart’s triumphs.
And of course, the memory of that day is preserved – a “gloomy Sunday”, like the song he used to listen to. But a day that must be remembered, because that day defined the end of an earthly relationship and the beginning of one that transcends.
And Shinie Antony wrote this piece that touches on the memory of such a day, and the days that preceded it and the beginning of the altered state of introspection that all those who face loss begin to live with. Grief is a dark place, an unwanted visit. It eventually becomes a place of love and faith. It is in a way, a continuance of the lost person’s life, as their presence in us will carry on as long as we live. Loss brings questions. But it also brings realness – we know that we are alive because we have loved and lost. And we must be proud of the bravery we possess in daring to live on.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Kun Faya Kun

'Kun Faya Kun'
Film: Rockstar (2011)
Music: A.R. Rahman

This blog was named after a song that I listened to a lot during the last few months of my father's life. The song made tears fall even at that time, not just because his name appears in it but because of its aching sweetness and its longing for surrender to God.

I try not to venture into commentary on religion and/or spirituality even among friends, leave alone on an internet platform. But I guess my thoughts would naturally pervade my writing and be expressed unconsciously. Religion is personal and one can never be completely subjective about it. Atheism and agnoticism is also a lens of subjectivity, in my opinion. But then again, I'd rather refrain from commenting on an aspect of human life that is so connected with death, a philosophy that is so powerfully individualistic and collective at the same time, a choice or way of life that is so outwardly projected, and yet so deep, deep within, a blanket that secures, an anchor that grounds, wings that liberate, a choice of brand for a soul-feeling that can and never should be explained...

"Ranga Reza, rang mera tann, mera mann
lene rangayee chahe tann, chahe tann"

The song talks about a lot, delivered in true A.R. Rahman Sufi manner, not perfect, but purely devotional and ambient in its sweeping embrace of the bittersweet nature of human existence and the desperate need to become one with God, or lost in the divine.

In the song, Mohit Chauhan sings to Irshad Kamil's lyrics
"...Kar de mujhe mujhse hi riha"

That line appeals to the spiritual side of me. I love myself. Life is beautiful but we want more, don't we? Or is it just when we're sad and lost and bereaved?

I will restrain myself from asking the usual questions that plague me - where do we go when we are not we anymore? Why do we seek that?

We celebrate the life of those gone, rewinding and reviewing their memories but do we realise that they are not them anymore? Ranga Reza is my father to me, but he is beyond that now. He is so much more.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Year Hence

It's been a year. A favourite food offering was made. Photographs were wiped and garlanded. A date, based on the lunar year, was set for the religious ceremony. A very heartfelt ad was put in the paper, one that quoted Frankie Laine's 'Flamenco' ("Dance, gypsy, dance, gypsy/Laugh and romance, gypsy. Dance, gypsy, dance, gypsy/Break every rule/Fly, gypsy, cry, gypsy/LOVE WILL NOT DIE, GYPSY/Now that you've captured the heart of a fool").

We didn't know what to do further.

Religion, however you personally choose to profess it, endows the bereaved with traditional duties and customs, ostensibly for the purpose of adhering to tradition but I believe that it is secretly intended to distract the bereaved from the grief and also to give them the freedom from participation in activities/events that might cause them to miss the deceased even more. Religious tradition expects you to do something in memory - to do it feels necessary but it does not of course feel completely satisfactory.

So I played his songs extra loudly. That helped a bit. But it didn't feel right. It felt like how they have Rajnikanth music specials on his birthday. How do you celebrate and grieve at the same time for someone whose absence is so conspicuous, still a little raw and whose true spirit was so free from rigid ideologies, unwaveringly seeking only what was fair and true? He would laugh at the acts that try to distort the truth and present some warped sense of reality. For him, the truth however unpretty, however complicated, was the only thing worth living for. Hypocritical, wishy-washy behaviour was something he saw through at once, even if it was in his favour. For him, his heart ruled and he followed it, unfailingly, as much as a man of science could. So when I felt a twinge of hurt at an action that attempted to do exactly the above, I decided to do just what my father would have done - laugh. Because when you know the truth and when the truth is love, you have nothing to feel hurt about. If there's anything my father has taught me, it's to be truthful and about to be strong, cement-footed about it.

In a year, life can throw beautiful miracles your way. It can heal you by keeping you so busy, so absorbed, so productive that you push the pain to the back of your mind. That helps. But of course, in the dark, sometimes at night, it sears and aches because of the forced vacancy, the closed door that you cannot open, a fated date that you cannot reverse.

And you dread the date coming around again, because you don't want to confront it. It would seal the time since so specifically that it increases the vast canyon that separates you from that person you had so close and who seems to have just slipped out beyond reach. I always felt that past the one year mark, I would be so further away from his life, that his living memory would fade and I forgot what it felt like to hold his hand. There would be tears but less specific. I would rather crave him to question my movements, to miss me when I travel, to be there so that we could have major life decision conversations and even arguments. I would want him to scare the person I chose to marry and to finally agree. I would never want someone to do that for me, not even another family member. I wish that he, specifically, him as a person, would be there to do that because I am not able to imagine right now how he would react to such circumstances. When he was ill, I was so wrapped up in his health, his suffering, the fear that I would not have much time with him that I treasured our daily moments together and never had the luxury of taking my father for granted, as most people would do. My parents' love raised and lifted me in such a way that I never felt the typical teenage stirrings of rebellion or the need to let loose. Of course, I was lucky that they never suppressed or restricted me but I knew what his expectations of me as a human being were and I always felt responsible to that. So, in my moments of weakness and rage at life's order of things, I sometimes feel so resentful that my father being a father of a 24 year old girl is something that I will never have the privilege of experiencing.

But I do have faith in the protection he has left me, both earthly and metaphysical. I can only imagine what they would react to the prayers and offerings being done (knowing my father, he would say "Bah, humbug!") I believe that he is a part of all the good things that happen and I believe that he can, with his invisible, mysterious force, alleviate the bad. People say that he is always there, everywhere but I'd rather he were elsewhere, looking down, all-knowing and all-understanding but somewhere much better than the restrictive, physically-bound, potholed streets of Chennai, just for my sake. Of course, he will always be my guardian and confidant but I know, just know, that whatever form he is in, it would be much expanded and much powerful.

Because love is powerful. And love does not die.