Tuesday, 31 January 2012

In The Wake: Picking Up The Fragments

You can stay together, but live apart.

She eliminated that.

You can stay apart, but be together.

She accomplished this.

One more day to survive. One more night of staying apart.

There is a strange, surreal, almost eerie, stillness that has suddenly seeped into our life, the one common life that five of us share now. We move about, we talk to other people, we try to concentrate on our work at home or in office, we eat, we bathe, we brush our teeth…everything seems to be going normally. But it is not. It is a façade, a common mask that we simultaneously wear, a mask behind which we hide the raging maelstrom inside.

A mask that is not very effective.

When people look back at their own lives, when they self-retrospect, sometimes they divide their lives into segments, periods of time, marked by personal milestones. ‘Pre-college’ and ‘post-college’. ‘Pre-marriage’ and ‘post-marriage’. ‘Until I met ABC or did xyz’ and ‘after I met ABC or did xyz’. Until now, I used to categorize my own life under two such headers, ‘until the end of school’ and ‘college-onwards’. But for the five of us—Baba, Maa, Mamma, Kiara, and me—the life that we share, the one life that we have been sharing since 16th January 2012, is divided into two parts, “pre-Kuttush” and “Kuttush-onwards”.

Which would have been a good thing, but for the one additional rider: there is a virus that has attached itself to the second phase, a monstrous virus that has rapidly expanded itself to form a third, additional segment of our life and will not be removed.


It is as if an intruder invaded your home, your privacy, and took away forcibly, or maybe sneakily, something of immense value to you, when you were not looking, or maybe you were but you were caught unawares and was unable to do anything. It is only after he left, slamming the door behind him, that you realized what you lost in a matter of a few minutes or a few seconds only.

It takes a few moments to register what you just saw. Or heard. What you just lost. Forever. The brain has already registered what the heart refuses to acknowledge, but will be forced to. For a while, your mind is in the throes of a strange frenzy. It blacks out everything around you. The shock is physical. The numbness slams into you with brute force.

Within a span of barely a few minutes, your entire universe has shrunk into one little, white, furry body that lies lifeless in your arms.

The one moment you thought would never come, and took that thought for granted, has come and taken away the very essence of your being, leaving with you the little white shell that housed the twin to your soul.

But god is supposed to be great, right? Isn’t he also supposed to be good and merciful and caring and kind?

You question, not without reason, not entirely consciously, the concept of the so-called greatness or goodness or mercifulness of this vague, ambiguous, obscure entity called god, even as your mind struggles to cope with the harsh reality that rushes at you with the speed and force of a Mack truck. There is a replica of the original standing next to you. Where you are shattered, the replica is mystified. As you cry, it nudges you, nudges its original, seeking an answer to what is happening, but does not get one. It keeps moving around the two of you, keeps nudging the two of you, letting out low, mournful yelps.

The original, for the first time since the replica has been around, refuses to answer. Or respond. Or look up. You are still crying.

You realize that the age of miracles is long gone. You take in the fact that killers cannot be gods. For the first time in your life, as your world comes to a shuddering, shattering halt, you realize that the so-called “goodness” of so-called “gods” is a cruel, cruel, cruel myth.

The tears keep flowing. Irrespective of whether we try to control ourselves or let go, they keep coming, as if they have a life of their own, white-hot lava rising from some deep cavern inside, liquid fire that burns our eyes, throats, hearts, souls, reminding us of our irredeemable, irrevocable, abject loss, without realizing—or perhaps despite realizing, but nevertheless making a mockery of our helplessness, hopelessness, powerlessness—that we do not need to be reminded. The very fact that we, the rest of us, live on is a reminder painful enough.

It’s a vicious cycle: the more you cry, the more you hurt. The more you hurt, the more you cry. And you don’t know how to stop the cycle. You don’t control it.

I wish the tears would stop. I wish the pain would subside.

I want the tears to flow. I pray the pain never stops.

It is decidedly safer to be positioned away from the direct line of fire. You get hit, yes, but the bullets that hit you are the ones that have penetrated, perforated, the front-liners first and lost a little punch. The blood pooling around you is less your own and more that of the front-liners, who took the direct hits.

I think I am lucky that I am away from home; I did not have to witness first-hand the passing away of a family-member, a sibling, right in front of my eyes. After all, I am not my Father; I cannot absorb grief, sorrow, pain, sadness, the way he does, like a sponge. Baba was unlucky to see a child of his own, borne not of his flesh and blood but of his heartstrings and his love, pass away before him.

Or was he?

In life or in death, we are happiest when we are in the company of our loved ones, surrounded by those dearest to our hearts. The moment when Kuttush left, she had Baba’s lap to rest her head on as her mortal body breathed its last. Baba at least had the consolation of holding her hand. His tears on her forehead soothed her own pain, the pain that she experienced in having to leave him behind.

What did I have? Solace in knowing that I am 2,200 kilometers away from the direct line of fire? What good is that?

The other realm, the “great beyond”, is not really that “great” if you are not in the company of your nearest and dearest. Is the company of god more preferable to the company of your parents, your siblings, your child? I think not.

Togetherness is not limited to physical co-existence. Two people may not live side-by-side, but they can continue to be together, in each other’s hearts, in a unique, death-defying, god-defying way.

The Daughter lives on with her Family, in their midst and in their hearts.

Love that reaches out across worlds is something that not even god and his sole weapon death can overcome.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

In Memoriam: A Daughter Remembered

How does it feel when a loved one, someone close to your heart, a beloved family-member, passes away?

How do you cope with such loss? How do you even think of coping with this profound, monstrous, torrential grief that floods every corner of your soul, saps your will to live, threatens to tear your world asunder?

You don’t. Your instinct takes over on autopilot mode.

If there is one absolute truth in life, albeit the most severely unacknowledged one, then that is Death. Death, whenever it comes, is always considered inappropriate, unfortunate, unwelcome. No matter what the condition of the one about to be carried away, Death always leaves you with a feeling of having been unprepared.

But is that all there is to Death?

Death is about Grief. About Sadness. Pain. Parting. About the feeling that never again will you see before your eyes the person who meant so much, probably more than the world, to you, never again will you hear him or her laugh, cry, speak. About the deep-running sense of Loss that, days afterwards, has the tendency to suddenly jump out from one hidden nook and catch you unawares, releasing tears you never realized were still there.

But Death is also about Acceptance. About Unification. About realizing, over a period of time, how much you loved, how much you love, the one who has passed on, leaving you behind, for tears that flow in remembrance of a loved one are the most sacred tears of all. In the end, therefore, tears in Death are tears of Love.

That is the legacy of Death.

As I write this piece, with the intention of sharing it with family-members and a few select friends, I realize how the most tragic event in the history of my family so far has once again brought each member of the unit, spread over three cities and now two worlds, closer to each other. For 34 hours now, we all have been crying, outwardly and inwardly. We will keep crying, each one of us, for several days to come, until a day will come when our tears will stop flowing externally, and even later, a day when the tears we shed will be for someone else. But I know that as long as we live, we will keep alive in our hearts the Sister, the Friend, the Mother, the Guard, the Companion, and most importantly, the Loyal and Devoted Daughter, who filled our lives with joy and love and laughter, and made us better human beings through her illuminating, heavenly, love-filled presence among us for eleven and a half years.

Exactly how long is eleven and a half years? Four thousand, one hundred, ninety-five days? Is it long enough to be remembered for the rest of one’s life? For the rest of five lives, separately and cumulatively, individually and simultaneously?


The thing with a pet-master relationship is, if the ‘master’ is lucky enough, it will slowly evolve into something as symbiotic as a child-parent relationship. From placing a filled bowl or plate for your pet in one corner of the kitchen, you graduate to sitting it down before you and feeding it with your own hands. From taking it out in the open thrice a day so that it can relieve itself, you slowly start expanding your duties to toweling it clean after it has done its job. When it starts chumming, you clean it up lovingly with antibiotic-soaked paper towels. You start talking to it, pretending that it understands you…and suddenly realize that it does!

And if the master-turned-parent is unlucky enough, then slowly but surely, as your children grow up and leave the nest to settle in another city, state, or country, your pet-child will nearly fill up your entire universe. It will become a substitute for your biological children. You always knew, at the back of your mind, that your pet would be dependent on you, but now, when you find that your own children have learned to fly and hunt on their own, you realize that there is still someone who waits for you at the doorstep, one who will not budge, come hail or storm, until you have returned, one who will not settle down to sleep until you go to bed and carry it with you to the special spot next to your pillow, one who will zealously—and jealously—guard your affection and snarl at anyone who vies for even a drop of it.

You realize you are as dependent on your pet-turned-child as he or she is on you.

That is when trouble starts. For that is when you discover a whole ocean of love, hidden within a white, furry body, love that you thought you could only give: to your wife, your son, your daughter, your granddaughter, but now you see that same love being given to you, without question, without condition, without demand.

Which is why, when you see that little furry white body, made frail by age and a little illness, going limp before your eyes, you call up your son and with a shock, he listens to his Father crying, crying his heart out, crying like he has never cried before, crying as if his world has ended right there, right then.

For more than a decade, if there was one factor constant to our family, then that was your presence. You were always there, Kutty. But most importantly, you were always there beside Baba. You were there beside him when we fought with him, rebelled against him; you were there when he was unwell; you were there at his side when he faced financial problems; you comforted him when people much, much beneath his stature insulted him just to prove that money is more powerful than anything else under the sun. He kept quiet. You comforted him. He hugged you. You loved him back.

When he would buy fresh chicken breasts for you (and later, for Kiara too) and proudly tell Maa how much time he had to spend in the queue at the meat shop and how he fought with the shopkeeper to give him fresh pieces, you would look at him straight in the eye and tell him, wordlessly: “What care I for fresh chicken? Is being your Beloved Daughter, your Constant Companion, not enough for me, Baba?”

You were jealous about him. You were jealous to no end. To the extent that you could not bear the thought of sharing his affection with anyone, not with his biological daughter, not with your own daughter. We still remember how you had pushed Mamma—literally—out of Baba’s lap one day and positioned yourself in that place in such a manner that there would not be space for anyone else.

If Baba has been the roof, the walls, and the floor of the building that houses his loved ones, you were the air in which we all breathed, the river of love that Baba drank from, that kept him going. He keeps us in his heart, sure, but you, Kutty, run in his veins.

We love you, Kutty. We all love you and miss you. But Baba misses you most of all. You should not have left him like that. Not while I still wait to finish my sentence away from home, away from him.

If you can hear us, know this: no one, not even god, can give you as much love as we, and Baba in particular, gave you. Nowhere will you be more at peace than you were at home, amidst your own family.

This is one visit to my own home that I am dreading, Kutty, and all because of you. There will be only Kiara to pounce on me, lick my face like crazy, wash away the dirt and grime of my tired being, when I go home from now on. When Baba clicks a photo of those moments, there will be only Kiara and me in the frame, not you and Kiara and me. This is one time when I will be greeted at my own doorstep not with smiles and laughter and yelps of joy, but with a whole lot of heart-wrenching sadness that is here to stay, a season of tears and bittersweet memories that will be in the air until the day Kiara takes over from where you left off, and the whole cycle of Love and Pain begins all over again.

I do not want you to go to heaven, at least not yet and not by yourself. Stay where you were brought up, stay with us, so that you can greet the rest of us when we pass on. I will get you those protein chewy sticks you loved. Mamma will get her camera phone to click you and will continue to bug you as well, and you can keep giving her the royal snub. Kiara will come in all her bounding glory and you can give her a wash. Maa will get your water bowl and your red pullover, and also that red short pant of yours, in which she had cut out a small hole through which your tail poked out. Best of all: Baba will get your collar-belt and his walking stick. We will travel together, my Love. And we will all live together again. Do not cross over yet.

But if we know you, you have not. You are still here. We may not be able to see you, but we can feel your presence everywhere.

Life in your absence is already killing. Life without your presence would be worse than the worst death of all.

Stay, Kutty. Don’t go. Please stay.

Kuttush Dey Choudhury, a sister to Ankana and me, a daughter to our Parents, and mother to Kiara (and four other pups she gave birth to on 2nd May 2006; we had to give them away as we were worried about their mother’s health), came into our lives as a white little ball of fur only a few days old on 23rd July 2000. She left us for what is known as “the heavenly abode” on 16th January 2012. I regret the fact that my daughter will grow up without getting to know one of the two sources of love that fuelled her family. This piece, that kept me mentally engaged and therefore away from my own grief, is in fond remembrance of our Angel of Love. I hope Kutty comes back to us, as a child to Ankana or me. I know she remembers the way back home, back to us, back to Baba.