January is always a month of memories, the month when Death swooped in and scooped away my father, a man of whom everyone said, “The good are taken away early!” A profound saying that held no real comfort to those who were left behind to pick up the pieces of their lives and move on! The 29th of January would always remain the day of our biggest loss, the day when there was a click of the gate at nine in the night, that hour when our lives changed irrevocably.
We do no rites, our homage, more love than homage actually, dwells deep within our hearts, when we write down our feelings and talk to our mother over the phone. Our shrines stay in the recesses of our memory.
“My father – I fondly recall
He never once lifted his hand upon me,
Except to caress;
A mere raised tone
Could quell my high spirits;
I loved him so...
My eyes fall on that page
Smudged – almost blotted out
As I had poured my heart out
Over the tragedy that had left our home
February is the month when my father in love (I do not believe in the term ‘in-law’) passed away, leaving us bereft. Just a month earlier, his little great grandson was born. He lived long enough to bless the little boy, and it was as though he had transposed a bit of himself into the soul of the little boy, and peacefully moved on.
“What a miracle this is!
As one spirit ebbs away,
Drop by drop, another takes life
Growing stronger every moment,
A delicate, intangible thread
That links them together.”
Every year, on that day, his daughter and his son bathe early, cook a handful of rice and place it on the balcony, and invariably, a crow appears out of nowhere, and pecks daintily at the morsel, casts a glance and flies away. A strange phenomenon in cities like Bangalore and Chennai where crows are more the exception than the rule! Yet another example of how the spirit reigns over the flesh!
So many faces have disappeared over the decades, faces that were deemed so permanent in our lives that when they were no more, their loss left us heartbroken. Every wedding in the family saw fewer loved ones, smiling irrepressibly out at us from blurred photographs, as though they were saying their final ‘Goodbyes’ to us. Great grandparents, grandparents, uncles, friends’ fathers, family friends... the list was open-ended. Ancestral homes vanished, as though they were a pack of cards that had been blown down by the wind, and emotions were all that were left, along with a handful of black and white photographs to remind us of loved ones gone by.
The shattering tragedy of bereavement is all too painful. Till then, death is perceived as something that happens to other folk, never to us. We offer comfort, write mails in condolence and offer platitudes, for nothing can ever take away the anguish of the bereaved. “Time is a great healer” – “You have to live for your children!” At that moment, the impulse is to snap and retort, “It’s all very easy for you to say so!”
However, as the decades go by, and life continues in its own even pace, the unbearable anguish turns into a permanent ache; the void is like a landfill that is bottomless. We talk less of the souls gone by, preferring to think of them all having a pow-wow in heaven, sitting on grassy banks amidst fields of brilliant flowers, smiling down gently at our antics on earth. “Ah, my headstrong daughter is on the warpath again!” laughs my grandfather, as my father nods smilingly. How proud he is of his wife who has braved the world, and created a niche for herself and her daughters after his passing!
Our loved ones look more relaxed, freed of worldly diseases and hardships that dog them no more. Their attitudes seem to say, “Grieve not for us, dear ones, for we lack for nothing where we are. The only loss that we have suffered is that of our hearts, for we have left them there on earth, with you.” And this is probably why good things happen to us, despite all the travails and the ordeals that finally make us see the light at the end of the tunnel. Nothing worth having ever came easy, after all!
And to end with the rendition of an amazing poem by John Donne who cocked a snook at Death!
“Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.”