She stands in the huge living room, warmed by the slanting light of a winter morning sun. She looks like a shadow, as she moves across the room, and not only because of the black shawl that she has wrapped around her shoulders.
When I reach out to hug her, she stands tight and motionless. All her effort is spent in centring the black hole of sorrow that continually threatens to spill out of her being. Standing unmoved is the only way, perhaps, to contain it within, her body like a steel dam clamping around the gigantic vortex within.
We sit down. A strange silence descends on the room, like a deserted street after a holocaust as the world empties out all its colour. The only sound, ironically, is that of a ticking clock, muffled and relentless, counting out this time in slow motion.
She looks down, vacant eyed, a solitary black figure against the white sofa, a blank silence against the noise of life around her.
I am sorry, I say. It was a shock. The sentence hangs in the air, incomplete, irrelevant and unnecessary. For, what can you say that can even touch the skin of what she has gone through; mere words and feelings fall abysmally short in even reaching the base of the impenetrable tower of death.
What unimaginable burden of grief and guilt for a mother to carry when she loses her only son at the age of 19. Her entire life stretches like an endless tunnel, as she realises that she has to go on, when he cannot.
She occasionally looks up, but mostly her eyes are averted, as she speaks. She is far from ready to look life in the face. She would rather relive her son’s brief life, as images flit one after another, of his childhood, school days, the things he said to her, how he felt in her arms when he was an infant, his favourite food and how his eyes lit up when she gave it to him, his mischief, his bullying of his younger sister, the care with which she had brought him up, every day- all these images come rushing by and that is all she can see, all that she wants to see, all that she can’t help but see.
Before this tsunami wave of memory engulfs her, she composes herself, so that not a trickle of what’s happening within her reaches the shore of her eyes. Straightening, she drags herself back to this stark world, its light too bright. Will you have tea? She asks. Life must go on, she has been told. She has to stay strong for her daughter, she has to bridge the world where her son has gone, with the world she now has to inhabit, over and over again, with its duties, responsibilities, obligations and chores.
Why, she asks, looking up, her eyes filled with incoherence and something close to a smothered scream, did this happen to him? He did not eat or drink anything wrong or unhealthy. In fact, he took good care of himself.
The question floats around the room, ominous and large in its uncomfortable silence. There is no reassuring answer, no possible reply, and like a balloon without a string, hovers without any destination.
She fumbles for answers herself, for she wants to know, has to know. Her mind darts, clutching at reasons, for a sense of prediction at the core of this annihilation. Maybe it’s the stress of studies. Maybe we give them too much medication for the smallest of ailments. Maybe its destiny. Maybe. Maybe.
She sighs, her face shutting down again, defeated by her search for meaning, a cause, to what seems like massive, meaningless occurrence.
In a few days, she will need to sift and sort through his belongings. The sweater that had kept him warm, the t-shirt that had seen better days but which he still insisted on wearing, his shoes- the laces of which he always tied in a hurry and came undone the moment he stepped out of the door. His books with his name scribbled across the front page, his dreams to be a doctor left within their pages. Each of his possessions is alive with his presence, only he is absent.
How will she give him away, yet once again, part with what he had grown into, grown with her love and care? How will she give away so many years of love and laughter and living? How could she no longer be his mother? How could she dissolve the identity fused into her being for so long?
She talks about children, as young as 3 or 4 years afflicted with cancer that she has seen in this past year of being in and out of hospitals. They cannot even express their pain, she says. We talk about other cases, of children snatched away too early. Is it? she asks, strangely reassured after each such story. She wants to believe she is not alone, that there are others worse off than her, that somewhere she is not the only one who feels this bottomless void of confusion and loss, that she is not the only mother God chose to play a cruel joke on. She wants a resting place, some temporary relief for her grief in these shared stories.
Perhaps they should have tried alternative therapies earlier. Gone in for other options, opinions. They had put all their trust in modern medicine. Perhaps they shouldn’t have. All the coulds, woulds, shoulds rattle on the window of her mind like a storm raging on the panes all night through. It will be a long, very long night.
Take care, I say as I leave. Please keep in touch. She nods and half smiles. She comes to see me to the door. Assured and courteous. She stops by and lets her mother-in-law know I am leaving, gives instructions to the house help. She opens the door and lets me out. A visitor to her grief. And then the door shuts. Enclosing a vacuum too deep and heavy and big to fill. I imagine she lets her guard down behind the closed door, as much as I breathe into all the mixed feelings I find swirling inside. Even to think of oneself in her shoes is an act of selfishness.
Outside a generous light washes the lobby. A bright pink bougainvillea drops on the walls, its branches heavy with the blooms. Birds chirp on trees in the driveway. People come and go, through the gates, busy with another day.
And time ticks by, life goes on.
His readers marvel at how well he puts their deepest desires, the fragile failings of their heart, and the whimsical workings of their mind on paper. The way he peeks into the secrets of their soul.
Each and every day, they find a fragment of themselves in his words, between his lines.
They gasp, they swoon, they balk and they are stunned. And they keep coming back in increasing numbers, for more.
It’s a strange, heady feeling that his writing invokes: they feel both vulnerable and validated. He manages to understand them in a way no one has; he strums the chords of their mind and they find the emerging tune familiar, yet breath taking. Their secret feelings are out in the open, ferretted out from the dark cave of guilt and transformed into something soothing, almost luminous.
Only he knows that what finds resonance, an echo in each of his teeming readers, is written for an audience of one. The one who can never be his.
Only his thoughts can claim her, only his words can own her.
These are the spaces where he is whole again, where he is free to surrender all that he feels for her. The disquiet that is a constant hum in his waking hours, finds a relief here. He feels free to explore the tangled strands of love, longing, loneliness and loss, trying to prise them apart, hoping to make sense of where he finds himself.
And hoping that she reads him today. Understands how much of the beauty that he creates for everyone is actually a cry to her, a cry for her. Knows that the blazing creativity that seizes him each day stems from her, causing him to pour out what burns inside him, quite like a shooting star that leaves a luminous trail across the crimson horizon, only to dive into the unending dark again, exhausted and spent.
His readers rave at this meteoric display, while he burns, burns, burns only for one.
Happiness is a summer breeze sailing by suddenly. Releasing the fragrance of paayri, mogra and jamun into the languid Sunday morning air. Like a dab of paint dropped into water, spreading and swirling into it, till the entire water acquires a deep tint.
Happiness is a swift summer breeze lifting wisps of hair from a hot brow, leaving behind a cooling touch as refreshing as talc on a baby after bath. Like a warm memory unearthed unexpectedly from the soil of time.
Happiness is a summer breeze swooping in through the sunlit kitchen window at breakfast, stirring through the aromas – the golden sizzling corn on butter, the fluffy pancake of the girdle spread with honey, the coffee gurgling on the stove- till they all become one big wholesome fragrance that percolates the house making it more of a home, a happy memory.
Yes it is summer, and it is hot and the sun beats down, relentless on the day, but then along comes one wave of summer breeze, winding through the busy streets, and all of a sudden, the colours of summer come alive on its breath: the hand-carts with white slabs of ice, the drops of melted water running down its sides; sliced spring-green cucumbers arranged with a dash of tangy rock salt; water melon halves like smiles, the deep juicy red offset by an emerald green; the ice cream carts on bicycles straight out of picture book, piled with cones and flavours – strawberry, mango, black currant, chocolate – the fuschias, muaves, oranges and browns in a cheery tango.
There is splendour in every season, and the summer breeze brings with it all that is happy and fragrant and colourful and delicious about the months that turn the corner into the monsoons.
I usually prefer walking alone on my morning walks. Accompanied only by a playlist of music that is attuned to my current state of mind.
This one hour regimen not only helps my physical fitness goals (or challenges!), but also supports my mental framework.
While walking, I have often arrived at solutions -eureka moment style, simplified tangled web of thoughts, sorted out my mind keeping it in a space that allows me ( in whatever big or small way) to approach the day fitfully.
I marvel at those who hold talkathons while walking briskly, yakking away to glory with a string of friends as the sunlight weaves itself through the trees and brushes the blooms.
I am more than happy to allow them to pass by.
Content to put a space between their chatter, for, at that time of the day, I prefer the chatter of the birds nestled in the foliage, that sounds like music to my ears.
But today I was glad to have the company of these colourful winged creatures that flit from flower to flower, taking in the various nectars, so happy and light in the sunshine, so carefree and joyous in their being.
This dance of life, of nature’s astounding creation, this revival, truly adds a lovely spring to my steps. As it disperses its lessons so evocatively, yet silently.
Lately I have noticed, your proclivity to turn what is individual into a theory, to turn something personal into a philosophy.
For instance, if I tell you about how I am trying to deal with a particular issue within myself without seeking outside help, you tell me that everyone should arrive at a decision in a way they are comfortable with.
Where I am looking for the understanding of a friend, you give me a lesson; where I look upon you to probe and unearth what I do not say, you hand me the bullets of powerpoint platitudes.
And then in mid conversation, I feel a chasm; as if we are standing on top of two mountain peaks, and our words are dropping into the valley where a shrill wind whips them up, round and round, into a roaring sound, an indistinctive howl.
At times, I feel we are both at a train station, and I want us to board the same train as before, sitting next to the window, and as the wheels pick up their clattering rhythm, and the stations roll by through the evening sky, we find our own beat, our own world.
But then I see the train has arrived and departed, and as it leaves the station, clanging into the dark, with only the bald headlight showing the way, I see that the train has split into two, each forking into two separate tunnels – endless in the distance.
Only the chugging wheels echo like a haunting reverie into the night. A sound of lost rhythms.
They came flying from far away
Now I’m under their spell…. (Abba)
Though the famed Abba number sings about the Eagle, the words are equally true for the flamingos that flock to the city during Mumbai’s tepid winters.
Flying all the way from the Rann of Kutch, where the cold gets severe, mainly during the nights to avoid predators, often covering 600 kms at a stretch, they swoop to shelter in the city, foraging for food at the Sewri jetty where they feed off algae produced by phosphorous and nitrogen deposits in the mud flats.
Surrounded by thick mangroves on one side, and huge industrial ships spewing out oil, they dig into the waters with beaks that contain a unique filter that takes in nutrients and efficiently separates what they don’t need. The shrimps they eat give them their lovely hues of pink, for when they are born, they are a pristine white.
Early evening, and it was a different Mumbai that I saw. The jetty is an isolated strip of land. The land is muddy and uneven, and the only sounds you hear are the hooting of ships in the distance, and whirring of machinery on those docked around, as men in overalls repair them -sparks flying into the evening air. That and the cry of birds – terns, egrets, seagulls, sandpipers, bringing the hums of faraway lands.
Fisher boys crawl through the mudflats on their bare knees, hunting for crabs and oysters and shrimps, coming up with unusual water creatures which they quickly bottle after taking a shot from their mobile phones. For a find is a find, and they want no one else to take credit or possession of what is theirs.
I have come here to watch what I think will be the last of the flamingos on this land. Their pink outline on the horizon breathtakingly beautiful, as close to 6000 of them peck at their food, and take off in flocks across the wetlands, as graceful as a bevy of pink attired ballerinas.
The proposed Nhava Sheva sealink that will run straight through their migratory habitat will destroy the mudflats where flamingos and many other migratory birds feed. As they leave our shores sometime during April and go back to their home in Kutch, will they turn back and look for the last time? Will they know that they will never be able to find their way back again next year?