Category Archives: People

A Portrait of Grief

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.



An Audience Of One

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.

A way of seeing

She liked the way her whole world changed just by changing her position. While sitting she could see her life before her. The undone work, her myriad duties, things that weighed her down, and the drudge of everyday life.

But the moment she lay down, and looked through the gap in her thatched roof that opened out to the sky, her life changed dramatically. She saw the trees swaying in the breeze, their leaves open and unarmed and lit by the sun. She saw the birds flying, silhouetted against the cotton candy clouds, specks of wings on the powder blue skies. She felt the breeze of freedom, the surge of possibility, the faintly clear strains of a song that urged her towards her own self, growing louder from within. Till she felt uplifted by it, felt she could touch the azure sky as it floated towards her, coming closer and closer to her outstretched hand, and she floated and drowned in its expanse, wondering yet again if it was an ocean or the sky.10933858_10152613229201723_336132493500315447_n

Those that go on and on and on…

Listening to some people is the best cure for insomnia. So this is a tribute to such souls who inadvertently give others their much needed 40 winks;)

She talked around in circles. Her words meandered through phrases like a mountain stream let loose from snow, trickling and swinging through meaning and matter. Her voice went round and round in surges and lulls, circling and teasing a point till it smudged into oblivion. Her narrative waltzed over coherent sense, threading into tangents that were held tenously by my glazed eyes. A tingling sensation stirred from the synapses of my brain, seeping into the crevices of my nerves. It was getting difficult to focus, yet her voice wove into my consciousness like wisps of sound, insignificant, yet refusing to be silenced. And slowly, stealthily, without warning, bang in the middle of the conversation…..I fell fast asleep.11231151_10153114473151723_3555340153812028824_n

His Voice

His voice was like the monsoon calling in over the mountains. Memory hung like a mist over the mind. Timbre, sharp as the scent of the pine trees soaked in mountain dew that you inhaled deeply as you climbed the narrow winding road up the cliff. And just as suddenly as the first soft drizzle brushed the cliffs, he filled the soul with the fragrance of the first rains.11145227_10152789017271723_8926486499750195925_n

Her House

Though impeccably tasteful and elegantly done, Aalia’s home was more of a house.

I was ushered into the living room. My heels echoed off the pristine white, silent walls and on the spotless marble floor.

There was a hint of fragrance lingering in the air, the kind that someone wearing a strong perfume leaves behind long after they’ve passed that way. It clung to everything, leaving a trace of her everywhere, scenting the lace cushion covers on the plush sofa, between the venetian blinds, making her presence felt.

There were stacks of international magazines aligned neatly on the low-lying centre table whose legs dug deeply into the soft cream rug. Along the hallway were framed pictures; some of the family, but mostly of Aalia, doing what she loves best- commanding the attention of the lens. Even in the pictures where she was with others, she stood out, as if focussing all her presence onto the image, not a hair out of place, a smile that looked beautiful but somehow didn’t reach her kohl-rimmed smoky eyes.

It was then that I noticed it- in this straight-out-of-an-interiors magazine décor: a pearl-shaped ashtray tucked away in the far end of the room, across the mantel ledge, placed as if it was embarrassed to be there. It was all but overflowing with cigarette butts – red lipstick stained butts, most of them only marginally smoked and stubbed away.

I could imagine her hand, the fingers shiny and manicured, encrusted with diamonds, shaking as she sat there, a picture of poise. Only the ashes that fell haphazardly around the tray, like a giant pattern gone astray, gave her away.10624040_10152553828026723_7761066445851634782_o


Though not conventionally beautiful, there was something arresting in her face. Even amidst a crowd of beautiful, well turned out people, she stood out. Maybe it was the sheen on her skin, the sparkle in her expression, the glow in her eyes that shone like baubles, much like the moon that dispelled the deep darkness of the night as it hung low and luminescent in the sky. She had the same effect on the soul.