Monday 30 January 2023

Inexplicit, 29th January


Your love wasn’t given in lunch box notes,

wasn’t nailed to the bed in a stocking.

It was in a firmly buttoned raincoat

a calm hand offered crossing the Ring road.

It didn’t really set much store by talking.


Your love wasn’t given in countable stuff,

in branded clothes and trainers, themed décor.

It was there in the knock when I had stayed up

late into the night, in the abrupt ‘enough’

at the thin line of light under my door.


It was given in ways so unobtrusive –

in the kneading of dough, in workaday hands

on the wheels - showing how to love and live

without words making it threadbare explicit –

unnoticed, but quite easy to understand.

Yesterday was my parents' wedding anniversary, so...My February and celebration of love starts end January and continues till 29th Feb which is my father's birthday (marked on 1st March on non-leap years). 

Though I have to confess that I am not much for Valentines and such myself, I am more into the idea that love is to be celebrated at every opportunity, 24/7. It's just that I don't like the Indian right wing going around brandishing their weird morality meter and thrusting it down everybody's throat. Valentine's Day is a western import like many other things and it's up to each individual how s/he will express their love, whether through western imports or eastern traditions or whatever. Get thee behind us pronto, the Indian Taliban! The erosion of women's rights in the last few years is truly unbelievable and being carried out in insidious ways. 

Anyways, I digress. One of the things that floated into my mind yesterday as I was thinking of my parents is that how memories of death tend to overshadow those of the life lived. I struggle to dissociate the isolated last few years and terribly painful, lonely deaths my parents went through, from the long years of happier, more pleasant times they had with each other, with me and with their wider families. 

Their deaths were marked by my physical absence but I was, due to technology, able to witness nearly all of their struggle right up to the very last, for which I am thankful and no mistake. Because from my pov, the alternative would have been even more unbearable. But from theirs, I was not present at the deathbed and not able to offer any comfort. That has skewed my grief with a whole heap of complex emotions and it is not an easy process to untangle this. But the untangling is necessary if I'm to stop defining their life only in terms of their deaths. My father grieved my mother alone in complete isolation for 11 months. He lived for 89 years, fully active for 85 till a stroke made him housebound. That's a good measure of happiness to offset against a year of difficult dying, terrible as it is. Each must be given its due weightage. I'm learning to do that and be thankful for this too. 

As a family, we didn't talk much about emotions, though we talked a lot about other things, my mother especially wasn't a silent person. My father, once he retired, talked and wrote about his childhood in his ancestral village, his life in towns and cities in India growing up and working. Overall, they weren't a touchy feely generation, they had seen too much hardship when young - the partition, the wars, the famine, the communal violence, their own uprooting and relocations forced by circumstances, the untimely, shocking losses in the family. It had squeezed the sentimentality out of them I think, but made them into quietly, deeply loving people. I celebrate them and their ways of loving and I'm determined that somewhere, someday, I'll be able to to do that without their deaths clouding my memories of their life. 

Monday 23 January 2023

Would it be easier to process?


Detail from a famous Mughal tomb, Delhi.

Would grief be different if it had a headstone,

a slab of marble, an engraved epitaph,

would it be easier to process, move on

if it had more than just a photograph?


If the ashes weren’t dispersed, anonymous

part of the delta and onward to the bay

would it be simpler if there were a focus?

A tangible niche for a lamp or bouquet?


Would grief be different if it didn’t have to

look up to stars and ease be reimagined,

to look for heaven in seas and skies of blue,

to dredge for peace the rain and the sweep of wind.


Would it dissolve quicker and so integrate

if there were a concrete spot to touch and weep,

could a grave contain its unbearable weight

and would that make it simpler to breathe and sleep?

Once upon a time that is now light years away, a Scottish friend and I were in a deep conversation about the disposal of the dead in various cultures. I told her about the Indian Hindu practice of cremating bodies on funeral pyres lit by the eldest son. She had shuddered and said two things that stayed with me - 

1) pretty traumatising for the son, especially if young


2) where do you go to put flowers then?

Where, indeed?

Cremation was actually quite common in many cultures, the Ancient Greeks and Romans both certainly practiced it, as well as some Nordic folks. A little different from the current practice in India, because the ashes from the pyre (which consist of the bones, all else is consumed) weren't necessarily scattered or immersed in rivers, but given a ritual burial. Therefore, there was still something tangible for the family/loved ones to gather around and feel connected to. 

This the Indian practice does not encourage because holding onto any part of the body is believed to hold the departed soul back in its spiritual journey onward. Plus it is a forcible realisation for the family and helps them accept the finality of death. The process starts with the ritual cremation and immersion of ashes. And then progresses in stages till the 4th and 11th days, and then at monthly intervals up to the first anniversary of the death. This is what my mother had explained when I brought this topic up with her. Letting go in one fell swoop and then acclimatising to it over a year. At the time, I accepted it without much thinking, I mean, who even thinks at that age, right?

But now that I'm older and slower to accept things as given, plus I have lost several family members in quick succession over the last three years, I'm wondering... If letting the remains flow away to the oceans and become an unknown part of the planet is really the best way forward for the living. Certainly from the societal point of view, considering land scarcity in cities and saturated graveyards, yes that's so. But from the pov of individual trying to get used to the absence? Does it have to be this drastic and must they have no place to go to and draw breath? Would grief be different, made easier if there was something of the earthly body of the departed left, however minuscule, on the same plane as the living? 

The other, and massive, disadvantage of cremating the dead, is that a whole heap of historical records are lost. Also in one fell swoop. Not to mention the forensic evidence in dodgy circs.

Sunday 15 January 2023

To go or not to go


You want to go, but know you must stay,

you want to stay but know you must leave,

your head and heart both in disarray -

the exact balance hard to achieve.


It’s been so long since you slotted in,

you’ve been an outsider everywhere -

kin to strangers, stranger to your kin

your roof got built neither here nor there.


You’ve been a minority of one

except for just a few years of grace

and now it’s become an addiction

this constant movement from place to place.


But even so, you don’t want to stop -

and be consumed by walls and rooftop.

Well, the one that wasn't supposed to start off the year suddenly got way too big for its boots and developed a mind of its own. It just ran away with its own smug self and has now added nine more parts to itself...and still counting...

Presenting the third part...good thing that pen or word control is not on the agenda for this year. 

Meanwhile, another piece of mine got published on The Daily Life Magazine last month. I'm tardy with links, but it doesn't matter really. January is a good time to plan, any month is a good time we all know - 'plans are nothing; planning is everything.' 

Next month is a Challenge month at WEP and it will kick off a set off luscious movie-based writing prompts, I'm super excited about that! Check them out here.

Monday 9 January 2023

Even after so many years, not quite at home...

 ...and probably never going to be... 

There’s a difference, slight, hard to pinpoint

between home and homeland – for a few,

along the axis, that see-through joint

of comfort zones with the love for new.


You turn the keys in familiar locks

and knock at doors you’ve knocked at before

but every room morphs into a clock

and points you back at that very door.


One tugs you back and one yanks you on

never mind how firm your hold or stand,

there are other rivers, banks, soil, stone –

the urgent calls of a different land.


You’ll never again quite settle down

because your home isn’t your hometown.

Hellow and happy happies to you. Hope your year has started well and continues to treat you kindly and fairly. 

This is not the poem I'd wanted to see the year in with, seriously. I thought this year I'll get something you know, a bit peppy and upbeat. it is, this is the first poem that got written, what can one do? More importantly, should one want to do something? Nonpeppy can be happy too, can't it? It feels more honest right now. So let me say that again, a nonpeppy- honest, happy new year to you. 

I don't do resolutions for a long time now. Among my irresolute goals are, as always - be and breathe and stress less. Write it as it comes and stop trying to be peppy and sundry other things you know you can't be. Believe that other people know it too, no-one gets taken in by a false, shrill upbeat.  

The home leave was hectic and wonderful. Pocked a bit with horrible officialese and paperwork and medical issues - all got resolved, except some minor stuff. So no biggie. Didn't have much time to log on here though, will be making up for lost time now hopefully. 

Stay well.