Watching For Goodbye

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How does one wait for death? What do you look for, what signs do you wait for when you watch for it?

we are dying, we are dying, we are all of us dying,

and nothing will stop the death-flood rising within us

How do you greet death when it’s not coming for you, but for one you love? With tears and pleas? With a wobbling smile? With brickbats and burning chillies and ash thrown in that inevitable face?

I ask and ask; it’s at times like this that you realise that adulthood doesn’t mean having the answers to everything. Most adults, it seems, put a wise expression on guesswork and shots in the dark embroidered with a little perceived truth and optimism or pessimism, depending on who you’re talking to.

She gave me her name, her face, a nose-pin. I used to sniff the powder from the soft folds of her neck like a baby-faced crack addict; she would sit on the floor as I inched my way through meals, tell me stories, put me to sleep.

‘She’ is my grandmother, and my grandmother is dying.

When death comes for an immortal, hope goes first. Grief is going, draining at a jerky rate. Tears become texturised, gritty with salt because the human body is only 70% water, after all. It runs out fast when death comes for your immortal.

I want her to slip away in peace, to a place beyond pain. I want to cover her wasted body with mine and scream until Death shields his ears and runs for cover. I want her to sit up and order her kidneys to do their duty.

I want my grandmother, and my grandmother is dying.

I love her beyond reason. I hate her for dying, for being un-immortal, for forcing me to say goodbye to her without a kiss, without a wave, without a balcony in sight. I hate myself for not coming back sooner, for not having magic under my skin or in my voice, for not making her well. I hate having been born because if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have lived through losing her.

I love my grandmother, and my grandmother is dying.

What do I watch for, what do I listen for? A whisper of cloth against a wall, a shadow slanting wrong? How will I know when to sit up and hold her hand, when to say goodbye for the last time so that it matters? Adulthood is a shot in the dark; a perpetual game of Bluff and old music. I have no answers. I can only hum the sounds of my Paati’s time (or a section of), and hope I get the timing right.

We are all, all of us, dying. She’s just going first.

Day 5: Tempest and Tranquillity

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“Sometimes I feel like my life is someone else’s dream”~ ‘Let Them Eat Chaos’, Kate Tempest.

Last time, I told you about Nabokov, the man who squeezed the bottom of my lungs and forced a gasp out of my throat. This time, let me tell you about hypnotism.

It’s not of the slow you are getting sleeeeepy pendulum kind. I wasn’t sleepy. I was awake, alive, and frozen.

When Kate Tempest said Imagine, I did; when she said Jemma and Ester and Pete and Zoe, I saw them come closer and closer and melt into my limbs. I’ve no doubt that if she’d said we stand here and grow roots, I’d have stood up, grown roots, and become an amaltash tree.

Kate, do you realise that you gave us no choice?

I sat there, breathing only when I heard her breathe into the mike. That was the only chance I had to catch my breath, as she piloted us, brakeless, weightless, into a journey from which we all came back more than a little ragged. A little broken in the best possible way.

I come away from this year’s Jaipur Lit Fest with books, few photos, and other things more important- Lila Zanganeh’s happiness, Kate Tempest’s chaotic brilliance, Sholeh Wolpé’s sweetness, Rosalyn D’Mello’s courage, among others. I leave with more goals, a desire to build and grow, to engage in passion more. I leave with the idea of working at writing, of getting better by working harder and every day. A lesson at once simple and confusing.

I leave with a knowledge of living with people I don’t know, in an unfamiliar family scene. I came expecting a hotel, and when I found a family home, I was shaken and a little afraid. But somewhere in between my first makki ki roti and preparing the child for an upcoming test, I found comfort, and a space that I could, for five wonderful days, call my own.

I leave hoping to come back some day. Hopefully, soon.

Day 2: A Tamil Me

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Is there room for me in Tamil literature?

A part of me thinks often of no. 8, Arundale Beach Road, and the sound of my family speaking Tamil around me, to me. I speak my mother’s language, the Tamil of a non-Tamil; I’m a Tamil outside of my language, who has made a home of the white man’s tongue.

But say sambar in English- a vegetable broth with a tamarind base, thickened with pre-cooked lentils, flavoured with asfoetida, fenugreek, red chillies, and coconut, and topped with fried mustard seeds, curry leaves, and un-ground red chillies

Say Jallikattu- a popular sport involving the taming of the Bos indicuscommon in parts of Tamil Nadu during the festive season

Say kanmani- jewel of my eye-

Tell me the story of Ponniyin Selvan all in English, without using a single Tamil word, without the cadences that only a Tamil speaker could have, even in your language, the lilt that we use to make your language ours while your tongue and fingers slip and slide on the surface of mine.

Are there stories that can only be told in their own language?

It doesn’t sound the same, ya!

Is there room for me in Tamil literature if I write about Tamil people in a language to which they do not belong?

where will my stories rest if you say no

?

 

 

Your Lady Knight

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She’s my best friend, practically my sister; after my family, she’s the most important person to me, so I just want to tell you: don’t hurt her. Keep her happy. Don’t hurt her, because if you do I will hunt you down.

I’ve never threatened a friend’s boyfriend before. I’ve never needed to, or actually, I’ve never felt the need to do so. I haven’t really seen many relationships among my friends, and I was always friends with both parties, who had been friends beforehand. So I never needed to interfere, and moreover, I always knew that the relationship in question wasn’t going to last, either because it was unequal, or just plain unhealthy. In one case, I honestly never cared to make threats about either’s emotional damage, because you threaten to hurt people who hurt part of you, and the two in question were never that. In the other, I suppose that, in preventing long-term damage, I was the deliberate cause of a lot of pain (though I wouldn’t be so arrogant as to claim full responsibility), and sometimes I wonder if I should feel sorry. But I never asserted that if one was hurt, I would make the other suffer. The harsh truth would be that I didn’t consider it necessary.

This, though… this was different.

It wasn’t just that the person in question is more than my friend, my sister. It’s the crippling fear I feel that someone will play her false, that they will take the gentle heart she gives them and do something unspeakable to it. Shubh shubh bolo, a voice that sounds eerily like my mother’s scolds, but then I remember how that very mother is driven by that very fear every time I set foot outside the house. My grandmother, during one of my complaining sessions, told me that when I have my own children, I will understand my mother. Seems like I won’t need to wait that long.

Living in a different city, distance and bitter reality prevent me from holding my best friend in my arms when one of us needs it. So I settle for preventive warning. Because if, God forbid, if my warnings are ignored, then they will come true.

You’re my knight in shining armour, aren’t you? And her voice is amused.
Of course, I say, and I am amused and dead, dead serious. Of course.


Shubh shubh bolo- Hindi for ‘say good things’. It’s like ‘Be positive’.