Monday, March 24, 2008

In my mind

Lacking my love, I go from place to place,
Like a young fawn that late hath lost the hind;
And seek eachwhere, where last I saw her face,
Whose image yet I carry fresh in mind.

I seek the fields with her late footing signed;
I seek her bower with her late presence decked;
Yet nor in field nor bower I her can find,
Yet field and bower are full of her aspect.

But when mine eyes I thereunto direct,
They idly back return to me again;
And when I hope to see their true object;
I find myself but fed with fancies vain.

Cease then, mine eyes, to seek herself to see;
And let my thoughts behold herself in me.
- Edmund Spencer

They tied her on to the makeshift stretcher of bamboos, so that she didn’t fall off while they carry her to the crematorium. But what they tied up on to the stretcher wasn’t a person. She had long gone, leaving just the body. Gone to look at us from above and silently hope we would get on with our lives instead of wasting time moaning for her.

I could see her now, sitting on her easy-chair, with her legs stretched in front of her, looking at me and waiting impatiently. I looked at her, then looked at the body, and then again at her. I could feel the tears forming in my eyes. But I was afraid of my grandmother seeing it. She would become uneasy, shift around in her chair and say, ‘What nonsense is this? No need for those unnecessary tears. There are so many people in your house, go and make some tea or something for them. Be a good host.’ But I couldn’t move; I just stared at her. By this time, they had lifted the body on to their shoulders and begun walking out. There was no reason for me to stand there any longer so I ran back in to the house. I locked myself and cried my heart out.

Where is she? Is she already taking another shape to enter in to this world again? Or is she waiting for us to live out our lives, so that she can look over us?

‘You let me go.’ She said.

‘What do you mean?’ I replied.

‘I was waiting for you, to come and smile at me once before I went. You hadn’t come to see me in a while and I was beginning to miss you.’ She paused. ‘I hated not being able to speak. I wanted to say so many things. It took me almost a year and a half to accept that I will no longer be able to tell all of you, what to do and how, anymore.' She grinned and then went on, 'I had decided its time I leave and take the burden off you all. I had become quite a liability by the end.’

‘No!’ I yelled, ‘Nobody ever said you were a liability. We never complained. How could you think we didn’t want you any longer?’

‘There will never be a time that you wouldn’t want me. Even when you had to care for me like an infant, you never complained. But I had to take the decision because I realized just how much you did for me, and I was thankful for it.’

‘But I don’t want you to go. I don’t want to live without seeing you everyday.’

‘Then why did you sing?’

I could not answer that. Tears ran down my cheek, unnoticed, as I stared at the floor. My heart felt like a heavy lump that was stuck in the middle of a tornado. I felt the walls pressing against my ears. Before I could comprehend what was happening to me, I fell on to my bed, scarcely breathing. The voice wasn’t mine when it spoke, ‘I sang because I wanted your pain to go away. So that you stopped struggling for air and feel calm.’ I sat up and felt my senses coming back. ‘You used to say that singing made your headache go away. So I thought if I sang, your suffering would go away.’ This made sense. ‘So that you would stop struggling,’ I realized what had happened, ‘so that you go in peace.’

I tried to recollect what I had sung to her. But I couldn’t remember. I remembered my uncle trying to find her vein so that he can give her saline. I remembered wiping her forehead as she heaved again and again trying to breathe in some air. I remembered holding her hand, kissing her forehead, trying to look brave and strong. I remembered the tension and fear I saw in the others’ eyes. It was then that I realized there was nothing anybody could do to make her any more comfortable. I noticed my uncle giving up hope with the saline. Then I looked at her and a tune burst out of my mouth. I do not know where it came from or how I could sing at such a time. There was nothing I could do to stop it, so I continued humming the tune. It wasn’t a song or anything I knew but I saw the change on her face almost immediately. I saw her relaxing a little. She stopped trying as hard as she was before. I felt a strange kind of relief. I saw my uncle shaking his head, I knew what that meant. But it did not bother me so much. I looked at her again. She was still trying to breathe but it was as if she had lost interest. I did not stop singing; not until I thought she had stopped trying. I thought it was over then. But I saw her move again. And I felt a little balloon blow up inside me when I saw her breathe her last. The balloon seemed to float inside me, it made me relax but I felt uneasy. Someone in the room said into their phone, ‘It’s over.’ The words echoed in my mind and the balloon burst so suddenly, that for a moment I was disoriented. When I did get a grip on myself, I saw all around me a lot of disoriented minds, pretending to be calm and composed. I joined in.

‘You let me go.’ The voice shook me out of my reverie. ‘I didn’t want you to suffer.’ I replied.

‘Well, you succeeded in pulling me out of my miseries.’ She said. 'Don’t ever stop singing.’

Just as she said that, something cold hit my face. ‘Will I ever see you again?’ I asked, but there was no reply. I didn’t need a reply. The tears kept coming but the grief had passed. The tornado inside me that held my heart captive was calming down. It was only then that I heard the knocking on the door. When I opened the door, my mother stood outside, looking at me with concern dripping down her eyes. ‘Are you ok?’ she asked. ‘Almost.’ I said and hugged her tight.

‘I will be soon.’

A month later, I sat at my desk staring at the stack of books, diaries and papers in front of me. I picked a diary up and flipped through its pages. Everything was written in Malayalam and I could barely understand it. But I knew what was written. I knew what every page contained. I knew the story that each page could tell. I stopped at one page, in which I found my hand-writing. It was a Malayalam song that I had written in Hindi.

“I met this man at the Narayaneeyam yesterday; very chatty and rather irritating. But he had so many songs and poems and he sang pretty well.” She just couldn’t stop, could she?

“What song did he give you?”

She laughed as she stretched herself on the easy-chair. “It’s a beautiful song. I want you to sing it at the temple for the Onam celebrations.” She noticed I was going to protest. “Don’t worry it is very easy. It won’t even take you a day to learn it. I wont ask you to come practice or anything either. Just learn the tune and practice it at home. That’s all. It’s a really nice song and I really want it sung in the temple.”

I looked at her and her eyes confirmed that she does not mean to take a ‘no’ for an answer. There was no way I could conquer her determination. “What song is it?”

And she began singing the song and describing every word and making sure I understood it perfectly well. I spent two hours learning the song and singing it along with her. By the time she was done with me, I was exhausted and she was satisfied.

Suddenly, something struck her. “Have you eaten anything?” She asked. “You just came from your tuitions. You must not have had anything.” Before I could say anything, she was already on her way to the kitchen. “Let me make some dosas. I made a different kind of chutney in the morning. Taste it and tell me how it is. Do you want tea? I haven’t had any tea since morning. I’ll make some for you as well.”