Remember, remember, the fifth of November
It was a cold November night, and the winds were weeping as a dark cloud moved across the bright white full moon.
While most people who bleed pop culture would say ‘V for Vendetta!!!’ with much excitement, I’m sorry to break your bubble. It’s not quite that.
The 5th of November reminds me of a very horrifying day / night for me. I’ve written enormously about it, in different forms (in stories, slyly inserted it in between obscure lines in some confusing poetry and short verses) and many times than I initially intended to. To those who ask me in your chagrined voices of disdain and concern, I’m sorry I don’t know when I’m going to ‘stop writing about it’, or when I am ever going to ‘get over it’.
I don’t think I ever will.
It was a cold November night. The winds were weeping as a dark cloud moved across the bright white full moon. That was also the night I would sleep (like a log) in the many months of painful, sleepless nights we’ve had.
After an hour of ordeal with my own self, I had barely fallen asleep, when I was woken up by my uncle who said “Thatha is terribly ill.” — meaning grandfather is terribly ill. I was shook but I was still sleepy, and really thought it was a bad dream. “But Thatha has been terribly ill for so many months now,” I said to myself, as I rushed downstairs to see him laying still on the easy chair. Lifeless.
Tears gushed down my face, as I took stock of how life would go on. He had always been there, with me, everywhere, every time. He kept my secrets and told me stories. And now, he had left me all alone, to keep my secrets to myself and to live with the stories I’ve heard from him. I leaned close to the body and whispered in his ear “I love you Thatha”, and went back to standing where I was instructed to. We called up the local doctor to confirm the time of death. While we waited for her to turn up (it was 3:45 am), I was torn between consoling my father and my inner-self — between weeping like a baby and standing stoic. I picked the latter. I stood there, trying to not be a loose canon, since most of them already anyway were. Loose canons.
It dawned on me quite then that this was GRIEF.
The two things that Indian parents don’t teach you or talk about:
a) Grief Management, b) Anything Sexual.
Why? It’s simple. They themselves have had to struggle with it. So, ‘figuring it out’ is the only way out.
I lost a grandfather. To a lot of them, it doesn’t matter. The immediate reaction someone gave when I told them that I’m sorry for the loss of their grandfather was this: “It’s ok, he was old anyway.” Well, do old people have to die and turn into ash? Or do you not care enough to respect their life? A simple ‘thank you’ would have sealed it. Ok, now I’m ranting.
Since Thatha’s death, I started spiralling. Grades danced in front of my eyes twirling eerily as they fell to the ground. Most classes seemed too long for me to be glassy-eyed, the empty living room and the television static crackling in some form were a constant reminder of stories echoing through the house. Some days, I swear I saw him reading a newspaper with the reading light above his head turned on, and his magnifying glass clutched tightly in his right fist as it ran across the breadth of the paper. He marked the human-interest stories, burglaries, complicated words in the op-ed column, challenged me to solve crosswords, and made me read out aloud a long list of paragraphs, just like a newsreader. “No, not good enough.” “Where are the intonations, Ammu?” “You’ve got to do better.”
The reality struck so deeply, so suddenly. Instead, I stood there greeted by the the day’s newspaper unopened and uncared for. The sun peeked through the thick but translucent maroon and gold curtains hanging lazily on the rod, casting a shadow on the mosaic floor, exactly where Thatha used to sit.
"Hello" I said to the shadow, the only other being I was left to speak to.
Now, my grandmother seemed to take the centrepiece. While it’s shameful to admit, all those years my grandfather had been around, I failed to notice and recognise my grandmother, a woman of great wit and stubbornness in equal measure, and that which deserves a different post entirely.
I became silent, kept to myself while I battled bullying at school, made some friends who understood my silence, and worried my parents to death. No amount of tuitions or preparations could help me get on with the daily drabness of life, or the colossal farce that examinations were. I had stopped caring, but for the writing I used to do.
Thanks to Thatha, I became an ardent newspaper reader. Years later, an article in Metro Plus egged me on, and I was introduced to the world of blogging.
I moved schools, and I somehow wedged myself through the gaps I found at school, battled bullying again, but this time by one of my teachers (yes, teachers bully you and can break your spirit), and after collecting what was left of the little spirit I had, I decided to go on a career path that somehow seemed elusive and confusing at that time. I wanted to be a writer.
Well, it still does seem somehow elusive to me.
Life went on, but the writing never stopped.
The grief didn’t stop either. I missed him before I left to college. I missed him at my wedding, I missed him when I was packing my bags to move abroad. I missed hugging him, and I missed sleeping next to him when I was a child as he tuned into the radio trying to catch the frequency for Vividh Bharati to listen to Hindi music on his Panasonic cassette player. I missed playing Trade with him, I missed listening to the hum of the air-conditioner and the ensuing chillness that permeated through the room and on to the hard mosaic floor.
I’m going to plug in an ode I wrote to him last year, something that still rings true even today, to me.
I once knew a person who was at the core of my being.
My life revolved around him.
We spent endless evenings talking about love, life, war, jealousy, myths, dangers of the world, greys of the mountains, livelihoods in caves, deaths in the galaxies of Gods, psychedelic trance and the depths of the mighty blue or sometimes green, ocean.
He was one-eyed but had seen more than what I had seen with two.
He opened me up to a world of possibilities. Always asked me to dream big.
He warned me about evil, and trained me to see the good.
He helped me get by. He was my best friend and companion.
This friend betrayed me by dying when I was holding on to a tight-rope called hope as I stood next to his bedpost whispering jokes in his ear.
It’s been hard.
Does time erase memories or does it make them more vivid year on year, or does it make you analyse incidents that happened just before him leaving you? Does it make up stories for you, in your head?
The memories and the grief, do they coexist but somehow become more clear, or do they disappear? I wouldn’t know.
I miss him every single year, every single day and every time I’m down in the dumps, looking for inspiration.
I don’t find him. I probably never will.
My grandfather was just one and his love for me and mine for him, surpassed every other relationship in the entire world.
I miss him on days like these, but life, it has to go on.
We’ve got to bask in the warmth of memories, learn the lessons we ought to learn, and move on.
Life has to go on — in grief and in joy.
And, sadly, it will.
Some have lost their fathers even before they got a chance to know them. Some, after knowing them and after being great friends with them, and like me, a lot of them have had to go through and understand the pain of dealing with death. There’s no way around it. It has been more than a decade and the grief of separation through death is profoundly deep and inexplicable. You have to live through it, the everyday pain of not being with them, and the hollow they leave behind, along with their words echoing in the background as you think of them.
Memories of them are the only thing we’ve got to hold on to, and that we should. If I had a wish granted, the only wish I’d make would be to make him come back, alive and breathing, but what good would that do to him? He’d probably detest the world we’re in today.
Every 5th of November, I look to the sky and say exactly what I whispered into his ears, in the wee hours of the 5th of November 2006, his face calmly facing the ceiling, almost as if he were asleep.
“I love you Thatha.”
Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash