… Perhaps one mourns when one accepts that by the loss one undergoes one will be changed, possibly for ever…I do not think, for instance, that one can invoke the Protestant ethic when it comes to loss. One cannot say, “Oh, I’ll go through loss this way, and that will be the result, and I’ll apply myself to the task, and I’ll endeavor to achieve the resolution of grief that is before me.” I think one is hit by waves, and that one starts out the day with an aim, a project, a plan, and finds oneself foiled. One finds oneself fallen. One is exhausted but does not know why. Something is larger than one’s own deliberate plan, one’s own project, one’s own knowing and choosing…
When we lose certain people, or when we are dispossessed from a place, or a community, we may simply feel that we are undergoing something temporary, that mourning will be over and some restoration of prior order will be achieved. But maybe when we undergo what we do, something about who we are is revealed, something that delineates the ties we have to others, that shows us that these ties constitute what we are, ties or bonds that compose us. It is not as if an “I” exists independently over here and then simply loses a “you” over there, especially if the attachment to “you” is part of what composes who “I” am. If I lose you, under these conditions, then I not only mourn the loss, but I become inscrutable to myself. Who “am” I, without you? When we lose some of these ties by which we are constituted, we do not know who we are or what to do. On one level, I think I have lost “you” only to discover that “I” have gone missing as well.
The phone calls from home have stayed steady in their frequency for a while, but they have been thinning down in substance. Reduced to confirmations that all is well on both sides, they are willed affirmations that something of what was, still remains. But the flesh has decayed, laying bare the skeletal remains of what once was.
People that once were essential to my life have no bearing on my day, nor I on theirs. The network of affection, animosity, resentment, and love that sustained me have passed into irrelevancy. This, it is said, is to have grown up. I don’t understand this logic. Does it take into consideration, being uprooted, scattered, and blown by the wind to a far away place?
How far is far away? That distance is better measured not just in space but also in time. Every passing year a part of you atrophies. At first, there were long letters; then came the age of cyber technology and falling phone-call rates. The calls became long. There were things to be talked about, cousins and aunts to be inquired about and reported on. These relations felt real and had affective powers. A history of each relation was updated with the new information acquired. What they thought of me also mattered. Time went on and so did we.
Then they got married, or had kids, celebrated their birthdays, passed their exams, chose careers, got jobs, and the older ones died. All of this happened without my being there. I missed out on that. We missed out on one another. I felt betrayed. I mourned and grieved.
And then their faces and names too got blurred. Their kids’ names vanished from memory as they themselves were consigned to some back cabinet of my mind. And then they stopped to matter. In moments of reminiscence they emerged as figures of my past — to be visited once in a while in a quiet moment or a passing thought.
And now the phone conversations are dying too.
Both my parents were working people. When they were at work during the day, I stayed with my Nani [grandma], who lived in my Khala’s [aunt’s] house. When I started going to school, Khala’s house became the after-school rendezvous for my mother, me, and my siblings. From there my father would pick us all up and take us home during his lunch break in the afternoon. I have many fond memories of Khala’s house. One of them is playing Pithu Garam in khala’s courtyard/veranda when enough of my cousins got together.
Here’s how Pithu Garam works: Seven stones or pieces of clay are stacked, one atop the other. The two teams stand on either side of it. One of the teams has a tennis ball with which the tower of stacked up stones is smashed. The stones scatter about and the team that shattered the tower runs after the pieces to re-assemble the tower while the other team gets the ball and tries to target their opponents with it. Whoever gets hit (while carrying a piece of the tower, may be?) by the ball is out of the game. The goal of the defending team is to get all their opponents out before the tower is rebuilt.
Khala died a few years ago. I heard the news on the phone and sat still in my couch. Then, I watched a movie and went to sleep; got up in the morning and went to work.