When words fail

To write, to write, to write. I am always struggling to write. I am always looking for the deepest cut, the kind that scrapes out part of the flesh, the layers beyond the epidermis. I don’t want words that leave fleeting scratches or marks, or those that simply graze the surface. I need words I can swim in, can luxuriate in, that leave my fingers and toes wrinkled and pink from being immersed too long. 

My words are the quintessential essence of my being. At the end of the day  all I have are words. Words to describe the hotness of the heat, slowness of my breath, wetness of my sweat, tiredness of my body. I sit at my desk and drain out my words, but are those enough to induce love in another, enough to feel the intensity of pain? I wonder?  Can I be distilled, wrung dry, squeezed completely into a string of words? I wonder.

This is my attempt to describe the indescribable, struggling with myself about something I never thought I could write about. On 26th September, my mother in law passed away. It happened in the hospital within a matter of seconds and the best way to describe the moments that followed after are that they were filled with ineffable numbness. That was it. And I am failing here to find the right words. I am failing.

I cannot believe that everything I say now will be in the past tense. I am trying to, but I cannot comprehend the fact that Ma just won’t be there anymore. My heart feels like it can’t breathe, like it’s full of oil, like its expanding and only grief is being able to fill that cavity. Is there any way to erase this feeling?  She left behind  her son and daughters, grandchildren and her best friend, her husband, the strongest, bravest, self-made person I know who now hides his face with his two hands and weeps like a child.

All eyes have been wet. My arms have felt heavy like cement and I have wanted to rip my heart out and give it to my man. I want to collect all his sadness; his, my sister in law’s, my nephew’s, my niece’s and mine, I want to collect it all, wrap it up really tight and hurl it across the edge of the world. Is this possible? How does one feel light again?
But here I am, writing this note, taking a deep breath and acknowledging one of the kindest and most loving person there were. What a life she led, what a grand, grand life.

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Rest in Peace Ma!

 

 

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She always understands

Dreamt of Ma last night. Don’t really remember much about the dream. Her face was all I could revoke and conjure up. Woke up with this heaviness in my heart, this familiar density and sickening weight. After her death I would often wrap myself up with her clothes and try to breathe in long and hard, searching for that familiar smell. Behind closed doors and drawn curtains I’d sit on the creaky old chair taking in the eerie silence of my own misplaced presence. Her saree, gowns no longer carry her smell and I wonder what should I fill them with now. There was no longer my mother’s warmth inhabiting the clothes now, and certainly no smell. The clothes rested on the shelf and she is never coming back to claim it, wear it. A deep breath and I took my phone, dialed granny, told her I would come see her. She understood the pain in my voice.

She always understands.

A friend once told me he envied my memory, envied my ability to recall exact details and conversations with an almost mnemonic aptitude. I remember wondering how this was a good thing, since most of the memories I collect often tore me up from inside.

Usual scenes at granny’s place. And like every other time I fell in love with the enchanting entrance. The very sight of it begins the healing process. Granny was busy doing which I call quintessentially Indian. Shelling of peas. And my grandmother does this in an almost ritualistic way. She picks up the pea pod, slide her fingers across, deftly opens up its pocket and with the skill of someone that has been doing this for years, her thumb pushes out into a heap on a large plate.

When I was young I would listen to the sounds of the peas falling into piles. How I loved eating the crunchy, sweet raw seeds. But today I simply watched. I could feel the heaviness in my heart slowly losing its cohesion as I watched the small pile grow as my grandmother shells them….a sight that is so, so precious to me.

She looked straight into my eyes and said, ” so you’ve not been eating and sleeping well I reckon. Go check the fridge, there’s something waiting for you.” My face broke out into a huge smile as I opened the fridge door to the little earthen pots of delicately decorated payokh ( kheer ) staring back at me. Despite its seemingly simple recipe, it gave me great comfort because when I was young my grandmother would ritualistically prepare it whenever I was sad. I remember how she would stir the rice and the saffron -infused milk for hours, gently, along with sugar and finely ground cardamom. The aroma would waft out of the kitchen and dance around the whole house. Today Granny has specially garnished them generously with almonds and pistachios. These are happy memories of my childhood. It made me smile, it reminded me of my childhood in the most special way.

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I ran into her arms. She said, ” I miss her too. She was my best, my most beautiful daughter. But it will hurt her if we cry. We can’t hurt her majoni.”

I stayed in her arms for a while.

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Like I said, she always understands.

 

Dear friend, let’s talk!

 

A well-wisher texted the other day stating how my name was doing unsavory rounds at some gathering. And that he is so concerned. Another good friend calls to enquire the cause of my repeated disappearances from social events and party scenes. His monologue continued, ”so and so said something really bad about you, disturbed souls they are you see,” and the call ended. He too seemed pretty concerned. And my friend was talking about his good friends here. Friends with whom he burns the social media with updates and photos. Sigh!

Please hear me when I say I don’t want any part in the mundane.

The rest of the world can go ahead and carry on about the little things. With me, don’t do small talk.  Let’s not waste our breath with the mediocrity of empty exchanges and meaningless conversations that end in uncomfortable silence and the awkward shuffling of feet.

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Dear friend, if you want to tell me about your friends, tell me about the ways they stitched you back up after that broken heart. Tell me about the pit in your stomach you feel at the thought of losing any of them. Tell me what they mean to you, what you mean to them. Tell me what your life has been like with them in it and the emptiness it would be without the security of having them be only a phone call away.

Dear friend, tell me about your parents. Tell me how they molded you, how they shaped you into the person that stands before me. Tell me about how you carry your head up like your father always taught you and how your eyes are as piercing in color as your mother’s. Tell me about the way it felt hearing your father say he is proud of you for the very first time. Talk about the way your fathers pain cut you in the core the time he couldn’t look you in the eyes when you disappointed him. Tell me about all the ways your parents unintentionally broke you, because they all do, without even trying to. Yes my dear friend, let’s talk.

Dear friend,  if you must tell me about your favorite food, please give me more than just that. Spare me the details of where and with whom you had your last meal and how many pictures you took and and uploaded on Facebook and the likes  and comments you earned. I want to know about how many times you sat with your ailing grandmother, trying to master her favorite recipe. I want to know how many times your kitchen has had the lingering scent of that meal since she’s been gone. If you’re able to give me all of that,  I’ll tell you about my incessant fear that one day, I won’t be able to get down all the family recipes I was raised on. That one day, the recipes my mom had kept in a tattered notebook will die right in my lap if I don’t hurry up and get them all down.

I want to know what makes you feel seen. What are your biggest accomplishments?  What are your greatest regrets?  I want to know what gets you up in the morning and moves you to get through this big ol’ life thing. I want to know the things that awaken your soul and all the things you are passionate about.  Tell me what keeps you going in a world that is constantly pushing you to feel small. Tell me who you’ve fought to become. Tell me about the demons you keep hidden in the crevices of who you are. Yes,talk to me.

For as long as I live, for as many sunrises as I am able to wake up to, and as long as this beautiful earth makes its way circling around the sun, I want to make this time count. And I just don’t think empty conversations filled with how are you’s and badmouthing can ever give you that. So please, let’s not bother with small talk. Who is saying what about me doesn’t mean a thing to me. Shouldn’t mean a thing to you either.

Grace and Peace to you!

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Comfort in a bowl of rice

 

Memories of dad flicker in and out these days, the rumble of his guffaws, the way he would fling his gamusa over his shoulder, his relentless haggling with our gardener, the games he would make up for our gang of cousins and friends, his voice when he called out my name. ”Majoni”; yes, one call from him and my world would be in place, at peace.

Deuta was very fond of cooking and many a times I felt he should have become a chef. It was not everyday and it was not predictable, but once in a while he would come home and cook up a storm. Usually my mother and I watched him from a distance as he balanced ingredients in his arms, carrying them from the fridge to the counter. He used to lay them out, sometimes calling us to be his cooking minions, to fetch onions and tomatoes or to stir a massive pot of rajma curry. His hands moved swiftly as they chop chop chop, sometimes potatoes, sometimes garlic, paneer at times. He would never measure, but feel. He followed no recipe but followed his nose. A dash of haldi, jeera, and garam masala, sprinkling of salt and before you knew it every spice imaginable would assemble on the counter. And ghee, he would always cook in pure desi ghee. According to him food needs to be devoured and the cooking of it should be relished, enjoyed and savoured equally.

About last night. It took me about 45 minutes to reach home from the airport. The past few weeks have been one unending and painful blur at hospitals; life just gets so complicated at times. Once home, I headed straight into the kitchen to put a pot of rice on the stove — one cup of joha rice rinsed clean and two cups of water in a small sauce pan. I  pealed a potato, cut it into four pieces and let it marry with the rice. As soon as the water came to a boil, I turned the flame nearly all the way down and closed the pan with its tight-fitting lid. In the ten minutes it took the rice and potato to cook, I washed up and changed, and got the pickle and ghee jars from the pantry.  A gentle crackling from the base of the rice pot was the reassuring sound I’d been longing for, the signal that the rice was perfectly cooked, soft, plump and fluffy. I lifted the lid off, letting the steam escape and I caught a warm, moist, starchy cloud on my face.

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Too impatient to let the rice cool as it should, I scooped some up into a bowl with a wide, nearly flat spoon and  on top of it, a swirl of a teaspoon of ghee. I chose mango pickle, a couple of teaspoons did nicely for all of the rice in my bowl. On a separate plate I mashed the boiled potatoes adding bit of salt and pickle oil. I held the bowl in my left hand and dug the fingertips of my right  into the bowl, working the ghee and the pickle around and into the rice, then I added the mashed potatoes….it was sublime.  Not for the first time, I wondered what it was that drove me to seek this particular combination of foods in times of distress. I didn’t bother then to press for an answer, maybe happy in the knowledge that for the moment all was right with the world.

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Some recollections refuse to leave, they wait patiently until we acknowledge and examine them. One of those is of our mealtimes when we were growing up. Dinner was the one meal when everyone sat together. We ate on steel plates, all of the plates had raised edges. Mine was oval in shape, my brother and parents had circular plates.

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Dad could never withstand the temptation of hot rice, mashed potatoes, ghee and pickle. He would mix them in his plate and feed mom first, then us siblings and then himself, repeating the cycle until mom, who would still be bustling about the kitchen trying to get all the dishes out was done. Over the years, the circle on the table grew wider and noisier with more plates and more voices. Until the loudest link in the circle was no more.

Last night as I stood with my bowl of rice and breathed in I felt the furrows on my forehead slowly disintegrating. The crinkles around my eyelids started to dwindle and my cheeks eased back to their original stations. The aroma was swirling around me, I could try to describe its tang and taste in culinary terms, but in its ripples the steam held the rustle of mom’s cotton sari, it held the twinkle in dad’s eye as he told us the happenings of the day, it held my brother’s cackling laughter as he kicked my legs under the table . At that moment, the aroma was home. And from some distant corner I could hear deuta calling out ”Majoni”.

 

It hurts to think that you are not here anymore….I miss you deuta. 

Until we meet, take care!

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