Thursday, September 22, 2011

I write to a dead man

In the past few years, I have lost quite a few of my aunts and uncles—on both my mom and dad’s side of the family. None of these people were old. Early sixties. Having seen death visit my family so closely and frequently, the person inside of me feels guarded; the philosopher, emotional around words.

When I was in India in the month of August, my mausa (Mom’s sister’s husband) fell sick. So much so that he was in the ICU, and his children from California and India visited him. First people didn’t have the faith but then mausa showed progress and promised to be around. He started to do better. I visited him in the hospital in New Delhi. We spoke for a couple of minutes. But 48 hours later, on the day I left for NYC, he passed away. Death and destiny do not knock before entering, do they?

I didn’t find out about my mausa’s demise until after I reached New York. My husband, who had come to the airport to pick me up, shared the news. I called up my parents but couldn’t wrap my brains around what had happened. Numb. Shocked. Scared. Heartbroken. I couldn’t cry or eat properly or fight off the uneasiness.

My mausi (Mom’s sister) passed away two years ago. I have mentioned her influence over my writerly-life in my blogs and interviews. My mausa would appreciate my work too. He would print out my blog posts and discuss them with my parents over whisky and wine. He told them how proud he was of me. Every time I saw my mausa, he would bring up my blogs and quote lines from them.

I saved every email my mausa sent me—especially his response to anything I ever wrote about his wife (my mausi) in. In one of his notes, he said, “My dear Sweta, I owe to you to keep alive Memories of Meena. An excellent attempt to heal the wound. Thank you, only you could achieve this belief.”

Death of a dear one makes us selfish. Last week as I sent out links to my blog post (Updates on “Perfectly Untraditional”) and pictures from the Indian book tour, I marked my mausa a copy on the email. I didn’t even think or didn’t want to think, I am not sure, that he wouldn’t be able to read them. Or that I wouldn’t get a reply… from him.

For me, that was the day I felt my loss…the magnitude of it, anyway. I felt a vacuum, broke down, and said to my husband, “I have no mausi-mausa left. Their house, my childhood memories with them, and the precious relationship will be part of anecdotes at family gatherings. A closed chapter.”

My family is very close—we don’t care about how we are related to one another. Second cousins, third cousins. I am not saying we are perfect—but we are temperamental fools with big hearts who will do anything for the people we love.

I mentioned in last week’s post the support the whole bunch showed for my book launch in New Delhi and readings in other cities. I can’t even begin to tell you how much moral, emotional, and physical support everybody extends when sickness or death happens in the family. It’s almost unreal.

But when you are vulnerable and emotionally unsettled, the mind explores thoughts you normally wouldn’t turn to. I said to my husband, “Sometimes I envy parents and children who are in symbiotic relationships—parents give birth and bring up their kids—because of that, once the same children are older, they do what is morally appropriate and socially expected. Basically, the sense of duty keeps the relationship afloat. But there is no affection or emotion—just pragmatism. At least such people can deal with loss, pain, and heartbreaks a lot easily.”

My husband said, “You don’t mean that. You are saying this only because you are upset.” He was right. Later on when I calmed down and thought about what I had said, I cringed. I would be nothing without my family and friends.

Honestly, I pity detached families. What can be more unfortunate than feeling only a sense of responsibility towards your parents or ownership towards your children? That’s what charity and work are for, not family. No desire to spend weeks together, chew each other’s brains, participate in each other’s lives or even pick up the phone and chat/fight? What’s sadder than a parent-child relationship with no emotional connection? I know I would die if I were cursed with one. Relationships make us who we are.

There is a reason pretty much the entire city showed up at my mausa’s cremation. He was a good man, revered by most. It’s the emotional bond that has created this blog post. And it’s the relationship we shared because of which I will continue writing to him. I am not ready to give up yet. And one day, when his mailbox is full, the emails will begin to bounce back. And I am not sure if even that day I will stop. Sometimes the dead are a lot more precious than those alive.

More until next time,


Copyright © 09.22.2011

“People love others not for who they are but for how they make them feel.” Irwin Federman.


Curious said...

Indeed touching. Your emotion is summarized in the last para well.

Anonymous said...

"I am not ready to give up yet. And one day, when his mailbox is full, the emails will begin to bounce back. And I am not sure if even that day I will stop. Sometimes the dead are a lot more precious than those alive." tooo goood!!!! made me cry!!!!!

Rahul Bhatia said...

Such is the bond that even when the loved one is gone the memories continue to haunt!