Friday, November 4, 2016

"life is for the living"

"Life is for the living," my father used to say.
I never really understood what he meant.
Oh, I was familiar with death. I was never shielded from it and as a young teen, often accompanied my father on his occasional trips to the crematorium or graveyard. Later, on the way home, I would I would bombard him with questions and he would answer the best he could. The rituals baffled me. Sometimes he would also talk about his death. I would be appropriately offended and upset and he would wait for my tirade to be over before he would gently explain that EVERYONE has to go someday. I should get used to the idea, however dismal it sounded.
I made peace with that. In my mind, that day was a distant eventuality.
I was naive. I never imagined that day would come so early in my life. A day when I was barely an adult in my years and certainly an unruly child in my heart. Predictably, I fell apart. I hung on to my tears for as long as I was home only to cry myself a river as soon as I returned to college. It's a wound that still bleeds at the most unexpected moments, a grief that does not let go.
Unfortunately, the date of my father's death also marked my cousin's birthday. For the longest time I refused to wish her. For me the world ended on the 13th of May. Nothing good could happen, nothing shone brightly, no celebration was possible.
Two years later, a very close friend got married. On the 13th of May. I think that was when I first really got a taste of what my father meant when he said life was for the living. I attended the wedding, I clearly remember that day. It was a lunch invitation, I was in a borrowed red sari and I drove those ten odd miles like a maniac back from the wedding to my apartment near the Film Institute in tears. I think I felt I had betrayed my father somehow, that I had dared to go out and have fun on what was, obviously, a black day.
Looking back, I wish I could hug that young girl once. I wish I could stem her tears and explain that life, truly, is for the living and she had done nothing wrong by living.
And my father never went away. I find him everyday, in mundane everyday things, in a phrase someone says, in a song he used to hum, in a blazing sunset, in a starless night, in "a violet by a mossy stone, half hidden from the eye."
Some years later, I had another father-figure in my life. My father-in-law. He took it upon himself to be a father to me, considering I had none of my own. I did not welcome it. But he wore me down with his love, his affection, his paternal pride at my achievements, however small. I found myself listening, talking, arguing back, airing my opinions, even bullying him on occasion. I'd like to think that he too found the daughter he had never had in me.
I started wishing the cousin on her birthday again. I learned to laugh and live, even on the 13th of May. It was not such a bleak day after all. I could raise a toast to my father and celebrate the years we had together. Life was easier.
My father-in-law passed away after a long fifty day battle with a cerebral stroke. As I sat by his side I hurled all my love and angst and frustration and joy at him, in the hope that he would respond, that he would smile at me once again and I would bring him home. On the fifty-first day I did for him what I could not/did not do for my own father: I sat by his side (along with my husband) as he slipped away silently into the good night. It was the 5th of November. Losing a father was bad enough, I always thought. But losing two? I thought I could never smile again.
But the years go by. Just as I was writing this I went outside where my husband is passing time flicking through TV channels. A dialogue by Mithun Chakraborty in some random Bengali movie I had watched and laughed at with my father-in-law caught my attention, "marbo ekhane laash porbe shoshane.." I had to laugh and I know he laughs with me somewhere.
You see, tomorrow is the 5th of November. I know, like on most Saturdays, I will go to the market. I will buy vegetables and fish and fruits and I will cook for the family. Maybe the menu will verge on food that I know he loved, specially when I made it for him, but it will be a normal day. I will do all my household chores, I will smile and greet people I meet, pass my trademark comments in the bazaar and live my day laughing with my daughters, smiling at the sunlight streaming in the windows and  no one will know that I still miss my fathers. And I still talk to them. Everyday.
You see, life, is for the living.
(The dead only wait in the wings, for us to call upon when we need them.)


  1. I really liked your last comment about the dead waiting in the wings until we need them. A beautiful way of thinking of our loved ones who pass over from the living world. I have also lost many in my family through accident or early death. I understand how it feels. This was a post that spoke from your heart. Time will ease the pain, but we will always miss them.

    1. Thank you, I'm glad you feel that way too. yes, time does make the hurt go away and you teach yourself to live without them... but that hunger remains! :)