A jarful of memories

Memories are like guests, they can come and accost you anywhere, anytime, and you have to give them attention. Sometimes they can be nice memories and sometimes they can be painful ones.

Lately, I am often reminded of a very normal day (those are the ones you miss the most when they are gone), when my mother and father were going to attend a wedding. It was a good year, as is any year before someone goes away. She had worn her favourite sari, a purple-coloured one, and was happily posing for photos.

She loved smiling, my mother. And I, as a daughter, knew the pain behind the smile. As a family, we have a huge share of dental complaints, but mom had the worst of it. She had botched-up dental surgeries, and had struggled for a long time to just smile. Her original teeth were lovely, the implants never lived up to the promise of giving her an “original” and “authentic” smile. But in a world where teeth mean a lot, it was still a much-needed crutch.

So, on she went that day, happy, oblivious to the months and years ahead and the pain they would bring. As we all do.

She braved 58 winters but did not survive till spring which would have marked her 59th birthday.

During the final illness, the medicines gave her mouth terrible ulcers and she could no longer bear to wear the implants. A further, terrible indignation for a person who had already lost her power to walk or even lift her finger. It’s not easy coming in this world or leaving it, for sure. You give up everything, including the tiniest vanities and desires.

As for me, all I dream of nowadays is that smile of hers, for some reason. I wish I could have stored it in a jar, preserved it forever… like a talisman, a light to warm the heart in times of sorrow and darkness.


Dark secrets

There is so much of darkness within us. There is also a lot of happiness within. But given the nature of the world where your wishes are thwarted often, we are less familiar with the happiness within than the sorrow.

Sorrow pours out so easily. One slight, one violent statement, one snub, one slap… The reaction is immediate. A hole in your heart, a sinking feeling in your gut, a river from your eyes. But sometimes the storm doesn’t abate.

It lasts for days and days. It’s like opening a door to darkness. Having opened it, how do you shut it before it destroys everything?

You take shelter in all the happiness of the past, the lessons you learned over the years and sometimes that works. Other times it takes days and months for you get the courage to shut the door, padlock it so only a sliver remains open.

Working for the money

Working for the money means that you  live life in short gulps. You go through the motions but your heart is not in it. The end justifies the means but it’s tough to fool the mind. It resists, and tries to escape.

So every outlet you give it, every activity you give it that it likes, it ODs on it. So you start stuffing all the food you see (ooh different ambience and menu, who knows how long it will last), you shop in excess, you try to stretch the moment to its limit.

But at the end of the day, you are back to square one. You may make one day seem like five, but you still have five more terrible days to live through every week.

The record keeper

We have a memory box that we rattle from time to time. Out comes the scents of our childhood, the comfort food that our mothers made and which our taste buds haven’t forgotten, voices from the past (joyful, anxious, drowned in sorrow), the bitter memories of lost loves, friendships that unravelled, the lazy, carefree days that passed in a summer haze and which our mind suddenly longs for, people who left us too soon.

We are all leaving, some sooner than others. And yet, we collect memories, happy, sweet, bitter…and then we sit and sift through them time and again.

The trail

Things which remind me of my mom are everywhere. Like markers. Like the trail of light that emanates from a lighthouse. The smell of bread, a mashed potato sandwich, every feminist I meet but also every person who has been extorted for dowry, the marketplace she visited for years, every cactus plant (the earliest plant we had was cactus), temples…

As a child, she pushed me to learn to skate, cycle, swim. I wouldn’t have bothered on my own. So in every new skill I learn it’s her that I can visualise. She learned so many things even while juggling a house and often being the only parent around when dad went away for months at a time for work. Embroidery, shorthand, typing, teaching kids, beauty parlour courses – she did it all. She just wanted to learn.

Along the way she evolved her own brand of things. She didn’t learn to cook from her mom so she cooked from her own techniques, strange experiments at times which can sadly not be recreated and something I miss so much. She kept house in her own way unlike most other housewives of the time, chose to live life as she wanted for the most part. She deserved much better, a more modern era to live in, a time when people’s viewpoints are broader, liberal people around her. 

The age of Tolerance

Tolerance is a buzzword nowadays. If we say our country or a person is not tolerant, it invites the wrath of fundamentalists.

But tolerance is not a nice word, it implies a partial understanding of people, that we are ready to tolerate them, let them live in the periphery of our understanding, but not consider them our equal.

What it is not is acceptance, the ability to empathise, meet someone midway, and respect their individuality.

Old habits

As a child, I observed a common routine of dad’s. His work as an aeronautical engineer involved different shifts.

Every day, I would find him suited and ready before time but before he left, he had a ritual. After he was dressed, he would sit and enjoy a quiet moment, savour a few minutes of peace before the chaos of the day unfolded. It taught me the importance of  slowing down before undertaking anything.

Lately, I find myself doing the same. Getting ready for work and then sitting and enjoying the last dregs of peacefulness before the day intrudes on me.

How seamlessly we turn to the habits of our parents, become like our parents without realising it. Like comfort food, it is a place we navigate easily, and doing so makes us feel enveloped by a sense of security. And no matter how much we try to be different from our parents, it’s amazing how we end up behaving just like them.

Unexpected showers

Grief can be like a thunderstorm. It will be cloudy and ominous for days. But the rain just won’t fall. But one day, the tension gets too much, and you crack. Your composed face distorts by itself and it’s raining at last. Tears trickle down, it seems like it will flood out all the emotions deep down. There are sobs and hiccups, until the flow runs dry. They say it feels better when you cry, but it actually doesn’t. It just feels barren, empty, a sky devoid of clouds, soulless.

A roller coaster ride

Buddhism tells you that change is inevitable. The Bhagvad Gita that you should not expect any results from your actions to be spared the grief. As a child, these concepts seemed so simple, hardly the precepts of two great spiritual paths.

Yet after I started working, I realised just how tough things can get if you don’t follow these rules, and just how difficult it is to imbibe them.

As my two-year-old newspaper supplement shuts down this weekend, as part of ‘organisational restructuring’, my life has turned topsy turvy. As the organisation plans to make us part of some other team, we are suddenly a rudderless bunch of people with no immediate boss, which also means no one to look after our interests.

Over the last few weeks, there has only been constant chaos, every Monday bringing yet more bad news. People have stepped up with advice, good and bad. Stay there till something worthwhile comes up, find something now, don’t panic, I had told you…

As a team, we are survivors who have brought out issues week after week. We will survive this as well. But what hurts is the lack of acknowledgement of the work that has been done. Oh but wait, Lord Krishna had told long ago something about results not being in our hands. Who knew it takes a lifetime to understand and master such simple principles.

Head in the clouds

It has been a tough couple of days. Layoffs are happening and it feels like I am a contestant in a game show. And then there were four left…

In the meanwhile, more work awaits. Work that will determine that we are more productive than XYZ and deserve to be here.

It’s better for people to know upfront what’s coming their way rather than been ambushed one fine day with ominous news. And yet, that’s not what newspapers or offices do with their employees. Every day I wake up in a cloud. I am yet to see the silver lining.