Expectations – Buddhism believes that they are the cause of great suffering. The expectation that your friends will always remain your friends, that they will be loyal to you, that the feeling of companionship will remain to the same extent over time. That the people you love will love you back.
We are only human, so we love the status quo. And can live within it for an infinite amount of time. But life is a great teacher, untiringly and consistently teaching us what we need to know. And life shows that us that nothing remains. Eventually, you do lose your friends, loved ones, the image you have of your body, and lastly your memories. Everything that makes you the person you are. And only then do expectations cease to be.
A star exploding is so much like heartbreak. It is something tragic, yet beautiful…you can’t take your eyes off it. It’s tremendous in scale, scattering shards far and wide, painful to watch even. And we are made of the same material as the stars. Perhaps if we could witness a heart breaking, it would look just the same. At least, it feels the same.
When I was a child, I would often unthinkingly drift off on the way home from school. In an era when telephones were not yet common at home, it caused my mom a great deal of palpitation. By the time I returned, she would be livid with rage, but also with concern.
I understand those feelings better now, and without being a mother myself. It’s the cycle of evolution that makes you unable to understand basic truths until the time is right.
At age 31, I feel like I am playing catch up with her, her worries, her feelings, her hopes… all the things she experienced. Which is why it drives me mad not knowing where she is.
In the larger scheme of things, she is somewhere out there, but she is irretrievably lost to me forever, like a child lost on her way home. She left
without telling me anything, without any last words, any advice, without forgiving me. And no force on earth can ever return her to me. I am livid, worried and utterly helpless.
My mom could never take being ignored, not heard or noticed. As one among seven siblings, she knew how to make herself heard albeit that skill came much later in life. In life as in death, she seems to want to be heard.
On some days, we wake up to see a footprint on the living room floor. It’s red in colour and reminds me of the time when her toes used to bleed. She had diabetes but also a leg infection that she battled for most two decades. So blood stains on the floor is very familiar to me. Perhaps, that’s why I am not as alarmed to see the stain.
A friend recommended I speak to someone from a paranormal society. And while I did give it thought, I was very reluctant to do so. I question myself and I realise I don’t want to get rid of her. I do want her to go in peace but not to drive her away. I want to talk to her to tell her I miss her. She does come in my dreams but I never recognise her and she seems very disinterested even when she appears. There’s so much unfinished business between us, that I feel we have to work out before we can move on.
Years ago, in one of those obligatory office parties, we were playing a game where we could ask random questions to the other person. Someone asked my ex-boss when was the last time she was happy. And she replied saying she couldn’t remember the last time when.
This was at the start of my career, and I found that answer unbelievable. Though that workplace was nothing short of a boot camp, it was also where I was learning the craft of writing, the first job closer to the kind of writing I wanted to do. And I was happy in so many small and big things everyday, that I found her answer very strange.
When you grow up the ladder, you view the person above you as the embodiment of growth and happiness, I used to think that what I had was great but if I was a rank higher, it would be the very best thing in the world. But as you go up, the burden grows, the interactions get more mechanical and fake, and the insecurity rises. What if someone topples you or replaces you?
The fall from top seems a greater fall than when you had nothing to lose. And today, I realised with a start that much like my previous editor, I, too, am reaching a stage where I can’t seem to remember when I was last at peace and happy, what I feel is rock bottom. The time is ripe for change.
We say one thing but our actions reek of something else. At work, we say we want someone who will work hard, shoulder responsibilities and be accountable. But then how many bosses really value that? Isn’t it all about personal equations, preference, bias?
At the end of the day, as long as there are people heading teams, there will be subjective assessment. And as I find myself, in a messed up workspace equation, nursing a fever and facing one of the worst days ever, I crave for a sense of home, a workplace where people like you for what you bring and don’t deride you for the kind of phone you have or the non-branded clothes you wear or for not speaking in a hip accent.
I have found some of these things in every office, to an extent. Every workspace starts off in the same way – an attempt to build a good equation- and eventually, it seems, ends up in the same way – with harassment, unrecognised efforts and verbal whiplash. Perhaps the fault lies in me, perhaps I don’t appreciate myself enough to put myself in these situations again and again. Maybe it is the times we live in when social media and telephones mean you can never be away from your job.
My father, a veteran of many workspace battles understands even without my saying a word. Today being Mahasaptami, the worship of the goddess who vanquishes evil, he made me accompany him to the temple. And he gently told me, she will ease all the tiny, niggling worries and the niggling, bothersome people who bring so much chaos to our lives. I have seen many such days to retain hope in miraculous intervention but just for today, I will retain hope and pray for the best.
While we are not a close-knit family, social media has erased many boundaries. So while I have not attended my cousin’s wedding, I get to glance through her photos and relive the experience.
One photo that stayed with me was a photo of my cousin sister and her dad. She lost her mom as well a few years back and is a single child like me. She looks similar to me, in a way which I am not used to and find hard to accept.
There is also something achingly sad about the photo, about a wedding where only a father and daughter are there, and the mother is missing on this happy occasion. A mother who never gets to see her daughter as a bride or to gift her jewels for her wedding. The loneliness in the air is all the more poignant. And I can’t help thinking of dad and me in a similar situation.
The most disturbing silence is the silence of people you think are close to you but aren’t, at a time when you need them the most. Friends whose emotions of friendship are not as deep as you thought they were. Who were not as good a friend to you as you were to them. Who like you less than you like them. Relationships are subject to terms and conditions as much as any business transaction. And no one can determine how much a person is to be liked by another.
Grief trickles in the background of every bereaved person’s life. No one else can hear it, or experience it. It’s a silent communing. It comes into prominence with the minutest of events – a familiar smell, the sound of a voice, a cartoon, a board game. And once its presence is felt, it is hard to undo, hard to forget. A rush of emotions flood you. It will claim your attention. And then it will take your leave, till the next time, the next marker of remembrance strikes you.
Like a photograph whose edges get smudged over time, memories also get indistinct and blurred. They might get an unfamiliar tinge or end up sticking to each other or acquire a certain sequence in hindsight.
I try to visualise mom and I realise that I have already forgotten so much about her. She exists as an ache within me, she haunts me like a ghost always existing in the periphery just beyond the field of my vision, she is always just beyond reach. I fail to recognise her in my dreams, so I hold conversations with her that I never remember on waking up.
It frightens me to think someday I will forget everything about her, especially how she made me feel. Because as I sat trying to visualise my times with her, I realised with a pang that I felt something different. It took me a moment to realise it was a feeling of happiness and peace, a feeling that only exists knowing that your mother is around and everything is right with the world.
At that moment, the enormity of my loss sunk in…how I have left those warm emotions behind without even knowing it, how childhood ended forever there and then.