relationships

A Decent Burial

I have mentioned before about the fact that most of my fond memories revolve around my brother who is about six years younger than me. He’s a very special child sensitive and intelligent with unique interests.

One of few things that he is passionate about is wildlife – for years I never saw him watch anything else on television beyond National Geographic, Discovery and Animal Planet. He devours pages after pages of books on animals and birds and rattles off their Latin names and their unique behaviours in an excited tone equivalent to “everyone on earth has just landed gold”. He has always had birds as pets at home and brings up their babies and their babies’ babies with tons of love and affection. I can still remember the excited glint in his eye as a middle school-er when he discovered the first batch of eggs his friends had laid, his crushing disappointment when a clutch failed and his over whelming joy at the sight of new born chicks.

It’s amazing to see him interact with his birds – they respond to his voice, play with him, communicate their worries as parents when a clutch of eggs are laid, let him clean and monitor the health of their new born babies – birds can be so much more personal and attached than one can imagine.

When we moved into a flat of our own in Bangalore after years of travelling through cities and various neighbourhoods, one of first things that we did was to convert his balcony into a well equipped aviary complete with rounded mud pots for nests, nesting material, lovely bowls for food , a smallish tub for them to have a bath and a smaller private area for those who need some space alone because of sickness or injury or plain simple maladjustment.

One of the biggest things that this lovely relationship has taught my brother is “death”. He experienced his first encounter with this heart wrenching separation when he was about 12 years old. One of his birds had fallen very sick and no amount of care could nurse Maco back to health. It almost broke all our hearts to see Maco’s partner hover around his body, trying to wake him up. Its a scene that’s burned in my memory like no other.

After some time when Maco’s partner had reconciled, my dad went ahead to take Maco out of the aviary and proceeded to wrap him in a newspaper and a plastic bag to “dispose”.

“Dispose”??!!!! My brother was extremely angry – now combined with the sadness of this loss you can just imagine how red his face could have gone. In his own words he wanted a “decent burial” which was “respectful”.

And so this Sunday morning was spent performing Maco’s last rites. After a few minutes of searching my brother and my dad zeroed in on a burial spot on an empty plot of land. My dad dug up a small grave while my brother put Maco in. They offered a fist of earth each as a token and said a few silent prayers before covering the grave with earth. To end the ceremony, they planted a small sapling of a bush nearby over Maco’s grave.

Losing a loved one is very sad, but giving a “decent burial” full of love and respect is indeed one of the best treasures of life. It’s a lovely acknowledgment of their moving on in their journey; an acceptance of their passing into another world and a higher plane.

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HahaHeheLol

Not so long ago laughter – voluminous, throaty, uncontrolled – had not really been an incessant part of my life. Yes, I was happy and did have “32 sparkling teethy peals” but then HahaHeheLol would become one of my greatest friends and treasure in life only in the December of 2003.

Although it may seem fairly recent if one compares it with human lifespan, I know that the events that took place in the winter of 2003 will remain one of the most QTOLish moments of my life. Just to clarify, I was doing my masters at TISS in Bombay which doesn’t have much of a winter – so this had nothing to do with the weather.

But then it had everything to do with the spirit of Christmas. Having spent three years previously in a Catholic College that gave me the joy of being a part of all the fun and festivities, I was feeling sad about missing out on all of that in TISS. Thankfully though, the campus did have Christmas celebrations and most importantly everybody seemed tuned into the Secret Santa game. “Yippie!!”, I thought and smiled to myself. “Some things in the world continue to be sane”.

Masters in Social Work turned out to be much much harder than I had thought. Apart from tons of assignments, academic pressures and blues of being away from home, the atmosphere was extremely tumultuous. The world suddenly seemed a little too upside down for comfort (note: it already was, which is why many of us were there at TISS – ‘to change’). Each day presented a bunch of new realities that we were supposedly being trained to analyse and develop strategies for – from communities living on garbage dumps to facing an eighteen year old lecherous boy as a ‘child with rights’. By the mid of first year the meaning of ‘develop strategies for’ on campus emerged as endless nonsensical debates, generous amounts of ambiguity and extremely polar ideas. TISS at this point was like being in the company of an eclectic group of beings who’d have issues with the fact that something was a ‘non issue’. The most cliched question of the moment was always ‘But who decides?’, indicating the ever lasting ambiguity of individual freedom versus working in the interests of people. In short every single conversation would begin and end in concentric circles. Now if one adds a dollop of hostel woes, ranging from ‘smoky reeking corridors’ to ‘sleeping with bright lights and loud noises’, to this already confusing and tumultuous situation – you’d understand why I was yearning so much for a game of Secret Santa.

So on this lovely December 2003 afternoon, in a rather unpleasant DH (Dining Hall), we all had to pick small chits of paper with names of people who we were to adopt secretly – and send them gifts, goodies and letters, or torture them till Christmas eve. Soon I became a temporary mother. But then there were unfortunate souls whose names had not been picked. An ominous poster declaring their orphanhood was put up, requesting people to adopt. The idea of two children dint appeal to me, so quite frankly I still don’t know why I adopted ‘HahaHeheLol’. It just took a small suggestion from rather cute and diminutive neighbour Chandni and I had a daughter who was going through as much of a cranky bad patch as I was. Perhaps, this is what is called destiny.

Over the next few weeks, I don’t know what got into me, I sent my child loads and loads of handmade gifts with lovely handmade paper in numerous varieties. Even a small silly note would be laboriously made, I spent hours together each night getting my act to make each day special for my child. It was midnight oil burning at its best. No , this wasn’t a competition, and I dint even know ‘HahaheheLol’ – in fact we had not even exchanged pleasantries. But somehow her booming laughter, excited ‘show off of gifts’ in class, her small notes drizzled with a hundred ‘lols’ – these smaller things just made my day. This world of sheer joy, laughter and child like excitement seemed so far away from endless debates and assignments. And yet it was so truly life like and so much ‘human’ in essence.

I even sent her an embroidered handmade paper folder!!!

Neha and I got to know each other pretty well through that game and we’ve shared a lovely friendship ever since. We’re so connected that one would think that perhaps there is a mini device that aligns our wavelength and thoughts together. We go crazy over little things, laugh like raccoons over frivolous stuff, love the quaint and argue like children. The Internet’s biggest boon has been the fact that I have been able to share the same amount of space and time in spite of the distance – over email, IM or this blog. I continue to receive virtual or sms notes splattered with dozens of smileys, hahas, hehes and lols.

Thanks Neha, alias HahaheheLol, for all the laughter and joy you bring into my life.


My Dad and I

I am glad to say that my life’s always spiced up with the many relationships that I have with people ranging from the amusing, eccentric and romantic to the plain business types.

In particular I share a rather interesting relationship with my Appa (dad). No we don’t fit into the typical “father’s favourite is the daughter” or “father+daughter= best friends” category, neither is he the archetypal “strict orthodox father” who expects implicit obedience.

My appa is very unique, which is what makes the smallest moments with him special. With a speedy swagger and tuft of hair reminiscent of Rajnikanth, he’s somewhere between your mad scientist and Tamil hero of the 80s. His hobby is to “learn new stuff and experiment” – it could be anything from a programming language to a new unheard of dish (possibly his own inventions). His fetish for experimentation is so high particularly in the kitchen that it remains to this day the single biggest source of conflict between my amma (mom) and appa. Each morning witnesses a routine mini Mahabharata scene – only this time the war is over the kitchen.

I never realized why my amma found his kitchen exploits so bothersome till recently when I was supposedly in charge of the kitchen while she was travelling. But one has to commend him for his unconventional methods of cooking – his dishes turn out quite yummy at times.

He loves the pure sciences, though he’s spent most of his professional life in banking and finance. Yet this doesn’t stop him from using his scientific temper to explain the tiniest of things – like this one time when he associated his back pain with some famous scientific law. It’s lovely having him explain all the interesting stuff around us which we hardly know about, and adds in some hard to come by humour to our lives.

Though what his knowledge also means is that plumbers, electricians and men who do odd jobs are not to be summoned by any one of us under any circumstances. He believes in doing the fixing himself, the trouble is that by the time the fixing happens – things are too “unfixed” to be fixed. Invariably he has strange teaching methods too – the smallest of math doubts has to be cleared beginning with a history of math and the like. He is too elaborate and at times he takes us a little too deep into a subject – so deep that usually I’d forget the doubt I had in the first place.

My appa has always been very liberal with his children, he has always let us debate with him. I think almost everyday sees us argue over something or the other – these random arguments have gifted me critical thinking and the ability to analyze. He is one of the few and rare adults who are non hierarchical with small children especially toddlers. Its a joy to see him interact and play with children, he has the amazing ability to connect at their wavelength.

Our arguments however haven’t always been friendly, non competitive ones. In my younger days especially, an argument not ending with my final note meant defeat. And when I was six years old it meant, I was just being “scolded” for no reason. So to punish my appa, at that age I would switch off the lights while he was engrossed in reading the newspaper.

As you can see, he is not a typical parent – even when it came to getting his kids the “material stuff”. He’s never indulged in posh, “in vogue” gifts”, he’s bought us stuff that bring in little joys. I love my appa for the smaller things in life he’s given us. Like this one time when I was close to two years old, he bought me a roadside plastic toy that kept jumping up and down. Apparently I was absolutely delighted, my amma says she had never seen me laugh so gleefully. That little piece of plastic that my appa demonstrated to me was much more wonderful than any of the costly stuffed toys that I have ever had. I have seen many fathers who think twice before buying their kids something that’s aesthetically not pleasing, but my appa with his intuitive understanding of little kids knew that I’d love it.

Very recently he started learning a programming language (as a hobby) – his ability to grasp new things has never diminished with age, neither has his speed in doing things. Although as his daughter I have never been able to match his speed or intelligence, he keeps me inspired to this day.

I love my appa and the relationship I share with him. It just pours in a lot more zest and spice into my life.