An incoherent grief

I just got to know about N’s passing away. It’s a shock, I didn’t expect her to pass away so soon The kids are hovering around. The firstborn says, “Mama don’t be alone.” But, I need space and silence. I need my woods. I’ll escape into its quiet in a bit but before that, words.

I never met N, we spoke on the phone occasionally, exchanged letters and shared sarees. We were two strangers who shared a love for the quiet pleasures of books, nature and sarees. Instagram brought us together and we’ve followed the snippets of our lives through a little window. Despite all the bad rap social media gets, it has brought me some wonderful people I now call friends.

Two weeks ago, I received a parcel from N, a lovely grey ikat saree and a slim book, ‘The Living Mountain’ with the sweetest note inside. The title and book blurb sounded like I needed to read it right then and that’s what I proceeded to do. One of the few instances where I read a book cover to cover at a go, despite knowing that it is best savoured slowly. But, I wanted to read a work that my friend thought I’d like and so I gulped it, greedily. I called her as soon as I finished the book and she was apologetic for not feeling more cheerful. She had recently tested positive for Covid-19. That was Neelu, always concerned about others than herself which is something I realized about her, early on in our acquaintance.

Nan Shepherd’s book is the book I wish I wrote. This book will be doubly precious now for it has come to me from her. There is a little bit of her in that note written on its page, the closest to feeling her touch. Soft, tender, gentle, kind, considerate, caring, encouraging, supportive – I could go on about her and it would be echoed by many like me who haven’t met her but only known her virtually.

Now, I sit here, typing because I know of no other way to feel grief for the loss of a friend I only knew through a screen and handwritten notes. I miss not having felt the dazzle of her smile, what I imagine would be the scent of her presence, the warmth of her hug and her lilting voice. She may be gone but she left me a title that I need to complete, if not for anything else then simply for her.

RIP N.

A stranger life

I’m not a big facebook fan and end up using it mostly in the course of work. So, I saw a message from a stranger almost a month later and it was a curious thing. This person had figured a few of my blogs as well as my name through them and was intrigued about a lack of face on my saree posts enough to want to reach out. Sometimes, I do that too, reach out to people although it’s mostly because of words. It got me thinking of how people connect in this century and also why. But that is for a later post.

In pandemic times, our interactions have changed in their texture. There’s either a frantic need to maintain old socializing in a virtual avatar or a retreating into journals, books, letters and blogging. So much of our lives are about places we go or things we do and so being confined brings very little to conversation as exchange of raw thoughts can be frighteningly intimate.

Yesterday, technology gave way. My internet device went bust and later the phone hung. It refused to shut down or restart. And truth be told, I was relieved to be disconnected. After trying without success to reconnect to the call I was on, I calmly put aside everything and wrote a letter. Then an entry in my journal to mark the day and a book in bed before sleep stole on me. I slept for 12 hours straight.

Today has been reflective, a little despairing, mildly cynical, a tad bit impatient and curious too. I could attribute the shaking of a steadiness to a variety of factors perhaps the last two books I finished? In case you want to know, they were Disgrace and Giovanni’s Room. They were recommendations from another stranger. Sometimes I think it is easier to exchange digital words with people one never needs to know. Days like these make me want to crawl into a cave. But life has a penchant for teasing and torments by denying what one seeks.

The shrieking parakeets this morning reminded me of this khesh saree and so it became the accompaniment to my day…

I sat calmly listening to a an old woman who needed to talk, a young girl who was frustrated about being unable to go cycling. Behind the eyes which were with them, there was impatience to get back to my page where a half written sentence demanded completion. Eventually, time made itself available but the need to finish the line dried up like the ink in my pen.

In the midst of all that, a friend prodded me to do something I wouldn’t ever have considered. But I said yes, spontaneously. It felt right although I didn’t expect it to move at the pace it did. I’ve mostly gone where the river of life has taken me and so far it’s been interesting. I suppose one can liken the river bed across miles to the constancy of one’s personhood and the different features along its course as the various experiences one encounters – enriching, depleting, polluting, reviving. Along the way, it’s song meanders through joyous notes and plaintive ones, furious thundering and quiet whispering. Eventually the waters will spill into the ocean and all those songs will drown into a majestic silence. I find myself with a longing creep in for that soundlessness.

Remembering Forrest

The last couple of days have been a bit of a whirlwind as I got swept into some volunteering work. It got me musing about the ways in which I’ve navigated the decades. Perhaps, the decades have navigated my life instead. I’ve picked up jobs, skills and interests along the way and mostly been a bit of a rolling stone. Today, in between long calls, I found myself wondering how I came to be immersed with a group of people I have never met before and I saw Forrest flash before my eyes.

My first job was probably around the time the movie was released and since then, I’ve seen how living changed for an entire generation. Work, relationships, entertainment, health and through all of it the inevitable thread of technology that now connects all of our lives, individually and collectively. Under the isolation of lock down, there are strangers seeing each other and hearing each other over a screen trying to help other strangers. 25 years ago, we didn’t have mobile phones and now it is possible to conduct business on one. While I ride on its convenience, sometimes there is a desire to unplug and go back to a simpler way of being, one of real breathing connections. You know, the kind where you break bread and share a coffee and drink in the scents and textures of the day.

Forrest Gump has been a beloved movie since the first viewing and not just for Tom Hanks. It’s mostly for an almost unbearable sense of lightness in the quiet stillness of his character. I think he possibly epitomizes maitri, karuna, mudita and upeksha in his simpleton self. Not a mean bone in his body and always the hint of a smile although that seems more like a Tom Hanks trait rather than just that of his character in the film. But maybe I’m biased. 🙂  He runs through the years inevitably in the middle of all the key shifts of the different ages while being removed from it. In the world but not quite of it. Detachment at its best perhaps? Maybe one needs to be a child at heart always for that kind of being.

I love the gentle kindness in the way he relates with the people who weave in and out of his life, the way he cares for the troubled and vulnerable Jenny who finds it so hard to bear the incredible lightness of his love and her own returning love. Theirs is an unlikely friendship and love story, less a juxtaposition of simple and complex and more one of a shared childlike blossoming. The weight of her brokenness is a shard that repeatedly makes her run away until near the end. Love is unequal, I suppose, the lover always loving a little more than the beloved. And Forrest is all the more richer for it in his uncomplicated wholeness.

The movie invariably brings a whiff of nostalgia for my running days, especially the latter ones where the feet were bare and the runs were long. It’s an occasional sweet ache now, the memory of that runner and the road as the seasons rose and fell.  “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get” remains a delightful reminder about the randomness of life and a certain curiosity for its various tastes. Maybe it is time to unwind into the delights of an old favourite as light as the feather that opens and closes the film.

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Barely have any running pictures but think Forrest and it seemed fitting to find one of the rare few that some stranger clicked…

A perfect Thursday in January

One fine day, she rose early. The kitchen woke up under her fingers and she cooked for the day, simple nourishing food for two. Much later, she wrapped herself in cotton sunshine and went to an enchanted garden of old trees and pretty flowers. She found a pretty yellow shevanthi to call her own, a burst of happiness in a happy day.

She drank deeply of nature’s beauty and slowly found her way home. Along the way, a young friend joined her and they watched a movie they had begun a long time ago. They didn’t finish it and have made a date for Monday afternoon, away from the bustle of the city. They’ll sit below a sturdy old tree and finish what should have long been finished.

She went to say good bye and on her way back, stumbled on a delightful little patisserie. She got herself an indulgence, a perfect lemon tart with just the zing to celebrate the coming of spring. It was a perfect Thursday in January.