Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Remembering The Dead

I lost a loved one late last year and have yet to admit it to myself - I have always coped with loss by going and remaining in denial until enough time has elapsed, until the wound is no longer raw. I often remember the winter afternoons I spent at my grand uncle's ramshackle old house in Kolkata. The house like him, was a relic from the past that feels a little out of place in a fast paced modern world. My grand-uncle was the old-fashioned bhadralok with the kind of refinement that is hard to come by these days.

I remember his words of wisdom leavened with generous amounts of humor, the love and affection I enjoyed, how he had the domestic help dash to his favorite mishti store down the street to buy an assortment of everything I liked. It was his pleasure to treat me to my favorite food and see me enjoy it. Then there were the old, crumbly paperbacks in his ancient mahogany book shelves. My first introduction to Emile Zola, Andre Gide and Albert Camus and many others happened here. The Bengali volumes remained out of reach to me given my unfamiliarity with the written language.

There were other treasures on the book shelves too - antique porcelain, fountain pens, black and white photographs from his many trips around India and Swiss watches over fifty years old. I could have had any or all of them if I had wanted - but they felt right where they were. He had possibly one of the last rotary telephones in the city. In his house, time had stopped still. No matter what happened in the world outside, it was one place that remained unchanged from my childhood - my perfect sanctuary.

For many months, I have thought about him - wondered why it was so hard for me to call him when he was on his deathbed. I guess I started to be in denial when I realized his life was ebbing away - that I would never see him again. In my mind, I wanted to preserve the last happy memory I had of meeting him when he was much healthier. I wanted to pretend that the decay was not happening and he never died but merely went away. Yet, I have mourned in my own fashion, silently and without tears. Today, I read a poem that he might have read to me :

Do not stand at my grave and weep;

I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

1 comment:

InWantOfBeingMe said...

A beautiful ode to the departed. Great post !