Friday, November 04, 2011

Coping with death, somewhat

This was a dark Diwali for us as we lost our grand-mom this October. Agreed death is a part of life for anything that breathes, but still, we all hope to evade death ourselves and pray no one we know succumbs to the inevitable (how ironical). We know it will eventually come by but the subject of death escapes most of our daily materialistic conversations. We spend not even a minute to deliberate upon it unless someone leaves us for good and we’re forced to face 'the ultimate truth' indirectly.

This year, I have been to the crematorium (shamshaan bhoomi) thrice. Once to mourn death of a young feminist due to marry her childhood sweetheart, who guided me during a Dalit-women-based project at Jagori. She passed away in painful circumstances, locked up in a bathroom in a house abroad where she was staying alone at that time. She didn’t get any medical attention in crucial hours after slipping in the bathroom. Even her doctor parents couldn’t revive her because too much had been damaged before medical help finally arrived. I particularly remember her because she really 'tolerated' me a lot at a time when I was going through an identity crisis of sorts, i.e. immediately after MA. That had some kind of a role to play in who I became subsequently or am still becoming. Blessings in her direction!

Next to bid adieu was my nani, a 90-years-old lady, who went through transition in her son’s arms while chanting ‘ram ram’. Apparently that has relevance during moments of experiencing death and takes the dying person to more advanced forms of being in the next life, as some choose to believe. As long as the transition is peaceful, I feel people are free to believe what they like.

Remember nani as this forever smiling person, who laughed with me in innocence, some call it senility, during her last years, even though she could barely hear or remember anything from the decades of an active past life. Fortunately, she seemed to recognise me as someone known and thankfully as someone who appeared to be funny. All she could see were my facial expressions so I am sure I over-dramatised for her benefit. Had a nagging feeling that I 'had to' amuse her to make her happy, like her state of happiness was also my responsibility.

Can only hope that the innumerable impromptu laughter episodes with her, like the gibberish proposed by Osho, took away at least part of her extreme loneliness after 60 years of companionship with nanu ended recently. As for why I do it, I believe I am largely at peace with the truth of being alone anyway, so can conjure up peals of laughter of varied intensities on just about any occasion with people of any kind. Makes me look over-enthusiastic sometimes, but I am fine with that. "Farewell nanima... lots of warm loving hugs for you, always!”...

Then it was the turn of my single friend’s younger brother who was working in a corporate office down south. Everything seemed perfectly fine until he hung himself after which all hell broke loose for the family. My friend, who has already lost her father much earlier, is the only daughter, obviously is in a state of shock and doesn’t know from where to start making sense of a life that has gone totally berserk. After meeting her at the shamshaam bhoomi, I didn't have courage to go to uthala and terwi because I didn't want to put words where they don't work, so I chose the convenience of praying from a distance. However, feel like calling her today.

I don’t know exactly why I began writing about death if I had to write something after a gap of so many months. There is a lot more that happened during this time period. For instance, besides going to crematoriums and philosophising about life and death, including my own, I was also working on my PhD research area - well-being of trafficked and subsequently rescued children. Also there was a short visit to Gujarat to study pastoral lifestyles there as part of continuing contractual work. This was interspersed with news of two close friends opting for court marriage, thinking about what to gift them. Humm...

Anyway, apart from 'returning to boyhood' by chopping my locks yet again to the dismay of my family, the other update is that I ended up baking tea brownies for my aunt in her new microwave oven, the recipe of which I want to share here as requested. The preparation time is about 15 minutes while the baking time is just four minutes! You should try this one out if you don't like eggs. I found the recipe on an online cookery blog whose name I just can’t remember. Btw, I do like eggs :).

Eggless banana-flavoured brownies:

Blend together two tbsp. sugar, ripe mashed banana, 1/3rd cup butter and half tin milkmaid, along with two tbsp. crushed nuts (walnuts, cashews, almonds- your choice).

In another container, sift one cup flour, one pinch baking soda, two tbsp. cocoa powder.

Mix both well and transfer contents to a special microwave dish, and let it cook for four minutes, after which leave the cooked batter to cool for some more time before slicing it up and serving with hot tea. I say cooking is therapeutic in the middle of all this, and I am not saying this because I am a woman and I ‘ought to know’ how to cook. I believe it's good to know something about everything, including cooking, so that one doesn't have to completely depend on anyone.

My aunt, who is single and retired as a government school headmistress about ten years ago, was looking after my grandparents before they passed away, one by one. She seemed pleased with the recipe and has booked me for Thai vegetarian cooking in her new gadget for another time. Makes me nervous because I don't know abc of that, not yet. I dislike experimenting with nutritious veggies because I feel they'll go to waste if I burn them or don't cook them well. Anyway, anything to make my aunt feel better, including hopping on one leg if she wants me to :).

The time spent with her seems to be helping us both deal with gaps left in our hearts, with food (!). For me, I think it's more about getting distracted from memories of nani while living alone in that house. Or maybe, it's about learning to live with them.


  1. ...the stories are touching and also revealing of something. I don't know what it is like to face death like you have this year. Each story is disturbingly real and horrible. I miss your smiling, expression-full face! So when you're in the mood, lets coffee!

  2. thanks for sharing this poignant journey...i feel grateful to god for bringing you in my life....i was left with a feeling that you and i have to do something together someday...your spirit touches my soul very prayers for all your loved ones...
    Wanted to share just one thing that i learnt from my mother's death...people never die only their bodies do...

  3. You know, your way of expression is very good. And, our friend is reasonably fine, we keep talking. See, we cannot possibly replace her loss but she has given us place in her life which we will not vacate, not at this hour of need :) Btw, thanks for the recipe, I will try it some day. Or you can come home and make it, even better!

  4. Work, music and friends heal too!

  5. That was touching and extremely well-written.

  6. ...what to say. have you cut your hair again?

  7. Amazing, you write so well. Though i get on to the net only for 5 mins in a month...but your mails are a must read...