What could have been never was. It simply never was. So, why grieve over it?
The last time I met my father was on Saturday, 6th April, 2019. Vaani was with me. My mother was by his side, as always. All four of us had a meaningful conversation – an absolute rarity, a miracle! When we got up to leave, I reached out and gave him a hug. As I stepped back from the bed on which he was seated, my father gave me a flying kiss – it was part kiss and part blessing.
That moment with him will stay with me forever.
He passed away on Monday, 15th April, 2019, nine days after we had visited him.
You see, we are not a family that normally hugs or kisses when we meet. So, what I did to my dad and his parting gesture are special in their own way.
Although we live in the same city, we had not met as a family in over 14 years now. The environment in the family too has been fractious for the longest time. I can’t recollect ever relating to my mother. More recently, I have been unable to relate to my siblings either. Besides, my choice to borrow from the family to fix my now bankrupt Firm, and their imagining that Vaani and I have cheated them, and our inability to repay that money, hasn’t helped matters at all. (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal.). Sadly, every conversation that has been attempted among all of us in the past has been derailed by machinations and misunderstandings, so no one even tries to have a conversation anymore!
But, ironically, what did not happen in these past several years, happened with my father’s passing. We three siblings, and our spouses, got together under the same roof, for the first time since 2005! I guess we are many, many, conversations away from relating to each other again, from repairing the tattered fabric of our family’s identity, but for the first time, there was dignity and peace in the way we all conducted ourselves. Seeing off our father was as poignant and peaceful as it was painful.
My spiritual evolution has turned me away from religion and rituals. So, even as I mechanically went about the process of cremating my father, I could not but be reflective. The entire day’s proceedings held a magic and beauty of their own – humbling me, grounding me and steeling me.
To be sure, all the strife in my family has been over social positioning (over ‘what will people say?’) and over clinging on to material security – both of which have led to an absolute lack of trust and transparency. My dad, Vaani and I, have been mere pawns in a mindless game that was continuously being played on us. There has been so much avoidable turmoil, trauma and grief that everyone has been subjected to. Yet, as my Dad’s body lay there, his face radiated an unmatchable calm, a serenity that only divinity can deliver. I haven’t stopped wondering since about that inscrutable irony!
As my brother and I drove to the cremation ground, with our father’s body, we did not utter a word to each other. I did notice that he was crying inconsolably. I let him be. And I allowed these immortal lines by Kannadasan to comfort me as they wafted through my consciousness…
பேசிய வார்த்தை என்ன?
திரண்டதோர் சுற்றம் என்ன?
கூடுவிட்டு ஆவிபோனால் கூடவே வருவதென்ன…?
வீதி வரை மனைவி
காடு வரை பிள்ளை
கடைசி வரை யாரோ?
(The lyrics are from an iconic song from ‘Paadha Kanikkai’/1962/T.M.Soundararajan/Viswanathan-Ramamoorthy.)
Kannadasan so powerfully, so lucidly, through these lyrics, talks about the futility of the ‘drama’ we make out of our lives…because, in the end, he reminds us, you go alone, with no one – and nothing – with you…
(When you were alive….) all the games you played, all the words you spoke, all the materialistic things/wealth you accumulated, all those relatives/people who surrounded you…(all of these don’t matter….) once your soul leaves your body, what – or who – is it that comes with you?
So, why all this ‘drama’, wonders the poet?
As the hungry flames in the crematorium’s gas-fired chamber devoured my father’s body, I just had this to tell him: “Thank you Daddy for everything. And I am sorry!”
That’s all I had to say. Not that it matters now.
Then my fickle human mind, for a brief few seconds, pined for what could have been. If only things had turned around for Vaani and me and we had repaid the monetary debt back to the family, and he had seen our resurgence, and we had redeemed ourselves with the family, before he went away – Life would have been so much more different. Just that thought broke me. I cried quietly as I kneeled down in surrender to a Higher Energy! In that moment of surrender, an awakening, empowering, liberating thought arose within me: “What is the point in thinking about what could have been? What could have been never was. It simply never was. So, why grieve over it?” And I let my grief go…I just let it go…
Later that evening, as we walked on the beach to immerse my father’s mortal remains in the Bay of Bengal, I felt magic and beauty again in the moment. I was carrying the earthen pot that contained his ashes. Here was my Dad, I thought, and I was carrying him like I would carry a baby. I felt a deep sense of gratitude and love for his Life. I felt love for his music (he was a great Carnatic singer, who never quite followed his bliss; listen to a YouTube rendering of Nagumo by him here). I felt grateful for his enormous, unshakeable, trust in me and Vaani. I felt admiration for his boundless resilience – to have seen so much happen around him and yet choosing to remain unmoved for the most part.
In that reflective moment, I realized, his Life’s design was its message. For what it was, the way it was. I now understand that some parts and aspects of our Life may never attain closure the way we wish for them or envision them. They may happen surely but only the way Life wants them to happen. So, Life is just a continuum. No beginning. No end. You just go with the flow. It is there one moment. And it is gone in the next!
Just then, a huge wave came crashing at us, and my brother and I let go of the pot that held my father’s ashes. It vanished in the vast cacophonous ocean. Boom! It was gone. I tried to see if I could find the pot bobbing up somewhere. No…it was gone!
That night, I decided to have a drink. And I leaned on R.D.Burman to soothe me. Interestingly, the first song on my playlist celebrated the suchness of Life. Anand Bakshi’s lyrics seemed like they were written specially for me, for that evening…
ज़िन्दगी के सफ़र में गुज़र जाते हैं जो मकाम
वो फिर नहीं आते, वो फिर नहीं आते
कुछ लोग एक रोज़ जो बिछड़ जाते हैं
वो हजारों के आने से मिलते नहीं
उम्र भर चाहे कोई पुकारा करे उनका नाम
वो फिर नहीं आते, वो फिर नहीं आते
(The lyrics are from a classic song from ‘Aap Ki Kasam’/1974/Kishore Kumar/R D Burman.)
Anand Bakshi’s poetry is powerful: Life’s moments are fleeting, they never come back; some people who leave you don’t come back too, no matter how many times you call out their name!
Estranged as were for many years now, and ever since I started a new Life with Vaani in 1989, I have been living away from my Dad, of course. But from now on, living without him, will mean something very, very different.
Life hai…kuch bhi ho sakta hai! – It’s Life…anything can happen!
Like almost everyone else, Vaani and I too are still coming to terms with Sridevi’s sudden, tragic, death. We have been reading up every possible – credible – piece of information that has had a fresh perspective to share on what exactly happened to her.
And then, a couple of days ago, we came across this Blogpost by Bollywood trade analyst Komal Nahta, who is believed to be a close friend of Boney Kapoor and Sridevi. If we go by Nahta’s account of what happened in the final couple of hours of Sridevi’s Life, it appears that even as Boney Kapoor was surfing TV channels in the living room of their suite at the Jumeirah Emirates Tower Hotel, waiting for Sridevi to get ready and join him; so they could go out for dinner, Sridevi was drowning in a bathtub – in the suite’s master bedroom, barely a few feet away from him! And he could do nothing, nothing at all, to save her.
I read and re-read Nahta’s Blogpost. Only to conclude that everything about Sridevi’s death is so unreal, so bizarre. What are the chances someone can drown in a bathtub, in one of the most premium (and therefore considered safe) hotels in the world? What are the chances that a loving, doting, caring husband, can be completely oblivious of his wife drowning, even as the tragedy happened, especially when he was within shouting distance of his wife? What are the chances that you say you will “freshen up and come” and actually die in that time – in under 15 minutes – by drowning in a bathtub?
But such is Life. It is so totally, totally, inscrutable. I am reminded of Indeevar’s deeply contemplative lyrics from that iconic song in Safar (1970) rendered in Kishoreda’s immortal voice (music: Kalyanji Anandji)…“zindagi ka safar…koi samjha nahin, koi jaana nahin…” . Life is indeed totally, totally, inscrutable. And this morning, I read this equally bizarre story of this man, literally, waking up from the dead! It made me conclude, yet again, that anything, absolutely anything, can happen in Life!
The more I go through Life, the more I experience it, the one indisputable truth that strikes me repeatedly is this – no matter who you are, you have to go through what you have to go through. You just cannot negotiate with Life over your Life’s design. As I see it, in Life, it is always what it is. You have to bear your cross. And you have to live through the design that Life has planned for you. In fact, as it appears to me, Life’s Masterplan has no flaws!
Consider the late Sridevi’s Life again – her design took her from obscure Meenampatti in Tamil Nadu and made her a pan-Indian screen diva; then the same design forced her into near oblivion, after she married Boney Kapoor and they had Janhavi and Khushi, for 15 years from 1997~2012; the design then brought her to centerstage again with English Vinglish (2012) and Mom (2017) and, posthumously, the same design ensured she was feted, in memoriam, on the Oscar stage this past Sunday! And yet, despite all her greatness, her fame, her glory, this legendary star drowned, helpless, in a five-star hotel’s bathtub? Well, clearly, that’s how her Life’s design willed her story to end!
I have realized that our material success – particularly our ability to earn an income using our talent and skills – makes us believe that we control our Life. The truth is that we never were, we are not and we will never be in control. Life is always in control. It keeps on happening per its inscrutable, unique, design for each of us. It often takes a crisis, an event that defies all logic and cocks a snoot at our problem-solving abilities, or death, to shake us awake from our stupor and remind us that it is not us, but Life which is in control. When we realize this, we too learn to be accepting of the Life we have and learn to go with the flow.
There are no two ways with Life. It is only what it is. You are always playing only with the cards that Life has dealt you. And then, when your time here is up, when your name is called, you stop your game mid-way, even if it is in the middle of a bath, and leave! So, approaching Life with humility and a sense of amazement are perhaps the best way to live it well. Humility, because Life is the Higher Energy (which is why I always spell Life with a capital ‘L’) that powers everything in the Universe; and amazement, because you never know what hand you are going to be dealt next! After all, Life hai…kuch bhi ho sakta hai!
Acceptance helps you face Life and cope with it.
Last evening Vaani and I stopped by the roadside to buy fruits from a pavement shop. The lady who owned the shop must have been in her late 40s. She helped us along with the purchase. Next to her cash box was the garlanded picture of a young man, maybe in his early 20s. It appeared to me that the man may well have been the lady’s son, as a red kumkumam mark adorned the picture.
Perhaps sensing my curiosity, the lady remarked: “Ayya, that’s my son. He hanged himself last year in January.”
Vaani was shocked. She asked her: “What happened amma?”
The lady replied, her eyes welling up: “I have no idea. One day he was there. And the next day he was gone. My daughter is married and lives in Pondicherry. She does not bother much about me. This boy was my hope. But he too has deserted me. I live alone, earning a meagre livelihood selling fruits.”
Overhearing the conversation, another customer, who was picking up apples, asked the lady, “How are you coping?”
Her answer to his question surprised me. She was very grounded: “I have just accepted what has happened as my destiny and go on with my Life. I have to carry on living, as long as I am here.”
After the purchase, as we boarded our autorickshaw to head home, I noticed the lady was engaged in a cheerful banter with her neighbor, a vegetable-seller. She looked beaten but there was an air of acceptance and equanimity about her. Her line – “I have just accepted what has happened as my destiny and go on with my Life. I have to carry on living, as long as I am here.” – stayed with me all evening yesterday and I reflected on it this morning.
Interestingly, just the other day, over the Pongal weekend, we met a friend. She is a single parent and heads a large pan-Indian corporation. Her young son had tragically died in a road accident some months ago. We were meeting her for the first time after the incident. I told her that we were sorry to hear of her loss. Her reply was awakening too: “People expect me to look sad and struck by grief. But this is the way I am. I see no point in either hiding my pain or drowning in it. I am just being me – realizing that my son not being around is my new normal. I am acutely aware that my circumstances in Life have changed, but I remain who I was.”
Isn’t it beautiful to be enriched by such sensitive, spiritual perspectives to Life? Both women represent diverse ends of a spectrum. One is a fruit-seller and another is a CEO. Yet, their maturity, their evolution, connects them – and offers us an unputdownable insight into intelligent living.
Whatever be the context or situation we are placed in, the simplest – non-suffering – way to live Life is to accept what is. It is only when we resist what is happening to us that we suffer. I am sure the fruit-seller is enduring a lot of pain – of having lost her only son, of having to eke out a living, of having to live alone. And I am sure the CEO is in the throes of pain too. She may not have material, existential, challenges, but her pain is not small by any measure. Even so, it did not appear to me that either woman was in grief or was moping and mourning or that she was suffering. This is what acceptance of any situation, of your Life for what it is, helps you with. Acceptance of a problem or a situation cannot immediately help you solve it or change it. But acceptance is a great device that helps you face Life, that helps you cope, that leads you to carry on living.
Two practical, spiritually evolved women – one learning: “The key to intelligent living is accepting what is”!
Complaining or grieving don’t help – they are the root cause of suffering!
A friend lost her father a few months ago in a tragic road accident. And she’s not been able to come out of the shock. She wrote to me asking if there a way to cope with the loss of a “dear, dear one”?
Well, any instance of death, particularly of someone who you have been close to, is irreparable. You will always miss that someone. But grieving continuously is definitely going to cause – and accentuate – your suffering.
I shared with our friend what I know of the two traits that the Japanese possess as a people: ‘gaman’ and ‘shoganai’.
‘Gaman’ means ‘patience, endurance, perseverance’. And while ‘shoganai’ literally means ‘nothing can be done’ or ‘it can’t be helped’, it also denotes a calm determination to overcome what cannot be controlled. We must appreciate that Life and death are two sides of the same coin; if you are born, you will die. So, death naturally follows birth and Life. But the Japanese way of Life teaches us how to accept this non-negotiable reality and cope.
The Japanese language testifies to how a sense of precariousness__since Japan is located in one of the most seismologically active spots on the planet; remember the tsunami of March 2011?__has shaped a national consciousness. We have a lot to learn from this Japanese philosophy because most of us are forever complaining of or grieving over what could have been and what we don’t have! Obviously, my friend is going through a lot of pain and trauma over her father’s sudden passing. But ‘shogonai’ – what can be done to undo that pain? Nothing at all. So, only ‘gaman’ will work for her. Only time can heal her. I encouraged her to celebrate her father’s Life – do everything that he loved doing to engage with his ‘presence’ instead of mourning and grieving his absence!
In any context when you are confronted with the uncontrollable, we must embrace ‘gaman’ and ‘shoganai’ as simple, practical philosophies. They are effective to deal with even in everyday Life situations. You are in a traffic jam and late for your meeting. ‘Shoganai’. You get a non-reclining seat on a packed flight. ‘Shoganai’. There is a power outage. ‘Shoganai’. By any stretch of imagination, ‘Shoganai’ does not imply fatalism. Which is why, it must be understood and practiced with ‘gaman’. Both together encourage us to stop complaining about, or grieving over, things that are beyond our control; instead they urge us to accept situations that leave us numb and helpless. In the context of acts beyond our control__like a health setback or a natural calamity or the passing away of a dear one__they remind us to accept reality and endure Life patiently.
Personally, I believe the Japanese way of Life invites us to stop complaining and grieving. Complaining or grieving does not change reality. Neither does acceptance. But acceptance of any reality at least helps the one facing it to be in peace.