Here’s why I relate to Girish Karnad’s approach to living – and why I celebrate the beauty and simplicity of his final journey!
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.
Be willing to face your new reality when you end up causing shit to happen.
The lead picture across all media today led me to reflect upon a deep, spiritual, perspective and revisit a Life lesson. This is an image (like the one below; image copyright with original creator) of former Australian cricket captain Steve Smith breaking down (while admitting to his mistake and owning responsibility for the ball tampering scandal that his team has recently been involved in) while his father Peter Smith stands by him.
I believe, like Peter Lalor writes for The Australian, that Steve has done right by accepting that he messed up, by acknowledging that he is guilty and by facing up to his demons. He will emerge as a stronger human being – and cricketer and leader – from this experience.
I can relate to how Steve is feeling just now.
I too have been torn by guilt, anger, grief and shame over my actions – decisions I took and choices I made – that led to the bankruptcy of my erstwhile Firm and plunged my precious family into abject penury. Despite 10 years having gone past, despite every effort we have made in this time, that’s a state that we are still to climb out of. So, at times the guilt still comes gnawing at me. But, unlike in the past, over time, I have learnt to deal with it. I have discussed it in my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal (Read more here). I share reflections about it in my Fall Like A Rose Petal Talk and I have blogged about it a few times here too.
I have understood from my own experience of making mistakes – and learning from them – that it is important to be honest with yourself. When a choice you make in Life goes awry and the consequences of your actions come to haunt you, don’t run away from that moment, that reality. Turn around instead and face those consequences. Look yourself in the eye, in the mirror, and admit to yourself that you are guilty and that you screwed up. In such a situation, you will feel stupid, you will feel guilty, remorseful and angry with yourself – and with the world, with the people and circumstances that caused you to act in a certain way. Forgive yourself and forgive everyone around you. Do not cling on to the guilt or to the shame or the anger. Set them all down. By forgiving yourself you cannot repair what you have done, you can’t undo what is past, what is over. But forgiving yourself helps you unburden and deal with the consequences of your actions and your new reality better. It gives you focus and the courage to pick up the threads of your Life again.
I have clung on to guilt, shame, anger and grief for the longest time and have been held hostage by all of them. I have cried, screamed at myself and have, on several occasions, literally banged my head against the wall. But only when I admitted to my mistakes wholesomely, and forgave myself, did I understand the value in moving on. In this time, Vaani – like Steve’s father Peter stands by him today – has stood by me. Her presence, and trust in me, has given me immense strength and I will remain eternally grateful to her. And although we have a long, long way to go before we fix our bankrupt situation, we see it as our responsibility now and don’t see it as a burden anymore.
Let’s recognize this truth about Life. No one is perfect. Shit happens. And sometimes you make choices that you should not have made. When confronted with a Life situation that you caused but which you find too hot to handle, too heavy to hold, take it one step at a time. You can’t solve the problem overnight. First, face your new reality. Cry if it makes you feel better. But be honest with yourself and own the outcome of your choices and actions. At the same time, set down the guilt and let go of the grief, anger and shame. Believe me, your Steve Smith moment, whenever it comes calling, will not burn you – it will only steel you. It will make you stronger, wiser – and happy.