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.
What can you do by knowing your future – you still can’t change a thing!
A famous artist I met recently told me that he had added an alphabet to his name, on the advice of a numerologist, in the hope that his fortunes would improve. “But, on the contrary, things have worsened,” he lamented. He then asked me: “Is there any truth or logic in all these things – astrology, numerology, vaastu, feng shui – can they change one’s Life?”
I am often asked this question. Perhaps because in my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal I talk about how two astrologers, a father-son duo Balan Nair and Ramamohan Nair, gave us perspective and direction in our darkest hours. Yes, I do believe that all of these – astrology, numerology, vaastu and feng shui – are sciences. So I respect them. But I have learnt that beyond gaining perspective and direction, we must not look for them to resolve our Life situations. They simply can’t!
Let me explain. When you go to a doctor, you are prescribed a medicine. You must take the medicine for you to heal. Similarly, when you go to an astrologer, invariably – especially if the astrologer is an expert and is ethical – you are advised prayer. This is all what astrologers can and must do – they must tell you more about the phase you are going through in Life and advise prayer. What is prayer at the end of the day? It is just a form of surrender to a Higher Energy. Prayer in the context of a sunny, prosperous phase really means being grateful for all the abundance; and in the context of a turbulent, dark phase means acceptance and surrender. Clearly, a good astrologer can only read your chart efficiently and share with you the facts, the context, of your ongoing Life experience. No astrologer can change your chart. Therefore, over time, I have learnt that when practitioners of numerology, vaastu and feng shui make claims to “alter” your Life’s course, they are really talking bunkum. I don’t hold it against them though. That’s their business model and their need to earn a living drives them to do what they do.
After over a decade of living through a cathartic phase in Life, I have come to realize that the only way to dealing with Life is to simply be in the moment. You can’t solve some inscrutable Life situations. You have to go through any experience for as long as it lasts, however long it takes. Apart from just being, being happy, prayer is good coping device. When you pray – and I don’t at all mean or recommend being ritualistic or religious here – just surrender to a Higher Energy. Offer yourself to be led by it. Trust the process of Life and go with the flow. I am happy to report that I have even stopped seeking direction and perspective from my astrologers. I no longer am keen to know when my trials and tribulations will end. As you can see, I am not bitter with Life either. In fact, I am delighted I am going through this phase because it has only made me stronger, wiser and happier. Without this experience, I will not have learnt the art of being, being happy – which is really to be non-worrying, non-frustrated when results don’t come and non-suffering in the wake of so much pain.
In reply to a mail that I had sent providing an update on our situation, a friend to whom I owe money wrote this reply recently: “I really hope that in 2017 all your troubles vanish and Vaani and you bounce back. You can’t keep going through this phase endlessly.” My cousin asked me once: “How long will you endure this? Don’t you want to know when all this will end?” I know that everyone wishes us well and are genuinely concerned for us. But is there any point in knowing when a tough phase in Life will end? What can you do with such knowledge? Whether you know that it will end soon or later, you have to go through whatever you have to. Nothing – and no one – can change that reality. So, Vaani and I have realized that it is best to go through whatever is in store, stoically, with a smile. There is intense pain at times, but our equanimity, our happiness, helps us not to suffer.
10 years ago, I would have advised you to meet an astrologer. I would have referred you to a vaastu or feng shui expert. I studied numerology myself so I may have volunteered some advice for you. But now I will simply say, accept what is, be happy and go within – realize yourself! As the famous lyrics of Kannadasan from Vettaikaran (1964, K V Mahadevan, T M Soundararajan, MGR, Savitri) go: Nee Unnai Arinthal, Nee Unnai Arinthal, Ulagathil Poradalam ...It means: “If you realize yourself, your true Self, you can battle and thrive in the real world…”
Feeling grateful for what you have helps you to bounce back from no-go situations!
People have often asked me if there have been times when I have felt like I can’t go on anymore; when I have felt beaten and deflated. Of course, I have. I am no less human. I live in the same world as everyone else and I have similar issues that many are grappling with.
Just two days ago, looking at our Life’s design – how every department is ravaged – I was recollecting an old Tamizh song to Vaani: Sothanai Mel Sothanai, Podhum Ada Saami. It is from the 1974 super-hit film Thanga Padhakam that stars Sivaji Ganesan (P.Madhavan, M.S.Viswanathan, Kannadasan, T.M.Soundararajan). The song is a cry in despair of a heart-broken man, an appeal to a Higher Energy, saying, “Test after test, challenge after challenge, oh, can’t take it any more…!” Each line of the lyrics by Kannadasan carries so much depth and meaning – anyone who is clueless about what lies next and feels numbed by an inscrutable Life challenge can relate to every word.
So, when I recollected a memory associated with the song to Vaani, I too was feeling the way the lyrics describe Life to be. (Read more of our story here: Fall Like A Rose Petal). I had heard of this song first as an 7-year-old when my father’s oldest brother passed away suddenly. We were living in Delhi back then. When we arrived in Madras and visited our grieving grandparents and the rest of the family at their home in George Town’s Rasappa Chetty Street, I heard someone mention to my parents that my uncle had last heard this song on the radio late in the evening and told his wife that he could relate to it totally. If my memory serves me right, I think he died in his sleep. It wasn’t until a few years later that I watched the movie itself on TV and then for several decades I never thought about the song. Until, of course, two days ago.
I am not even trying to suggest any parallels here! I am just confessing that we are all vulnerable in the wake of Life’s onslaughts. I have read an interview of Amitabh Bachchan, which he gave sometime in 1998 or 1999, when he was in the throes of ABCL’s bankruptcy, where he recounts telling his God, his version of the Higher Energy that we all look up to, this: “Bahut Ho Gaya, Ab Bas!” It means, “I have had enough, please, please spare me…” So, each of us is vulnerable in our own unique ways. We cannot be immune from fear, grief, insecurity or worry. No one is.
But there’s something each of us can do when we are plagued by debilitating emotions. You can zoom out and look at your own Life as a witness – dispassionately. The moment you do that, self-pity, self-doubt, fear, anxiety, all these wasteful emotions will dissolve. I did just that, yet again, a couple of days ago. When I recounted this song, and I was beginning to tell Vaani that it’s been so, so many years since our crisis broke, I realized that I still had her by my side. And she still had me. And together there’s a lot more we can do. I was immediately soaked in immense gratitude. So, let us keep ploughing on, one day at a time, was what I told myself. That’s how I bounced back. I told her: “Varattum, Pathukalam!” It means: “Let it come, whatever it is, we’ll face it!”
What I have learnt from dealing with cluelessness in an inscrutable situation is that you must never hide from, or fight shy of, your vulnerability. Know that, not just you, all forms of creation are vulnerable. Know also that there is a Higher Energy that’s more intelligent and more compassionate than us humans!! So when you recognize that there are some problems that you cannot solve, just trust the process of Life and let go! This means that you must accept your situation, accept your vulnerability and only focus on whatever you can do. Feel the way you do, but don’t cling on to that feeling. If you feel you can’t go on, explore that feeling. Ask yourself, isn’t that just a way of pitying yourself; does it serve any purpose? When you see how futile your self-pity is, and all the negativity is, zoom out. Look at your Life like a third party, like a witness. And you will always find, no matter what the context is, that there’s so much still to be grateful for, so much to celebrate. The moment gratitude comes in, it drowns self-pity, self-doubt and all the negativity!
PS: If you liked this blogpost, please share it to help spread the learning it carries!