Thursday, December 28, 2017

You, Me, We Are Here

Nanin lives on. I see him everyday these days. In my dreams. In my face in the mirror that resembles the one of his adolescence and youth. I place my hand on the crown of my head and shelter it with a spread out palm the way he used to when he would walk into the dining room when I would be eating lunch after school or before college. The palm would emanate love, blessing and a wordless protection and connection. In translation it would mean, "You are precious and special and I love you beyond words". But as we know, much is lost in translation. Much else is important.

I remember things suddenly, snatches. I want to know more, remember from my mother's memories and from other peoples' memories. At the same time, I don't want to be left remembering. Because remembering something means you cannot take it for granted. Remembering means you have lost something forever, beyond the border of having.

Christmas Day, 25th December, the hours of this day makes me think back to the hours of the funeral. There is an irony - of the sheer joy and togetherness of the Christmas festival and the culmination of the festive season...and... the sheer loss and loneliness that his passing means to me. The world celebrates, I go along. But this hiding of tears, this quotidian facade, this clenching of teeth stems also from a lack of currently being around almost no one who knew him. The irony is solely mine to bear.

This year, tiny, highly personal ceremony officiated in Madras helped. There were lights, there were candles, French Fries, cold water. Tears, free tears. And then the music took over.

Of course, Nanin wouldn't be going on about this. He would feel my sorrow and maybe shed tears for a short while. But we would find our joy, with a torchlight, reliving stories (our own or otherwise) from Paraguay to Pamarru. Instead, if Nanin were here, we would be making a list. So, let's do what Nanin would rather do.

If Nanin Were Alive Today:

  1. If Nanin were alive today..I would really, really listen to each and every one of 'his' songs with him. I would appreciate and analyse every guitar riff, every choice of instrument, every drumbeat and every vocalist's vibrato. The way I do now when I hear his music and turn to tell him what I notice anew and admire afresh about the precious treasury of collected, remembered, repeated music he has given me. I would tell him that I went through his record collection a couple of months ago (for the first time!) and it gave me pride to associate my pre-teen cassette (and later CD, and later iTunes) collection with his neatly preserved stacks of 60-odd year old records. And I would also marvel at the artwork on his 'That Bad Eartha' - Eartha Kitt, Unforgettable Legends from the Punjab, the Fire and Romance of Spain, An Evening with Belafonte/Mouskouri, 'Boot Polish', Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Warda's 'Ehdounoul Ayam' Live, Belly Dances from the Middle-East,  Cugat Caricatures, 'Sparrow Meets the Dragon' -  The World's Greatest Calypsonian The Mighty Sparrow & The Carribean's No.1 Band Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, Drums of India, Thom Kelling's 'Fiesta Latina', Music for an Arabian Night by Ron Goodwin and his Concert Orchestra, Calypso in Brass: A Belafonte Innovation,  'Aap Beati', Exotic Percussion by Stanley Black and his Orchestra, 'Shagird' - too gorgeous, so effortful and purely artistEtic (yes, more than artistic).
  2. I would tell him how the house that seemed to possess layers, depths and treasure troves now has shrunk and all has been discovered. The cordoned-off cupboards have been reorganised. The lofts have been restocked. The secret drawer where he kept the miniature Swarovski animal figurines is now easily accessible. Those were eagerly awaited occasions - the times when he would pull open that drawer (often on my bouncing from one foot to another requests) and he would hand me the awe-inspiring boxes which contained the tiny, preciously-crafted little animals. I would trace their indented, sparkling bodies - a duck, a pig, a hedgehog, a teddy bear and a fish. I had to stand on tiptoe to peer inside that mysterious drawer. Now when I loom over it, I don't open it anymore. Also, it is quite jammed now due to weather and my hometown's past few terrifying monsoon seasons. Same with the rows of leatherbound, hardback collectors' edition classics, the weathered Asterix & Obelix collection and the awards whose names I would relish pronouncing to my newly-reading self. Nowadays, it's not my father's things that are discoveries, like it was when I would excavate to find messages after he had died. It is my old childhood room that is the place of surprise - where I search for the truest parts of myself in whirlwind moments.
  3. I would eat all the delicious East Godavari food that my Mum made over the years to replicate his Grandmother's cooking. I only began to truly enjoy the podis, the mango dal, the pulusu, the paalkura, the gongura after he wasn't around to share it with. I yearn for them and for the way he would mix fiery podi and rice into scrumptious balls, neat and perfectly coloured and textured. I loved it when he fed me from his plate.
  4. I would write down every single experience he narrated, childhood memory he relived, story he whipped up, musician he loved, film he applauded.
  5. I would take more cellphone videos. Of him singing, especially.
  6. I would tell him that he should never have to feel like he was too old a father and didn't give me enough due to that. The summer when I was 8 or 9, he had planned to teach me cricket on our driveway and set up a net for us to play throwball in my uncle's compound. So what if he couldn't? He had fallen pretty sick after that and was always mostly weak after that. Later on, he attended a few of my school plays and most importantly, my High School Investiture Ceremony where I made one of the most important speeches of my life as Outgoing Captain. That day, he made me cry with joy. And later on, he hadn't been well enough to attend my Undergraduate Graduation Ceremony. So I had made him promise to attend the Ceremony for my Master's. He had agreed. The ceremony was scheduled in the January after he passed away; we missed it by a month. But this time, even though he couldn't make it in person, I'm sure he watched. 
  7. I would call him up on the phone more. I spoke to him on the phone rarely when out. I wish I did more. When we did, we had really tender conversations. I love the way he would say "bye" - in a rounded, sweet, innocent, utterly fulfilling way. I wish that wasn't the most important word I remember.
  8. I would sit through all the times he wanted to talk - just talk about people and places and I would truly listen. I wouldn't say, "Good night, Nanin. See you tomorrow" so soon every night.
  9. I would recognise that my late-nighters, sitting in front of the computer in the tiny study adjoining his room, my downloading music, PhotoShopping, blogging, story-writing, PowerPoint presentations, dissertation - the sound of me was part of our quality time together. Mum tells me he loved those times. Now, I would play his songs louder than I normally did.
  10. I would type out that film scene breakdown that he wrote. I would write down that amazing serial-form story about the 4 friends that he narrated to me one night. It was amazing that it so powerfully overlapped another story idea of mine. I was proud of our creative synchronisation.
  11. I would drive him around more....much more! Not just the 2 times. Back from a nursing home where we had received bad news about his heart and the other time for a check up nearby where he hadn't been able to wear shoes due to a diabetic foot. Not the other time I don't include - driving behind his ambulance that final time. We would have instead gone places, the places of his childhood, the ones of his early days with Mum and places I would introduce him to. I wouldn't have let his snorts of "Humbug!" deter me.
  12. I would have asked him for help. Advice. Encouragement. Career decisions. I would have asked him to choose for me. Because I trusted him as I trust Mum. Never felt they were the parents who didn't have direct access to my heart and soul. Maybe I would have been a doctor like him. Like he quietly wanted me to be.
  13. I would just hug him and cuddle him more and more and more - the only thing that is truly impossible now.
  14. I would learn Telugu and talk to him in Telugu. We would do the Telugu-Spanish coaching barter.
  15. I would be my most truest, honest, nicest self. Which I was when I had him and which is what he prided most in me and which is the only way he will recognise me.
Nanin, the world after you has sometimes been a scary place, sometimes lonely. Sometimes, it tests all that you taught me and all that I learned from you. But I know that we are all one, we are infinite, we are the universe. The stardust, Mum, you and I and all the people and places we love are the same. Just as I see you in me, you see me and love me as I am. Just have to remember it. To quote a line I wrote in my first professional play, that my husband as a 17th century prince performs beautifully. He realises with clarity, at the depths of despair after the loss of his beloved wife (a line that takes off from 'our' song 'Flamenco', 'Dance, gypsy, dance gypsy...'):

"But love does not die, a love like this cannot die… it merely transforms, from earth to the heavens, surrounding and embracing us all.  
You are always there. You are always here - with me, around me, in me. You are in everything. You are in me".

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