December 30, 2018.
It’s my dad’s 59th birthday, today. I want to share a cover letter that I had written almost exactly a year ago (11 months, 10 days), for a poetry magazine submission, in which I talk about what it felt like to lose him. I don’t and can’t feel that way anymore, so it was a shock to go back and find it accidentally, and read it, and realise, once again, how visceral the experience was, how overwhelming:
“My father passed away on the 25th of October 2017, almost exactly two months before my convocation, at which I’m due to receive my Bachelor’s degree. He had promised me he would be there.
Do you know what it feels like to lose a parent? There is never a mistake; never any thought like, ‘Oh, he’s in the next room, I’ll just pop over- no, wait, he’s dead.’ He’s dead. He’s been dead since the moment I lay eyes on him, and his eyes were closed, and his hands were so cold that they frightened me. It’s like having a limb amputated: but there is no phantom pain, only the real, visceral knowledge that he is nowhere to be found. That his consciousness existed, and then in a few hours all his memories and qualities and knowledge and everything he was, everything he meant to me, didn’t anymore: they’re gone. Flip. Like a light switched off.
Over the last year, I have been focused on survival. You never realise more clearly that life is a marathon on a very ragged path with a pre-determined destination you don’t know when to expect, than when that destination arrives in front of you and swallows you whole. I realised this the day my father died, tiny in death, shrunken, insignificant, undignified. Right in front of me a him-shaped hole opened up in the universe and he stepped right through and, would you believe it, the hole upped and disappeared completely, smoothly, as if it had never been there, probably leaving invisible stitches ripped apart somewhere that nothing can fix.
Poof! He was gone. The celestial trick was over.
What is consciousness? What are we here for? What is the purpose? Why do we try to do anything when at the end of it, there’s nothing left anymore? What did that Smiths song say? ‘They were born. And then they lived. And then they died. Seems so unfair, and I want to cry.’
My father did not go silently. He raged like Lear against the storm, but for all the good it did him, he might not have raged at all.
He went, but what he left behind were human-shaped open sores. Both my mum and I fell ill immediately afterwards: it was like we had been running running running and suddenly our limbs had been ripped away from us and we were stumbling and bleeding so badly and we only had each other to help staunch the flow and no one else could reach us and no matter how fast we wiped the blood and tightened the bandages, it would never be enough.
Some nights, I ache so badly to reach him it feels like he’s a physical presence, like if I imagined hard enough, there he’d appear, stepped back through the him-shaped hole in the universe, sitting on the bed praying while the cancer ate him away. …
What I want is to scream my grief out into the void, and have someone listen. I want people to know that someone called Bijan Kumar Mukherjee existed, that I loved him and he loved me and although he is gone, no trace of him left on this planet as if he was never here, no difference to the masses that never knew him, he was extraordinary, and he deserves to be immortalized just as much as Hopkins’s poplars or Shakespear’s youth or the muse of every love poem ever written.
I want to once again give shape to the man who has given shape to me- to drag him back through that him-shaped hole and make him stay. The man I loved so much that his non-presence is the worst thing to happen to me deserves to have his story told and I intend to be the messenger, because who else will? And it’s not just him; my mother, who has now suffered the deaths of both her parents, her older sister, her brother in law and her husband, who has lived through so much and fought so hard- what has she fought for, if not for me? There’s this sense that I need to make it worth it: all this pain, all this suffering, all these humdrum petty deaths that are not the stuff of epics but absolutely, absolutely, absolutely should be.
I wish I could talk about anything else at the moment, but every time I open my mouth, these are the only words that come out. And I’m too scared to turn these words into poetry just yet- I think it’ll hurt too much- the rivers of grief I have been living with, brimming into an ocean of silence and pain.
The sun has not been dismantled in response to my father’s death. That is a mistake I intend to rectify.”
A year later, the loss is in the little things now, like when earlier today, I remembered an ugly fight I’d had with him when I’d reacted to him calling me ‘too emotional to talk to’ because I cried when he shouted at me in anger. I remember telling him this was a misogynistic thing to say, and him refuting it with a laugh, and I wanted to tell him today that I had been right, in all my teenage knowledge- it was, and in the heat of the memory I’d forgotten that he was no longer there and I would not be saying anything to him anymore. When I remembered it, it was like being doused with cold water. Every day, you realize the things left unsaid, but never quite like this, never so unresolved. And every day, in new ways, in new losses and new numbnesses, you lose them, little by little, all over again, and sometimes it feels like a tragedy, but sometimes it feels like relief, like healing, like moving on to the rest of your life, and it’s a relief to be able to live again.
I realized two things recently: one, that my father will never really be 59; he will never reach sixty; he will never celebrate the milestone of a life well-lived; he will never put his feet up and rest in an armchair, with his back to the winter sun, knowing he had done his duty and could now be at peace; all the things he left undone are scattered too far and wide among the debris of the life he did live through for that to happen. They will take aeons to collect and even longer to string together into the coherent whole he had envisioned; in short, without him to do it, this will never happen. I can only hope to cobble together my own semblance of the life he had wanted, without his guidance, and make him the broken gift, knowing only that I did the best I could. There is pain in this.
I also realized an immutable fact: that my father will always be my father. In the vast chaos of the universe, there is not much that we can be sure of. The universe swallows us whole; it shows neither compassion nor mercy, not because it’s cruel but because this is what it is. From the moment we are sentient, the odds are stacked against us, because obliteration awaits anything that can be said to exist and oblivion awaits those of us self-aware enough to realize this. This idea has haunted me since he died: the knowledge that nothing matters, and the people who we loved and who were loved by us do not matter, and the laws of the universe do not change for them, and so they, too, will be forgotten, overwritten in the records of time, or perhaps never recorded at all.
There was something so repulsive about a life that meant so little, and it took me a year of feeling this to acknowledge that I have had suicidal thoughts for this entire period, because if oblivion was to come, I wanted to be one step ahead of it: I wanted to end it all on my own terms. I struggled with these thoughts for days and weeks, wrestling with them in my head hourly. I couldn’t do it because I loved my mother too much; I couldn’t leave her behind, and I couldn’t leave her alone. I couldn’t do it because I was angry, and I wanted to revenge on life, and I was terrified that the chance to get that revenge would be taken away from me, and that I would die before I could do anything to be remembered. I told my friends that I wanted them to memorialize me when I was gone: I tasked them with the victory I craved. I don’t know if they realized that this implied that I was so, so close to dying. It was the commonality of death that got to me, that people died all the time, that there was nothing unusual about my dad dying, and there was nothing unusual about the fact that he remained obscure and unknown, as most people do, in death.
However, after a year of thinking obsessively about this to a detrimental extent, at one point yesterday, when I was writing in my journal, it struck me that, even in death, my father still remained… my father. No one could take that away from him, or from me: the fact that he was tied to me and to my mother so intrinsically, and nothing could deny that. He was unique, if only in the sense that he was my dad, and no one else could be that or will be that ever again.
There is relief in knowing that something sets us apart, even if that something is minimal, and even if it is found exclusively within the matrix of human relationships. There is validation in the knowledge that this continues to be objectively true, and will always be so: an immutable fact, unchanged by the whims and vagaries of the universe.
As the years pass, I’m sure my understanding of my father’s death will continue to evolve, and I- is this a problematic thing to say?- look forward to what that understanding will continue to reveal about how I see the world. I would give anything- anything- to have him back. But I feel like this could be my father’s most precious gift to me, second only to his continued presence in my life and in the moments I wanted to celebrate with him.
Why didn’t I put this up as a blogpost rather than a status? I’m not sure. Maybe I will put it on the blog, if only to preserve it, at some point. It feels good, inexplicably, to know that someone is listening, because sometimes, statement is not enough and conversations are necessary. This status does not demand to be read, of course, but if you have, thank you for sticking until the end.
Originally published as a status on my personal Facebook.
Hello, you all. I have not seen you in months and months, I have neglected you, even as I missed you terribly and thought about you almost daily.
I love blogging so much but since it does not pay (at least, not yet), I have to prioritise other things, paying things, things that will keep a roof over my head and food in my mouth, over it.
Which sucks. Every time I come back, I breathe a sigh of relief, like a pain I hadn’t even been aware of has been gently resolved, and I wish I could say with any confidence that I will never go away again. That simply never happens, because the paying jobs always take priority, as I believe that they should, ethically speaking. However, I do have a series of wonderful interviews in the bank that I’ve finally had a chance to start transcribing.
I was thinking of doing a project for 2019, called the A Year in Interviews, in which I would interview 52 men and women- writers, filmmakers and achievers- over the year, one for every week. This would, once again, be completely without any compensation and will depend entirely on the time I will have available after all my college work, teaching and other freelance jobs, so it might encounter hiccups.
But what do you think of the idea? Would you like to read interviews of, say, writers Karuna Ezara Parikh and Aanchal Malhotra, writer and commentator Shobhaa De, and activist Urvashi Butalia?
Let me know in the comments, or over on my page at Facebook.