Death and shit!

With both, death and shit, when you gotta go, you gotta go. Can’t control either.

This line caught my fancy at the movies today, a movie called Piku, a new Hindi feature film that has been garnering rave reviews.

So true right? I remember this really cool tongue-in-cheek poster that used to be hanging on the inside of the toilet door in my aunt’s home back in Mumbai. It was about different body parts fighting about who’s the most powerful. The asshole just clogged up and the whole body started turning black and blue and the final denouement was that you don’t need to be high and mighty to be powerful just an asshole. It was of course in a lighter vein. But well, so true again.

Well, yesterday I attended a funeral. The funeral of a neighbour’s father. He died suddenly. No lingering illness, no prolonged ailment, just a sudden something and poof, he was gone. Leaving his wife and children quite bereft. He was 74.

As I stood in a corner of the home, watching the dead body, laid out in a stretcher, garlanded and ready to make its final journey to the crematorium, with the men and women standing or sitting, sombrely, some trying to comfort the wife, some getting busy with some formalities with the priest, some just being silent, with God knows what thoughts in their head, I just started wondering about the man who lay there, mute, stiff, with life having ebbed from his veins.

I teared up and thought to myself :
my God! death can really happen in an instant. I could die tomorrow. Who will look after my mom? What is it that should really drive me – money, fame, goodness, leaving a legacy, doing good, something tame, routine, what?

I realised that in the final analysis, it was critical that I did good by people.

I also thought, so if my mom dies, what are the things I’d need immediately, like a 101 kit: instant money, at least 100,000 in Indian Rupees, phone numbers of a priest, the crematorium, would be great to have someone who could help buy the things that are essential for the final ceremony ( and I came up with a blank as I couldn’t think of anyone who would be there and help me out. You know how when you visit people’s homes or occasions or funerals, you see people magically appearing out of the woodwork and somehow everything being organized so perfectly while the immediate family is given time to grieve? Well, in my case I can’t think of anyone being there. I just have elderly aunts and uncles and so I might have to do the running around myself and not really have the time to mourn), how I wouldn’t want people to come and condole, as I hate the crowds, and so on.

I then thought, shit, I am a woman and and my mother’s only child, and as is the Hindu custom, only a son can basically perform the last rites of his parent. But in my case, will they allow me to? And if not me, who? And then I started getting angry with the nerve throbbing at my temple, I gritted my teeth at the thought of any one else having the right to perform such a duty just because of gender. I was bristling.

Then I started feeling scared. There was the finger of fear slowing moving inside my stomach. The fear of being suddenly left adrift like a ship without sails, completely without a raison d’etre, of being so alone, so directionless, so utterly alone, that I couldn’t breathe for a moment.

It hit me then. A sucker punch. In my solar plexus. I gasped. I was scared shit of being left alone, that I didn’t want to live for long without the presence of my mother around me. Yes, I have friends, relatives, acquaintances, good neighbours, etc. But everyone has a life. I would need to figure out a way of living on my own.

Jesus! It makes my throat cramp up with unshed tears, it makes my fingers shiver with dread, it addles my brain. I can’t really think, but I know I need to worry about life and purpose and meaning once my ma decides to leave her mortal coils. I need to figure out a way of making my life worthwhile. And somehow making it count. So that my mom is always proud of me, my conduct, my character, my deeds wherever she is, after she’s gone.

I don’t know how to do it really.How to make my life worthwhile? Shit!

Dear God, I know death and shit wait for no one, when you gotta go, you gotta go. But in my mother’s case I’ll be around to ensure that she’s cared for, loved for, and has the easiest of times. When it’s my turn, who will be there at my side?

Damn! The travails of being single. Tough life eh?

Nobody said it was easy, nobody said it would be this hard…

Truth Be Told, Or Withhold?

“The truth.” Dumbledore sighed. “It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution.”
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Was watching this really interesting series on TV called Dharmakshetra. Dharma incidentally is one of those words that’s the most difficult to define. It’s duty, truth, wisdom, knowledge, beauty, your conduct, a way of living, righteousness, the cosmic law and order and so on. It’s the universal truth that is encompassed in that one word and there’s no single word definition or translation in English really. And kshetra is a place, a venue, a battleground, a chapter, a field, etc.

India’s ancient Hindu epic called the Mahabharata is in my humble opinion the greatest text ever written by anyone anywhere in the world at any time in human history. It’s an enriching tapestry of characters, stories, human foibles, weaknesses, that is vibrant, vivid and relevant even today. Reading it is actually a study in human psychology. It’s also a deep inquiry into questions that always plague us:
who am I?
why am I here?
what should I do in any situation?
is my action right or wrong?
am I a good person?
is comparison good?
can I jump to conclusions?
how should I direct my actions?
how should I live?
why do I feel jealous, insecure, worthless?
what is my duty?
should I listen to call of duty above all else?
is killing your loved ones in war fair?
is everything fair in love and war?
is it okay to keep mum when the most heinous injustice is being committed on your loved one?
is it okay to be sly and cunning if it’s about survival?
is it not human to be greedy and covetous?
what does it mean to forgive? can one forgive one’s own mother when she’s been really lousy and mean to you?
what are the pitfalls of blinding love?
what does “love is blind” really mean?
can a woman who is a wife of 5 men be called a whore?
can you wager a person, even your own wife in a gamble?
what does loyalty mean?
is loyalty above and beyond even the relationship of mother to her son?

The questions are infinite. And the entire series is about how each of the key protagonist is questioned about their decisions at various pivotal points in the epic. These are questions that plague everyone who has read the grandiloquent text. And the answers are up to every reader to interpret and that’s the clever intricacy and intrigue of this epic. Bringing into play every facet of human character that you can think of.

But the answers? The answers to questions that we each ask. Of ourselves, to others and to the Universe. Tell me O Lord, why is this happening to me? Why did I lose in love? Why did she dump me and marry someone else especially after I’d bought the solitaire? Why oh why do I feel the need to thwack someone on the road due to road rage despite all my meditation practice? Why does self-doubt creep up unsolicited just when you’re about to strike a good deal? When will I find the epitome of success? What is success and is my definition correct? Why can’t I be like Kate Middleton or Matt Damon or George Clooney or the Dalai Lama?

Well, sometimes there are just no answers. Sometimes the answers are too painful to hear. Sometimes you can’t just explain your feeling away with a shrug and a cocked eyebrow. And sometimes you can’t and don’t want to hear the answer. Because truth be told, while it can set you free, can also piss you off (like Gloria Steinem said). After all no one ever said the truth is easy to hear, easy to bear, easy to withhold or be told. So? Truth be told or withhold? What’s your answer?