Seasons change but some things don't

 

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Category: Reflections Date: 06 Mar 97


The season began with a greying sky. Somebody called it “Winter” (another weird, spreading Americanism like the ‘allrightie’). Another said “Amazingly” that she was “Spring cleaning”. Anything’s possible in the tropics. That this is a “Season” nobody questions.

 

As I write this, rounded raindrops skid across an electricity wire. I keep wishing one would make it right to the end but they always fall down on the grass and disappear. Terra-cotta galvanised roofs glisten, the deep green of the hills are misted over. Smells of damp earth and jasmine and rotting fruit filter up.

 

And this season an extraordinary number of grandmothers are dying. “It’s our age,” said one whose 72 year-old grandmother lay in a coma, right after my own grandmother battling like a tigress against her own body collapsed with a failing heart.

“How can you be so calm,” I raged.

“The difference between us is that I accept when I can do nothing about it and you fight it till the end,” he replied.

 

I called up another friend to condole on her grandmother and, while speaking to her, was told that yet another, somebody else’s, had died. “It’s our age.” This granddaughter told me that she was so caught up in her own grief after her grandmother’s death that she completely forgot that her own mother had lost her mother. So that’s another generation losing mothers.

 

Although events appear to be chaotic and random invariably a pattern reveals itself. Call it whatever you like. But it must be some force higher than us animals. In the new year a letter from a friend who writes:  “Do you realise that it’s been 16 years since the day we first met at this pretentious gallery opening and ran half an hour late to a lecture half drunk on cheap red wine?” Sixteen years since I was 17. That must make me 33. Is that quarter of my life over ? Or is that half - well nearly half. And I still feel like the 17-year-old girl, straining to belong, rumpled, laden with books, feeling hideous and insecure at times, triumphant at others, peering here and there straining to hear conversations, to root out mysteries, flying in all directions at once like a child let loose at a party which is about to end. And that 17-year-old was not that much different from the five-year-old. The core has remained the same. I simply have more photographs to prove that time has marched on. But where did it go? I wasn’t looking when it happened. And if that went so fast what about the rest?

 

Some Time

 

At that point I froze into inaction. If time is going so fast I can not allow myself to miss any moment of being alive. The boredom of watching the clock’s hand tick slowly better than being caught unawares at 82 and like my grandmother, looking in surprise at her once flawless beautiful face and body and exclaiming. “Look at these wrinkles. When did that happen, darling?!” And then: “I’m tired of my body. It won’t do anything.”

 

Or she turns on us like a wounded tigress saying as we face her impatient wanting to get away. “It’s a long and lingering death. I’m tired, I want to go. I am burdened by this body I don’t want it anymore.” Then, eagerly, did you find a new doctor to fix my hearing? (The nerves are dead but she didn’t want to hear that.) In her resonance there is all the petulance of the spoilt 18-year-old girl she once was - her Papa’s darling who rode and played tennis and was a better shot than any man around.

 

But it has taken me some time to understand this. Months of being impatient. Running out on the smallest errands so I won’t have to face the chore her deteriorating body has become to herself and those who take care of her. Sometimes thinking angrily while mopping up spilt soup or picking up the pieces of a broken glass. “She does this deliberately to irritate me. I know it.” Or guiltily sneaking a forbidden thought to assuage the burden. “It might be better if she goes now. She’s had enough, so have we.” But everything comes full-circle even in chaos.

 

It began when I overheard a visiting Samaritan from a religious organisation trying to “cheer up” my grandmother. “I know you are a good person. Now dear, let’s pray.” And my grandmother replying, her voice rising. “And how do you know I’m good? What do you know about me or my life. What rot you people talk.” I laughed then and realise only now what she was saying. “Don’t label me as an old lady. I am more than dregs. I feel too alive to be shoved into the realm of the un-dead.” She knows she is no atrophying body which should be nourished and cleaned and then disregarded. On her way out the Samaritan still smarting from the back-chat said. “You have to bear with the elderly.”

 

Dark Rain

 

That’s when I realised what a horrible querulous phrase that is. Sounds like a forbidden ‘cult’ in which everybody has their identity wiped out. The skin sags and the heart fails but she will always be herself.  And sooner than we know (for haven’t these first 33 years melted away?) we will all be there. And then hopefully we will have the courage to fight younger people who speak to us as if we were slightly stupid errant children.

 

And finally that dark moment - and they do strike - where the emptiness is frightening when I went to my grandmother sought and found comfort and laughter - I forgot she was 82. She, diabetic as she is, called me Hitler for refusing her chocolates and I calling her dirty names. “My darling old sack.” “My beloved bag.” Finally she knows she is seen and delighted she screams with laughter. “I am your bag, I know it.” That fire will rage until it is not there at all. So the epiphany of the season came in piece by piece.

 

Running out of the car in the dark rain to pick out Carnival costumes while magic was being created with a dozen or pairs of eyes and hands-- bits of silver tinsel and downy white feathers, and emerald green and red and gold. Death and mortality were nowhere in sight. Spinning into the stillness of lent was Eternal creation. I knew that even a hundred years from now, 200 and more maybe - this ritual will continue.

 

Then there was the moment at 3.00 am when we had to stop the car. Soft rain and breeze brushed our faces and we got out and waltzed on the pavement to Elvis of all people. Well, we are the offspring of the flower children of the sixties aren’t we? There is continuity.

 

And this spring, winter - call it what you will but this season of the calypso music, swaying breezes and cool nights has, as always, peeled away the dead husk, revealing the new and the old.

 

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur