There are times when life makes us mute. Words dry up. You walk
weightlessly. I had one of those days last week when I saw a woman dressed
in black in a coffee shop. Her teenaged son was one of several boys who died
in a car crash.
Around then, a tape kept playing the fact that I grew up around five people
two siblings, two parents and after December 31, 2006, when Varun, my
brother died there were four.
Dying happens to everyone. There was a spoof on dying in a New Yorker
magazine where the headline read something like “State records leaked. All
humans born in early last century dead. Doctors under investigation.” The
joke was always on us. The ridiculousness of the fact that no matter how
often it happens, and how inevitable it is, death always is a massive shock.
It’s not easy being a human being is what I would tell the alien from Mars.
We are complex, contradictory, tough and fragile all at once, both masters
and slaves to destiny.
It takes a millisecond for us to slip on a wet floor, to be wheelchair bound
for life, to die in a car crash, to go from being the middle sibling to the
I am no longer impatient of people with huge egos. They fly in the face of
fragility. They think themselves beyond the human condition. Such dogged
stupidity is life affirming.
The problem is just when we go mute, have “bad days” other people’s lives
look rosy. We become the forlorn solitary onlooker at an amusement park.
Someone once said six weeks is all people give you after you’ve suffered
bereavement. After that they expect you to “get on with it.”
Before my brother died, I never knew what to say to people who lost someone
they loved. Now other people say to me, “I don’t know what to say.” I want
them to talk about him. I want them not to act as if he never existed.
Kiss of life
The tears in my eyes mean I’m glad they remembered. It’s a way of having him
with us. And no it’s not an encroachment. “Tell me more. Did he really flirt
with you? Oh I know the smile he would have given you. Did he stand on top
of a hill in Grenada and kiss you and say it was the “kiss of life” a mere
year before he died?”
For seven months I have been following the arc of five minus one equals
four. Being with someone while they are dying was as much of a miracle as
was giving birth.
As I move away from the event, break and float apart on sheets of ice, the
distance allows clarity.
He was no saint. We always knew that. But he was so damn big. So tall, so
loud, so demanding, so ruthless, so kind, so much of a pain, just so much so
we walk around puzzled. From too much to nothing? What kind of math is that?
Following the arc of his loss, I’ve realised he’s laughing at us.
He hasn’t gone. He’s placed a chip with his name inside us all. I’ve just
The way Varun didn’t flinch when doctors said “five years,” “three months,”
and finally “two weeks.” It’s all over Varun said, and came out with us for
a Chinese takeaway. Until his last conscious moment, he fought for supremacy
over the chessboard, over his mind. We never glimpsed the terror of knowing
you are about to die. Everyone who dies does that kind of thing. You just
have to wait silently and you find it. And there he stays with you. The
There are days, weeks even, when I am passionately and happily engaged in my
life. Then it’s as if the arc gently dips and takes you inwards back to an
essential relationship that death doesn’t touch.
And it’s not at all sad. It’s wonderful. You
sift through more material. You emerge with another insight left behind by
the dead. You pass it on. The egotists have a point. Death is overrated.