On Aji’s Death

It was said by Lemony Snickett, “If you have ever lost someone very important to you, then you already know how it feels, and if you haven’t, you cannot possibly imagine it.” The essence of my reflections lies in this quote, and how you as a reader relate to it. If you’ve known loss, you’ll understand this. If you haven’t, then you cannot perhaps comprehend it.

But then, everybody has a sad story, haven’t we? A story of loss, of tears and regrets.

On Wednesday, February the 22nd, 2012, I lost my grandmother. My dad’s mother, whose only granddaughter I was, whom I used to fondly call ‘Aai’ or mother, died on that day, without any indication and leaving no opportunity for us to bid goodbye. It is, to say the least, a very disconcerting feeling. Lemony Snicket has, once again, described it very well – “It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try and readjust the way you thought of things.”

A person you’ve been used to seeing – meeting, talking to, fighting with, touching, smelling – your entire life, just becomes a cold, lifeless body. And then, nothing. A void, an emptiness in space and time and in your heart that you carry for the rest of your life. Which just grows, as described in a beautiful poem by Gulzar that I love very much –

The lump of your grief

I had placed on my tongue

Has started melting.


I live drop by drop

As the sorrow flows

Down my throat.

I’ll take my last breath

With the final drop.

I should have said so many things to her, told her what she really meant to me, but all such realization was birthed after her death, as if her absence had a heavier presence than her life itself. Along with the emptiness came regret, and guilt, which slowly, painfully seeps into our thought-streams. That I did not even go meet her on her last day, when she was alive and whole and robust, out of sheer laziness! That I shouted at her for being so disorganised, that I ignored her invitation to have dinner that night, that I should have at least told her I loved her, or how much she meant to me. but I didn’t, I didn’t, I didn’t, and there is nothing in this world that reverse or repair it.

Death. It creeps upon us like a phantom stair which doesn’t actually exist, and leaves us hurt and disoriented.  I realise I had only, until now, tasted the word ‘death’ through songs, poetry – Tennyson’s, “Oh, for the touch of a vanish’d hand, or the sound of a voice that is still!” sounded so grandiose to say! – But I hadn’t swallowed the essence of it, digested it and let it flow through my bloodstream to the far ends of myself. And now! Everything I read, listen to is laced with a newer, deeper understanding, and connection.

And what about life? What is life, then, just a pack of cards stacked painfully together, that one fine breezy day just tumble down and fall apart? And are we, the mighty human ‘beings’, just wound-up spring toys that are slowly unwinding, each at our own pace, not knowing when the spring will uncoil completely and we’ll just stop?

It was the first time I went out alone after my grandmother’s death. I was walking back home; there was a strong summer breeze blowing; the warm noontime sun and gusts of air filled me with a sense of peace – that summer was finally here! The season of warmth, mangoes, yellow bahava flowers, languid afternoons, siestas and breezy days! I looked at the leaves scattered on the ground, whirling merrily in the breeze…and I thought that death must be this liberation – from one’s physical existence into “nothingness… which is again, everything.” in JK Rowling’s words. And I realized that, even though my grandma’s body had disintegrated, she was everywhere… In this breeze, in the dancing trees, in the sunshine, in the flowers blooming outside my home, in my kittens as well, and within myself. That she was no more a person with a body, but her being was merged with the great Being that is eternal and omnipresent…

Then I returned home and sat on the computer and chided myself for thinking nonsensical thoughts to pacify myself and rationalize, or maybe romanticize, my grandmother’s death.

A few days later we began to clean up my grandparents’ home – such a mess! Junk, basically junk and raddi encompassing old razors, passbooks of bank accounts closed long ago, ointment tubes long expired, mouldy chutney-types, half-melted (probably after being put in the microwave) melamine and plastic containers, to name a few. Here, where my grandmother had been living, breathing, existing, for all this time, I couldn’t find a trace of her. Her paraphernalia had been scattered around – her chappals, sarees, shawl, her hair still clinging to the cloth due to static, and her knitting, that she used to do so passionately – all just made her absence more unbearable rather than assuring us of her everlasting presence. My mother remarked, “We take years and years to assimilate this stuff, and it gets cleaned up in a day or two.” I thought about how these little things we collect and attach so much sentimental value to, in the end become junk left over for someone else to throw away. Unattachment seems to be the answer, but is it that easy? Is it even possible?

And now it’s been almost a month. And unbelievable though it seemed at first, life is moving on, and death just becomes a sad memory, a deeply disturbing experience, a practical change in the structure of our daily lives, an occasional, acute stab of guilt or loss, and… just an eclipse, as someone said. The darkness recedes and there is light again. Perhaps, just perhaps, life is too powerful a temptress to keep us clinging to death, and eventually we all learn to let go of the bad memories and find our own versions of happiness. I don’t know if I like this quality of life or not. Somebody once told me, the pain of labour during childbirth is the worst pain a woman’s body can endure. And yet, after the birth, the body itself erases all the memory of the pain it suffered, so that it can keep producing more offspring. A shrewd trick of nature to ensure its survival! But maybe that’s the only way we can survive… My question, then, is can we live only without the memories and anticipation of Death, and all the pain and guilt it brings in tow, or is it possible to live a deeper, fuller life with full awareness and acceptance? If so, how?

This has also gotten me thinking about nature, and why I can connect my grandmother more to natural things than to her own painstakingly collected belongings. Why is it that children, babies even, love the idea of going ‘out’? To gardens, parks, anywhere really, where they can be under the open sky and feel the wind in their hair. Why? It is because somewhere deep inside us, however concretized and plasticized our lives and existences have become, there is an inherent, instinctual connection to nature? And from the time we’re born into this existence, we choose, or are taught to, fundamentally ignore that connection – put it on a pedestal, hang in on a frame, maybe – but ignore the essence of it? And maybe death is the release, and a way to become a part of the great Being again…

And I laugh at myself now, for writing all this sitting in front of a computer, listening to the drone of humdrum, impersonal existence.

But then, we are, out of accident or purpose, I don’t know, given this life!!! This mortal, human existence! And really, what the fuck am I here for? Am I cursed or blessed to be? And more importantly, now that I’m here, shouldn’t I do something about it? Maybe it won’t have any meaning, whatever I do, after I stop existing, but since I get the benefit of doubt here, maybe this life, this fact that I am breathing, sensing, feeling, thinking… means something! and I’m GOING to make it meaningful, for me at least (also because there’s no one to tell me what IS meaningful, and all those who have an opinion usually disagree with one another) and yet, with a deep sense of awareness that what I am, and we all are moving towards, is ultimately a release. So why not enjoy the journey, rather than pondering over the destination?

Last thoughts. it’s interesting how you miss something, someone so much more when they’re gone rather than when they were right there. Clichéd, I know, but fits me. I’m thinking so much more of Aai, my grandmother, and more positively, now that she’s gone than when she was alive. The positive thing her death did to me was reconcile me to the fact that I love her very much. Even now. It was eclipsed many-a-times by frustration, irritation, anger, etc… But love was there. And now that she’s gone, it’s coming out it leaps and bounds. Well, such is irony of life.

I don’t know if it makes much sense… I just wrote whatever was coming out and it might be a little fragmented… but so there.

2 thoughts on “On Aji’s Death

  1. Sakhi you are just superb! Your feelings, your expressing them and the free flowing language always soothens me, challenges me. I feel like reading more and more books and even feel like trying those references in my writing too. I am too raw for all this. But I feel proud to read your blog always. Wish you all the best always.
    Looking forward to See you and talk to you inperson.


  2. Thank you words for finding Sakhi. May your grandmother’s soul rest in peace. And when she reads this piece, maybe she will. She left behind inspiration in a legacy like yours. Her life sure must have been very fruitful.


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