Six Months Later

Nights are the most painful. For I am at home. The room where Amma breathed her last. The bed where she lost her will to live. There are memories associated with each artefact that’s carefully stored. When sleep chooses to evade me. I just get up and dig out some photographs, brief videos that I shot of Amma for Diwali and Pongal. I look at them – there are small snippets of her speaking. Inevitably I cry. How long has it been since I slept peacefully now? Several years to be honest. As long as she was alive, I used to worry, when will Amma regain stability and be normal. Now she is no more, I wonder if I will ever find a semblance of normalcy. Like a pre-programmed robot, I carry out my tasks, reporting to work, carrying out my duties, returning home, cooking, eating, washing clothes, showing my face at some functions or social meets. Try as much as I can, the last few painful months of Amma’s struggle remain deeply entrenched in my mind. Returning to the house, I make it a point to stand outside and remove my shoes. We used to argue. Amma used to scold me when I would wear shoes and enter the living room. She used to tell me – “Yen da shoes a kazhittu potutu va yaen da.” How many times have I had silly arguments with Amma – that would snowball into shouting matches. She wanted me to get a diwan made and put all my books inside it. To-date, I have not made the diwan. She wanted me to apply for a fresh ration card. She wanted me to get a new sofa-set. There’s a list of things that she wanted, I felt these were superfluous expenses and we could be without them. Her wish for an aquarium and coloured fish – that was something I accepted and in the last few months she would sit and look at them play in the water. She continues to look at the fish now – but now she is a framed photograph.

There are times when anxiety grips me, there is an intense throbbing pain in the chest, I feel my heart will burst and I sit down if I am at home or stop walking if I am outside and breathe deeply – exhaling and inhaling till the pain leaves me. I cross Ramachandra Hospital everyday twice – that’s my route to work and back. There’s intense anger, there’s pain, sorrow, a sense of doomed failure, that I let her down. If only, I had not gone to work on that fateful Saturday – would things have been any different? This guilt will keep haunting me. I am not able to forgive myself! Sleep cycles have gone for a toss. I don’t know when the tears dry and when the eyes shut and there’s some frantic sleep. I don’t know when I awaken and begin the battle afresh every day.

I have spoken to my employers and requested to be relieved. They have been kind and supportive. In another three months, this tenure shall end. April is when Amma’s first annual rites are scheduled. Perhaps after that there will be some solace? I do not know where I am headed? I don’t know what I am going to do? There are debts and loans to be repaid. Without any assurance of another job or pay-check. I have taken a foolhardy decision,may be I will regret this, may be this is a necessary decision. I don’t know – perhaps time will offer answers.

Kashi is where the answers lie. Once the annual rites are done, perhaps I would wander like a nomad. Not necessarily donning a saffron robe. The robe is just an outward manifestation. It is what lies inside. Perhaps within the crowds, I will merge. Away from the trappings of what society or family expects me to do. An identity that an aghori had blessed my mother with when she was carrying me as a seed in her womb.

Punarapi jananam.punarapi maranam..sakhalam, sarvam, Shivarpanam.

A Useful Death by Sriram Chellapilla – Book Review

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Title of the Book – A Useful Death

Author – Sriram Chellapilla

Cover Design – Nandini Varma

Publisher – Westland

Pages – 410

MRP – INR 399

Review Copy – Courtesy – Writersmelon

Buy – Amazon

In India, especially in the south, cinema and politics are very closely linked to each other. MGR, NTR, Jayalalitha, Karunanidhi. All of these politicians started their career in cinema in various capacities, the first three became stars, the last man – one of the last doyens of Tamizh literature wove screenplays and stories that harped on Dravidian pride and the unique identity of the Tamizhan. “A Useful Death” is a pretty long book in excess of 400 pages, with long passages and conversations among various characters set in the aftermath of the death of an aspiring actress Priya and how it is linked to politics.

Was it suicide or murder? This is the premise of the tale as we are introduced to numerous characters. Mohan Krishna – a superstar of Telugu cinema who is now retired from cinema and entering politics. His son Anil who is suspect number one. Partha – the corporate consultant who is hired to manage the reputation of the MK family, and unravel the mystery behind Priya’s death. Malvika the graceful heroine who is now a part of the MK family, Priya’s parents, her college friends, competing TV channels, and their studio-heads. Partha’s colleagues who help him with the case… the list is quite exhaustive. Full credit to the author for making every character count.

The story gathers pace as a press meet is arranged to clear the air about Priya’s death, which backfires as Mohan Krishna loses his cool. The next day Malvika appears before the press and tries to offer a clear and polished answer to the press. These sequences are brought out well and one can actually see the author’s strengths and talents (No wonder – he is a creative writing / screenwriting lecturer in Hyderabad). There is a missing laptop and a mobile phone belonging to Priya that may hold answers.

As the story progresses, one sees different aspects of the members of Mohan Krishna’s family. We realize that everything is not as it seems and there are different people trying to manipulate the events surrounding Priya’s death to their own benefits. Is Anil really a killer and faking remorse? Are Mohan Krishna’s rivals in politics who fear his big entry into state politics behind the whole drama? Has Anil been framed? Is the laptop found? Or did Priya commit suicide in depression after being jilted in love? Who are the people trailing Partha as he goes about doing his investigations? How deep does this scandal run? You have to read the book patiently to find all your answers. At times, you may wonder where is this book headed to and why are there so many conversations and characters? Trust me – the book works and holds promise for a web-series. Did you read this book? If yes, do share your thoughts.

The Significance of Mahalaya Amavasai

Hinduism is not just a religion – it is a way of life. What makes it unique is it that it gives the believer the freedom to worship any god or goddess of his / her choice. There are no restrictions. Ceremonies and rituals are laid out to help the believer find the divinity within themselves. As Swami Vivekananda famously said – “Religion is the manifestation of the divinity already present in man.” The moon plays a significant role in ceremonies associated with the Hindu pantheon of gods. Both Amavasai and Pournami have specific rituals and poojas associated with Shiva, Vishnu, and various manifestations of Shakti -the mother goddess.

The Mahalaya Amavasai is considered to be extremely important as it marks the day when one makes offerings to our ‘pitrus’ (forefathers / ancestors). Our elders are venerated and we make offerings in their memory seeking their blessings. The ceremony known as ‘tharpanam’ is performed under the guidance of a priest. Essentially one offers water, rice, and black sesame seeds with the darba grass reciting slokas recounting the names of three generations of ones ancestors.

Mahalaya Amavasai is also an important date in the festive calendar as it marks the arrival of Durga Puja and the Navarathri, celebrated with great pomp and fervour in Hindu families.

Gratitude is an emotion that should be ingrained in each one of us. We should be thankful for where we are and what we do. The world over there are millions who are in pain, suffering, or dying; but we remain alive and we should be grateful for it.

Mahalaya Amavasai gives us the chance to thank our elders, show our gratitude to them, and seek their guidance in our actions.

This year – Amma left me – this Mahalaya Amavasai I will seek to find her blessings as the priest guides me with the slokas.

 

21 Years in Madras

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May 1, 1998, the day I landed in Madras Central Station with my mother. Bag and baggage we arrived, giving one last shot at reconciliation with my estranged father.
Just how much has changed in these 21 years?

My mother is no more. My father with whom I never had any paternal love abandoned us nearly eight years ago.

School, college, part-time jobs, full-time jobs, tenant, house-owner, loan-taker from the bank, tenant again, so many adjectives have added on to describe oneself. At a point in time, one realizes that perhaps one needs to hit the ‘reboot’ button. I have always stated that Madras made me a man even when I was a boy / teenager. After having lost the one person who mattered the most to me. A house that I bought just to keep her happy now remains locked like a museum of memories. This city now is full of memories that in hindsight only bring pain or artificial comfort.

It is time to bid goodbye and start life afresh. I don’t know where, I don’t know when, but I do know that I must. Need to sort out things on the professional front, need to streamline things on all the loans that need to be repaid.

Have to run… go far away from this city, its people, all the memories associated with this city that welcomes everyone and gives wings to their dreams. My dreams have only ended in nightmares that continue to plague my mind. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I can’t resort to stimulants that put me to sleep.

I need a new beginning – a Punarjanmam – stay tuned for more updates.

Till we meet again – vanakkam and nandri.

Two Months After…the Pain Remains

Tomorrow will mark two months to the day when you finally breathed your last. Everything seems like a blur. Last December, a week before your birthday, one night you spoke for a long time. I was getting worried as you recounted about the serials that you watched on TV and the neighbours and the children playing in the corridor. The next morning, you gestured saying, you were no longer able to speak. I took you to the hospital, test after test and recuperation and after all the experts visited, they said there was a phonatory gap and you needed speech therapy. I brought you home on your birthday Amma, do you remember. Like raising a child, teaching you the alphabets, bit-by-bit I coaxed you to speak. By the time January ended, you seemed to be back to normal in terms of speaking. But you lost your sense of hearing completely. Still, we managed. The renal functions were growing weaker, the heart to becoming weaker. As your legs would swell up suddenly, Lasix injection would come to the rescue. We had to cut down on liquid intake to 750 ml a day. I still felt you were growing stronger and would be fine.

Then on that fateful Saturday – the first Saturday of April, you fell down. We had to summon the support staff to climb into the verandah and open the door. I wonder now, if on that fateful day I had worked from home or if I would have been on leave, would you have not fallen down. Would you be resting in the bedroom when I would make the evening tea and bring it to you? I don’t know Amma. I have lost you forever. You are now relegated to a photograph framed and placed in the front room.

Taking you to the hospital again – surgery for the hand that broke. Bringing you back home, the doctors failing to diagnose any major issues in the review, returning back home and you slipping into a deep slumber. The blood tests done with you in slumber at home. The insane spike in sodium, potassium, and creatinine values. Again taking you to the hospital with your head on my lap, I knew I had lost you. The Emergency doctor saying – either admit her to the ICU or take her back home. The decision to give one last try despite knowing the inevitable. Dialysis after dialysis followed. For one brief window of five minutes you were conscious. You said the back was hurting. the nurse said medicated pad had been placed for bed sores. Amma said “Take me home”. Those were your last words.

With the doctors being clear that the situation would remain the same and barring a miracle you would remain in this vegetative slumber, we brought you home. Do you remember Amma? Somewhere as a spirit, as a star, wherever you exist, in any other dimension or astral plane, I want you to know I tried my best, whatever I could, I tried. I still could not save you. You gave up on life, you gave up on me, you gave up on Akka, you lost your will to live this time around. We brought you home on Sunday afternoon. The home nurse was hired to start service on Monday. She arrived on Monday. We gave you food in liquid form through the nasal tube. At 3:15 in the afternoon, you breathed your last with a massive sigh. I could not cry, I have still not cried to my heart’s content. I don’t know when the dam within will burst and I will be able to cry till all the tears dry up.

The cremation was done on the same evening. The next fortnight saw all the associated rituals being done. I hope you have found peace Amma. I hope you are finally free of all the physical pains that afflicted you in this mortal world. I hope you are smiling as you do from the picture that’s framed and stares at me. Try as much as I can – the emptiness is vast, never-ending like a chasm that does not end, or like a tunnel that keeps going deeper into the bowels of the earth. I speak to you looking at the photograph. Wishing you good morning and good night. I wish you when I leave home, I wish you when I return. It is almost like you have never left. Just that I don’t hear any replies from you or I don’t get to eat anything that you have made. No, I do. The last batch of pickles that you made still remains. I am tempted to preserve them / but then again, everything comes with an expiry date – like life itself. So I have to savour the pickles before they turn bad.

People ask me – when I will get married. they say – now that you have gone, there will be no restrictions and I will find a bride soon. But what is the purpose of another relationship? Of creating a life of love and longing and then to lose them again on some day and then suffering through the cycle of loss and grief all over again. There is a sequence in the animated classic “UP” where the old man Carl remembers all the beautiful memories of Ellie – the girl whom he loved and married and eventually lost to illness. He decides to fly away to Paradise Falls with balloons linked to his house, away from all the madness of the big city.

 

Where do I run away? Wherever I reach, the pain and grief within will not end.

Office – home – office – this has been the loop. I have not managed to get the patience to go to a theatre and watch a movie. The spare time that I have – I try to read books that remain at home. Attention deficit is becoming a big problem and the mind deviates with some memory or the other popping up. Focusing at work is a challenge that I have somehow managed to keep in control as the debts that need to be repaid loom large and scare me into submission. I honestly don’t know Amma what I am going to do? You have gone, left me, all alone here. Relatives console, support, pray, and help but to what avail? The emptiness that remains in the soul, how will I ever fill up the limitless void. I don’t have any answers Amma. Sending you lots of love and light and hope you are in a safe and better place now.

Amma – The Final Journey

Amma departed her physical form in this life on May 6th. It was a long battle. The past three years being the most painful as she was hospitalized again and again with persistent cardiac and renal complaints. I am trying my best to come to terms with her absence, but try as much as I can the last ten days when she was alive – reduced to a deep slumber/vegetative state just do not leave my mind. The one brief moment when she was awake, she said “Take me home.” – Those were her last words. We brought her home in an ambulance, we made the last journey as comfortable as possible. Till 3PM I kept rubbing her feet. At 3:20 PM she breathed her last. We managed to give the holy Ganga theertham as per tradition and I cremated her the same evening.

The following morning, I received her as an earthen pot full of ashes. It was a long drive to the ocean, we went to a secluded portion of the Thiruvanmiyur Beach and the ocean took her in one massive wave. Her physical form reduced to ashes now one with the elements. The next few days – ceremony after ceremony with rituals laid down by the scriptures. Money being spent like water. Family is the lifeline that keeps us sane. Sister, brother-in-law, mama, and mami everyone was there to help and guide. It is exactly 21 days today. On May 6th at this time, I was putting a fistful of rice into my mother’s mouth as we prepared to cremate her. With her passing, the strongest anchor that kept me sane for all these years has departed.

What does the future hold?

Family-members say, I will be married within a year, that’s how the blessings of the dear departed work.

At work, I still hold a job, thanks to an extremely supportive organization and team. I am trying my best to immerse myself in work. There are moments when a memory flashes, and one tries bravely to not let the tears show. Or go to the men’s room and lock oneself up in the toilet, cry for a while, and then come out, and try to focus on the long-pending editorial calendar that needs to be completed.

I don’t know, having been a loner, practically all my life, with friends in single digits, I am not sure where this journey will take me. For the next one year, there are monthly rituals to be performed and again ‘daanam’ and ‘dakshina’ to the priests. So will I continue to be here in this house for a year? Or will I just pack all my belongings and leave one fine day to find purpose in life? My sister has warned me to be normal 🙂 She as well as my brother-in-law are scared that I will pull a ‘Jason Bourne’ and go missing 🙂

Jokes apart. I intend to introspect seriously, on what I wish to do. I really can’t run as EMIs for multiple loans taken for Amma’s treatment and the house in the village need to be repaid. Perhaps an academic program, or a new skill to learn, not really good at languages, or perhaps finally learn to play the violin.

Who am I trying to run from?
Where am I running to?
Does a new place bring peace?
The brain remains the same,
The memories that haunt me now,
Will continue to haunt me tomorrow,
Where does one find a balm,
To soothe the anguish within?
No answers, only questions,
Till I see you again,
Farewell friends.

Life has to go on…

Adventures with Amma

Taking a break from the A-to-Z Challenge.

First Saturdays are working days for me.

Last Saturday on returning from office, I found the door locked and Amma not responding to my calls. There was no light emanating from the rooms as well. After a bit of banging and the door and yelling, I heard a moan and immediately I realized that Amma had fallen down. Fearing the worst, ran down and got the ladder, requested the electrical staff to climb into the verandah, the verandah door was open. He climbed up and opened the front door. As I had feared Amma had fallen down in the kitchen and dragged herself along the floor hoping she would be able to rise.

As I lifted her up and comforted her, I could immediately spot the swelling in her left wrist and right foot. She said she did not know how she fell down but she had hurt herself. Long story short, her left wrist has fractured again – six years more or less, the left wrist has fractured again.

Took her to the hospital, the x-rays showed proof of the injury. The ortho said, we need to put her off Clopilet and get the cardiologist’s approval for a K-wire procedure. With a plaster cast, we are back home. We need to return in a week for the surgical procedure. Again and again she is being put through so much pain and misery. All the Gods and Goddesses that exist, why is she being made to undergo this strain and stress at this age?

Bathing amma, cleaning her up, feeding her takes up my time. Work also has to happen, channeling all my energy, give me strength my Lord, give me patience, for I am losing my trust in you.