People are fascinating. Sure, there are the ones who achieve extraordinary feats that boggle your mind. But I am not talking about those. Just look around you. At your ever gossiping second cousin's mom. The gutka-chewing, generally repulsive chachu. Even your painful bua who is transported to an illusionary mandap every time she sees you.
One such moment, is death. In the space of just 45 days, my father has been deprived of his parents. In that time I have seen my tauji, now the eldest in my family, cry twice. And with him cried every soul in the family. From my father, to my little sister. Even my chachu, and my bua. I don't mean to belittle this, but this was good, in a way. Tears are therapeutic. They cleanse. And they unite. And ultimately, when all the tears that have been shed have left a void, something else swoops in to fill it. Happiness.
And that is what was so fascinating. Till just a couple of months back I had never seen a dead person. Now I have faced the surreal-ness of lifting both my grandparents' arthi on my shoulder. Of placing them on a pyre and lighting it. Of seeing their bodies burn and mingle with the dust whence we all come from. Of seeing the reflection of the fire in the waters of Gomti. And wondering. Wondering hard about the time missed, the memories that I can't bring up, the voices I can't remember and the things I left unsaid. But most of all wondering about how people react differently to a situation such as this.
Sitting, waiting for the body to be completely turned to ashes, I was forced to see what I was looking at. At my extended family. All there. In the place where they grew up. Still attached. My dad and I were the only two who had flown away. I had taken 18 years to cover the distance I eventually covered in 4 hours. 18 years. 4 hours. I was getting overwhelmed. I still am. I needed a distraction. I could not let my mind wander too much. The waters of Gomti had started looking appealing in the fading gloom.
And I was at first shocked by what I saw. Of the 20-odd people who had come, most were chatting. Some sharing stories of the last match that India and Pakistan played. Others talking of how much more severe this winter is. I could even hear strains of laughter from time to time. I was incensed. How could they do this? Can they not see how inappropriate this was?
And then I started searching for a reason. Why? Were they not close to my grandma? But if they weren't, why have they come? Just for social propriety? To make sure their families are represented where they are meant to be? Or is it how people deal with death? Maybe a mix of all of this?
I had no answers. And I sure as hell couldn't ask for one. And in this while the pyre had almost completely burnt out. It was time to clean up, pay my last respects, and leave. But I kept wondering. Over the next two days too. And everywhere I went, I saw more of the same. People alternating between laughing and crying. Between fondly telling stories of how they troubled dadi and how they miss her now. It pained less now. I wanted to sit in and hear these tales too. It calmed me. It helped me get over the numbness. And the regrets and shame I was carrying with myself. Get over, did I say? Maybe it was just pressing it down, hiding those feelings in that long-forgotten corner of my brain, or is it heart, from where they had been forced to appear all of a sudden.
And I started understanding. The worth of these varied reactions. That diversity is not just in culture and music and languages. That it is not just an abstract concept that we need to preserve just for the sake of it. Diversity is everywhere. And we need it to survive. If everyone were to react the same way we would vanish in but a moment. The strong needs the weak, and the vice versa. The meek needs the confident. And the confident sometimes needs to give in to his fears and feels glad in the company of the meek.
The next day, at dawn, I was filled with hope. I was playing with kids. Laughing with them. Doing what I usually do. Enjoying too. And there was no anger, no incense at the contradiction. For there was none. The void had been filled. That is what both baba and amma would have wanted anyways. Even in their death they taught me a deep lesson. And gave me a gift. The realization that I belong somewhere. That there is a place on this earth where I can go anytime and be accepted. Just like that. A place that is mine and no one can snatch it away from me.
I never told you so, but I loved you both.