42 days on

I’m sitting alone at home on a bed that needs to be made, Ms. Murdoch’s first novel (Under the net) lying face down on the fourteenth page beside me. I have possibly just drunk the most delicious mug of tea ever made by myself, preceded by a rather satisfying bhutta….zapped for 3 minutes, sprinkled with lemon, salt and chaat masala. Minnie has just joined me and my warm laptop, depositing herself in what I would deem an awkward position, but then who can question Minnie and her ways?

She has spent most of the afternoon curled morosely on a cushion on the settee under the living room window and I have been pussyfooting around her. I’m feeling anxious as she has been behaving strangely since the last two days, hissing and growling if I dare to move when she’s snuggled next to me or on my comforter. I first felt a weird lump on her soft underbelly when I tried to scoot her off my bed and into her basket in the middle of the night, when the need to turn over overcame the fear of disturbing her.

She doesn’t let me touch the lump and today I observed her as she sat growling to herself, unable to jump on to the window sill when I pulled up the blinds. It seems something is hurting her; she also feels feverish. She is not jumping on and off things with the graceful agility she normally displays. This is so worrying. I’m writing this post because I don’t have a cat support group. The other day my father told me to stop this cat nonsense now, it isn’t good for my health and who knows if the cats even care about me, I should start caring about humans more. Lately I have been hanging out with stray puppies and their moms, adding to his concern.

Of course I’ll have to take her to the vet tomorrow. I’m just anxious about how I’ll get Madam Teeth and Claws into her carrier, that’s all. Today I thought about the handful of vets in Karachi and wondered if there were any young people studying veterinary medicine these days. It seems so unlikely. <Irrational fear of something happening to current crop of vets and no one left to go to anymore>

I may not have mentioned this before, but I have been busy letting go of one maid after another and quite at peace, happy to clean the house the way I like it, no longer getting unnecessarily annoyed at the various ways hired help tends to annoy.

This morning I had set the alarm for 6:30 am, but continued snoozing for another 15 minutes, and then another 15 minutes, managing a quick horrible dream in the process. It was a dream in which huge cows were being tortured in some unseen way by some shady-looking humans sitting by the road. And then I found myself dissecting a little animal that happened to be a furry brown baby bear that didn’t bleed.

My subconscious is a frightening place.

The thought of being amongst people I know (apart from immediate family) makes my heart beat faster. I feel reclusive and justified in being so because being social for the sake of being social, or even because I-am-invited-therefore-I-must-go makes no sense. I’d rather be quiet than talk, and I have no taste for being talked ‘at’ either, any sort of unsolicited advice about anything at all. Often, I don’t even want to listen and I’m wondering….what’s going on? How long will this last? Do I need to make a conscious effort to shun my natural instincts?

I am reluctant to join my friends for lunch/dinner dates. I know they care and want to make me feel better and I know I eventually will. I DO like being with people who have felt deeply and who aren’t unwilling to wear their vulnerabilities on their sleeve. For now, I think I’ll continue feeling more lost than is usual, a little unfocused, a little distracted, a little irritated, quiet but belligerent. Honestly, I just need one person to do quiet things with, and one of those people is sitting in Laos at the moment. To tell the truth, said person and I often don’t really like to do the same quiet things anyway, so life can be difficult in that sense.

Found great satisfaction in scrubbing floors with an alkaline solution and a brush today. Then my mother in law dropped in, and though it was nice to have her company for a bit, I didn’t want to be told that I need to let go of some things because there are better ways to spend one’s time and no one needs to hurt their back.

Just let me clean things up after myself, won’t you world? That’s all I feel capable doing these days and not only do I enjoy the quietness it brings, I’m burning a lot of calories.

It has been a month and 12 days since my nephew died. I have regained my appetite and he isn’t the first thought that pops into my head when I wake up anymore. I’m not crying last thing at night either. Is this a good thing? Perhaps so.

For the last three Sundays I have visited and sat with him for some time, once with just Amu, then with just Fatu, and then with Fatu and Sax both. It was a different experience each time, and each time I have been struck with interesting thoughts, about life, and about death.

The first time, Amu and I watched the bees as they were attracted by the roses, the eagles as they glid over the graveyard, the butterflies that fluttered by, two cats that hid among the graves….and suddenly, the cemetery didn’t seem so…dead…anymore. Amu and I then wandered about and explored, reading out names of people long gone. And as we left, I noticed that Hasan’s marble name plaque had already been stuck to his headstone. I cried as we walked back to the car and drove home.

The next week, it was Valentine’s Day and on an impulse I bought heart-shaped balloons from a vendor. We cried as I drove to the graveyard, tying the balloons to stones on Hasan’s grave when we got there. Then we sat in the shade of an umbrella that I had brought along and read out passages from Camus’ ‘Youthful Writings’, and that helped stem Fatu’s tears temporarily for which I was grateful. She showed me videos she had taken of him just days before he died. He was so alive. He was just here. And now we were leaning against his grave, and all we could do was watch him on the phone screen. It didn’t make any sense at all. We stayed there for a couple of hours, talking and reminiscing, listening to Adele, (she finds her voice to be very soothing) making potpourri from dead flowers. Some people passing by stopped to see Hasan’s colourful grave, especially the children, who looked transfixed, solemn. Unlike the white marble structures all around, this one stands out, being covered in painted pebbles, loving words inscribed on them by friends and family.

As we left, the balloons waved in the breeze and Fatu said, ‘look, he’s waving bye.’

Heart broke, once again.

The third visit, we swept away all the accumulated dead flowers with a broom Fatu had brought along, wiped all the pebbles clean (are we going to clean up everywhere we go?) noted that some had been stolen, probably by the kids from the colony, who wandered around the cemetery. There were three little girls hanging around, watching us from behind a bunch of graves, probably amazed at the sight of three women in hats and umbrellas, how outlandish. They inched closer, curiosity overcoming shyness, and we decided to share our oranges with them. ‘Girls always did like hanging around Hasan,’ Fatu commented with amusement, tearing up almost immediately.

It was quite a social event, there were so many visitors quietly doing their thing, washing the dust off marble, dotting the graves with fragrant red roses, the sun already making its presence felt. Summer would be unbearable here. A goose dunked its head repeatedly in a pool of water from a flowing tap, fluffing its feathers out, flapping its wings.

I realized that this place had a life of its own, that it didn’t end here, it went on. It went on for all the people who continued to love and miss and remember all those who had passed on, and they turned up here with love and remembrance and a strong need to continue to be connected long afterwards. For us, this is a new beginning. This is a new life, and it is one without Hasan in it. As Sax said, we were all living in a sheltered bubble before, death had not touched us this close. All around us we had seen other people grieve for their lost husbands, their wives, their mothers, their fathers, their daughters, their sons. We are just scrambling to understand, no choice but to feel all our individual feelings of grief and loss at losing Hasan, our son, our nephew, our grandson, our almost-14 yr old cousin.

It has been an intense month, and I am just coming out of it, still mourning. It is too soon to ‘move on’, to resume ‘normal’ life just yet, I’m not even the same person I was two months ago. I’m looking at the recent past as ‘before Hasan died’, or ‘after Hasan died’. I don’t know when this will stop being such a jolt to the brain. I can’t even look at little boys without a sinking feeling in my heart.

Time is a healer, is what they say. Who knows, that might even be true.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Might as well curl up and dye…

If there is anything that defines me, it’s angst. I think I was pretty much born an existentialist, if indeed an existentialist is someone who is a great deal afraid and anxious. I come to this conclusion because I now realise that I am a worry wart in denial, and that it is time to embrace that knowledge.

According to existential philosophy, angst is the dread caused by man’s awareness that his future is not determined but must be freely chosen. Can there be anything scarier than that? My earliest memories of angst-filled feelings include:

1. The fear of lighting matches and stoves. This is because I observed my mom turning on the gas and lighting a match. The resultant mild explosion with which the stove lit up did not faze my mom in the least, but I was struck with horror as I contemplated the consequences of doing this myself, and I worried about growing up and having to do these kinds of things too.

2. Watching my eldest sister going to college all by herself and travelling by bus and crossing roads and stuff. Oh the anxiety at ever having to cross a road and go to college! It was enough to make me never want to grow up.

3. Getting married. Would I ever find a man who was as lovely as my dad? I didn’t think so, and it made me as anxious as the female equivalent of Oedipus.

4. Observation (movies) and ill-informed discussions with the peer group revealed a whole bunch of facts about the birds and the bees, which opened up a whole new can of worms. The biggest question was ‘how’?? And the answers delighted and shocked and horrified all at the same time.

5. Giving birth, after watching melodramatic Indian movies that depicted women screaming and crying for mercy while in the throes of labour. How was I to wilfully put myself through that kind of inhuman pain and indignity?

No one could have guessed what a worried little child was. I always appeared happy-go-lucky. But I’m 37 years old now and still muddling my way through more confusion and angst. It never ends until it all ends doesn’t it. I did my worrying about death and lying in a grave and ceasing to exist altogether and am halfway over that now. Wrinkles, and getting fat and grey hair are the new death.

The first strand of white hair in the front of my head caught me by surprise. It was very noticeable in my shock of black hair, a fact that was pointed out to me repeatedly (as if I wasn’t all too aware of it already….silly people). Slowly and surely, the number of white strands started to multiply until it reached a point where I could no longer count them. My family puzzled over this, since I am the third in a line of four daughters, and my elder sisters did not have any gray in their hair AT ALL. Am I the runt of the litter? I joke and say that I think about stuff and have multitudinous subconscious worries, and this is why my hair is turning white, but it’s too true! This should be proof that I am not the blithe spirit everyone seems to think I am!

Maybe history is cruelly repeating itself, as my mother greyed the earliest in a family of eight siblings where she was the third daughter!

But apart from getting down to the bottom of the cause, I now had to worry about what to do with the rest of my life as far as my crowning glory was concerned and here were the options:

1. Should I be the cool arty type and go the Durriya Kazi way and wear lots of kajal in my eyes and don ethnic earrings to accompany a not-so-thick white braid?

2. Should I be funky and dye my hair indigo and crop it into a trendy bob to look post-modern?

3. Should I just let it be and age gracefully and stay myself without having to adopt an identity and make some kind of a statement?

Decisions, decisions. What path to choose? It isn’t easy to face the world when your hair betrays you. People’s eyes cannot help but flick upwards while conversing and I know they’re thinking what’s up with her hair? until they come right out and blurt it. ‘Why is your hair turning white?’, they ask simple-mindedly, as if there is a subversive reason. What do I tell them? That I am crushed by the angst of the living and my hair is beginning to reflect it? ‘Why don’t you dye it?’, say the fashionable lot for whom changing colours is not about hiding something but about novelty. Don’t they realise how vigilant you have to be to make sure the roots don’t show when the hair grows, and how frequently you need touch ups? It all reeks of unsustainability if you ask me.

‘Aap ke baal tou bilkul safed ho rahe hain’, says the girl who does my hair at a salon, as if I am struck by a terrible disease.

I stoically bear my cross and develop an attitude about my silvery streaks and people say I look stylish and glam…..but only if I make the effort and straighten it and style it and spend some time on it. If I don’t, I just look and feel like a hag. I know if I start using chemicals on my head I stand to lose not just lots of money but also lots of hair.

Life is so hard 😦