Friday, December 19, 2014

लकीरें - A poem

Ranadi, a small village in Reodar, Sirohi District , Rajasthan. The home of 186 families; predominantly SC. A small classroom in the village upper primary school. Little ones, six or seven years old, are busy opening their books and notebooks for the English period. The teacher writes down the names of fruits and vegetables on the board. She writes their Hindi counterparts too. The class resounds with the names of fruits and vegetables. The teacher now checks the copies of students one by one.

I cannot help but notice how tiny the notebooks are. Each page can hardly accommodate more than a few words. The large, disjointed letters cram themselves between the lines. One child in particular has trouble writing the letter S in his ‘four lined copy’. The topmost line is filled in by the teacher in red ink; several scarlet Ss in a row. The child comes time and again after filling the page using his pencil; his Ss leaking all over, but perfect, so perfect in form. The teacher patiently erases them and says each time, ‘Jao phirse karke lao’ (Trans. Go and write this again). I think of Padma Sarangapani, of the aspirations of a rural, tribal community, and of the child. My heart fills with an uncontrolled desire to write, and finding no paper I write in my mind. The first time ever I write in Hindi, and a rather long time since I write at all –


चार लकीरों के बीच
सिमट गया है
यह बच्चा ।

वही दायरा है
बस वही जगह
रहो ।
कुछ तो सीखो ।

मैं बड़ा आदमी बनूंगा ।
पर यह लकीरें
कहीं और ही ले जाती हैं

-         रीमा कौर

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Writing My First Will and Testament

Image courtesy The British Library 

Children do not ordinarily think of death. It could reside in the way we wish to shield them from an inevitability that usually causes pain and grief. It could be because of the average man's own fear of death. It could also be because of the sheer newness of life the dwells in each child's body that almost separates them from this reality. One would of course have to be quite heartless to think of a child leaving the world so soon. King Theoden in a moving scene from the Lord of the Rings (the movie) is overcome with emotion at the grave of his son Theodred, where he laments, "No parent should have to bury their child".

For children of my generation however, death for once came really close when several of their beloved characters died in the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. The books frequently reference the departed Potters who die a sudden but miserable death, leaving behind their only child Harry who continues to experience its wrath all through his years at Hogwarts. The end of Cedric, Sirius, Dumbledore, Dobby, Fred (perhaps most heartbreaking in my opinion, though each death was sorrowful for its own reasons), Tonks, Lupin, and many more solidify Rowling's claim that there is more to life than mortality. Indeed, there is more to mortality than death. Sure, by the time the series became popular, we had already seen Mufasa's horrific plunge in The Lion King, feeling just as helpless as little Simba. We had also cried silently for Bambi's separation from his hunted mother. Death was in those moments a painful knot that rose in our hearts, marking the sudden absence of love that had fed us for so long. The knot loosened significantly with each happy turn (and there were always happy turns). But Rowling perhaps for the first time showed us the intricacies of loss. She never consoled Harry, that is, she never consoled us. As children we processed the build up, shock, denial, anger, guilt, and acceptance of various separations in a way that mirrored Harry's own struggle through them.

It is in one of those moments of finality when the Minister of Magic reads The Last Will and Testament of Albus Dumbledore to Harry, Ron, and Hermione, that I realized how death can be simple yet be surrounded by affairs as mundane as leaving behind possessions to the world. For the first time in my life, I really thought of death. And so, I thought of life. I thought of all those tangibles that I would leave and whether their distribution would provide some relief, some solace to those who loved me. Could this distribution be an exercise in coping? More importantly, why hoard assets in the deceased's home when they will certainly be of use (or at least be of sentimental value) to some close friend or family? And then I realized how one can also be selfish in death! Does one truly think of the other in such fanciful flights? Undoubtedly there will be a part of us that would always fear, always care for the well-being of those who mourn us, but we also momentarily revel in the loss that our demise would create. A thought as natural as who would attend my funeral? Am I really cared and loved for?

What if you were to drop dead this very instant? The fall would be tremendous. If in the measure of years you are a novice, you will be mourned for all that did not come to pass. A recent health scare pushed me to re-evaluate the 25 or so odd years of my existence, and I struggled with this very question. And so I planned to write my First Will and Testament, that may also be considered my last, should lightning strike. The document would be neither complete nor legal (and before you get your hopes up, it will not be published here for the world to see!). Now that I think about it, I wonder whether all my worldly possessions are even mine to give away? All those books neatly arranged and worshipped, each piece of jewellery added over the years, every cloth that graced my back... Not to mention folders overflowing with cards and letters, research notes, virtual intellectual property...! The list is endless, and painfully materialistic. But in humouring the thought of leaving for my heavenly abode, whether there exists such a place (or am I eternally damned?), I encourage others to embrace death "as an old friend" (cue The Tale of the Three Brothers). Making a Will, irrespective of your age, would be a good start. And while my Will would be nowhere near a "preparation" for death, there is a conscious realization that it will be an eventuality. I will die. Others will die. Close friends and family will die. They would all be different deaths, but they would be - deaths!