Wednesday, January 03, 2018

friendship and silence

This time on New Year’s Eve, my father and I went out for lunch. Just the two of us. I can’t remember when was the last time we did this. Probably this time. Yeah. THAT long ago.

So anyway. I really did wonder what we would say to each other during lunch. Because, well, really, what is left to say? Dad does his bereavement through tears. I seem to be doing mine by cutting my hair to look like my mother. And the truth is, on most days, our bereavement feels out the silence, rolling along in the vacuum my mother has left behind.

There is so much silence that envelopes our time as a family now. To be honest, I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing. But I can say one thing – for the first time in what has been possibly the roughest decade of our lives, the churning craziness seems to be standing still. There is so much mental noise and emotional noise that comes with financial strife. Terminal illnesses. Coma. Dialysis. Chemotherapy. Death.  Death makes things stand still. And so in the silence – and this is possibly the first time in a decade that we have had silence – we are actually just alone with our thoughts.

It’s new, this silence. I’ve not heard it before. I can’t recall having so much time to hear myself think. Because that’s what death vacuums do, they leave you with gaping holes of memories and emotions and wonder at what you could possibly be doing still left behind in this world.

So yes, I did wonder how we would survive an entire lunch in each other’s presence. My sister was travelling so this was really just me and dad going out together. And I have been spending a lot of days with dad since she was away and the only voices in our house have been the voices on the television.


But let me tell you about the lunch.

Well, dad chose a fancy restaurant.  We drank wine. His idea, not mine. But it felt cool to share a drink with my dad. We talked about his younger days. His days at the tennis club. His days back in college, when he and his friends used to organise disco nights with free entry for women. We fought over the bill, which was hysterical but I got it in the end.

I’m glad we went out. Conversation masks silence and a change of ambience can make you find a friend. 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Bangalore - the circle

I have thought so many times about this over the past 248 days that I can’t understand what  has driven me to write it down. It’s unlikely that I’m going to forget this train of thought because I’m so familiar with it.

My mother died leaving me as old as she was when she had me. She also died leaving me with her eyes,  her feet,  her voice, her laugh and the same sounds she made when she cried.

I wonder what she would have thought if she had known that by the time I was her age, she would be dead. That she would be one of the first among her friends to die. Or the fact that my grandfather will be 93 next year and his grief is something none of us can even begin to understand.

When she had me, it was a crazy day in Bangalore. My dad was away on a business trip. Our nieghbours  drove her to the hospital in the middle of the night. So much drama, in a time without cellphones.

We moved cities a few years after. I clearly remember the time we flew to Delhi. It is probably my first distinct memory of a plane ride, but I’ll probably write about that on a different day.

Today I think about how I’m back in Bangalore all over again. Living in the house my mother had so many plans for but never got to stay in. She would have liked it here. Whenever I’m here, I sleep on her bed. The bed she died on. Sigh.

It’s a tug-of-war of emotions, thinking about what she would and wouldn’t have liked. It’s a careful balance  between missing my mother and the equal number of times that I have appreciated that she’s finally free of the crazy trappings of human life.

And there are just so many things. Like the hangers I’ve hung, which still have her clothes on them. The way she had them before she died. I mean that literally. I simply took the hangers down from our cupboard in Delhi and  packed them without removing a thing and now they hang here in our cupboard in Bangalore.  Yes, our cupboard. My mother and I have been sharing since 2011 and I think that’s going to continue.  

Or the fact that I’m back in Bangalore after so many years, on my birthday, being the age that my mother was when I was born. We’re living in the house she hoped to watch me grow up in and we have moved the same year that she died.

And on my birthday I think what this day would have been like for my mother so many years ago, the day I was born. I think about all the emotions she would be feeling on this day. And then I think about today and now. And I feel thankful for words like bereavement. An overarching term that I have been liberally using for pretty much every uncategorized, deeply traumatic, deeply chaotic and yes, deeply tranquil emotion I have experienced since she died.

Because really, how do I hope to explain my thoughts otherwise? 

Friday, March 31, 2017

the undiscovered parts of bereavement that no one tells you about

I went through most of my life thinking I looked exactly like my grandmother.
Until my mother died and I cut my hair because I wanted change. Until my mother died and I discovered her pictures from when she was about my age. Until my mother died and I smiled so much at these old photos because she and I have the same haircut. Until my mother died and I started wearing her clothes. Until my mother died and so many of her friends told me I sound just like her. Until my sister said it to me herself. Until one day, I caught my reflection in the mirror and I did a double take because I thought I was my mother. 

And then I miss her and I don't miss her all at once. 

And she's staring right back at me and I'm smiling so much because she's right here, I sound like her, I look like her and we're the same age in the photographs of her I've collected. 

This year, I'm as old as she was when she had me. I've got so many pictures of us together in our first year together. And I've got pictures of her in the few years just before she had me and the few years just after she had me. All these are my favourite pictures now. I want to freeze myself, I want to look like how she looks in these photographs. The resemblance is near perfect, I really don't have to try at all.
I know with each day I'm growing older. Soon, I won't be the person in the pictures of her that I've surrounded myself with. I want to somehow freeze the clock on that. So then I take pictures of myself. I've taken more selfies in these 2 months than I ever have or ever will. Because I'm freezing myself to look like my mother. Because maybe when I'm dead, whoever discovers these pictures will drive themselves crazy trying to tell us apart. 

It's complicated. When my grandmother died, I really just wanted to live my days wrapped up in her sarees. I didn't and that's mostly because I have no idea how to drape a saree. 

With my mother - her clothes are more accessible to me, so is her jewelry. I'm in a phase of my life where I clearly bear an uncanny resemblance to her when she was my age. My hair looks like her hair, my eyes look like her eyes, my feet are her feet, my hands are her hands, my voice is her voice and it's so easy to get us confused. Except, well, when I'm wearing her clothes. She's obviously given away the clothes she had in her twenties and thirties. What we have left are her clothes from the later stages in her life. They are the clothes she owned as a middle aged woman in her forties and fifties. And I'm wearing them now. Young body. Old person's clothes. 

There are days when I'm confusing myself so much with this crazy traipsing backwards and forwards through time.
And then there are days when I feel oddly satisfied about being her living resemblance. 



Friday, March 03, 2017

things I figured out when my mother died - how to organise a cremation

The first thing to do is to call up the crematory and book a slot. It really is as simple as that. We used the Lodhi Road Electric Crematorium.

The next thing to do is to order a refrigeration unit and a van / ambulance to transport the body to the crematorium grounds. If the death occurred at a hospital, you can choose to pay for mortuary services until it’s time for the cremation – but if you need to or want to bring the person home for anything more than an hour, then you do need to get this refrigeration unit organised because bodies tend to decompose steadily and the bio wastes can be harmful for those who are alive.

I found out that cremation grounds have good business links to refrigeration unit providers and hearse van drivers – and the simple phone call that you make to book your slot is a one-stop phone call where you can also ask for a refrigeration unit and make the hearse van bookings.

Remember to have a doctor check and declare the death BEFORE putting the body into the refrigeration unit. But also remember the  caveat - if it has been a violent death ( for example, a murder) or a crime scene – please DON’T disturb the evidence until it is feasible to do so.

The important thing to remember is that in India, the businesses around death – crematorium services, refrigeration units, ambulances, hearse vans, priests etc – more often than not, use cash as their ONLY acceptable method of payment. Ensure that you have enough cash to bear the costs. We made it a point to visit ATMs within the very first hour of my mother’s death. Sometimes friends and relatives can be incredibly generous in helping out with cash. I suggest accepting the money and settling accounts later, but of course, each to one’s own.

The refrigeration unit will arrive at your house within a couple of hours of your phone call – and if the doctor has already declared death, then I recommend moving the body into the box immediately. Keep in mind that the longer you wait, the heavier the body becomes and the more manpower you will need to help you out.

Unplug the refrigeration unit roughly an hour before you expect your hearse van to arrive. Depending on your beliefs, you can use this hour to bathe and dress the body for the final goodbye. Even if you aren’t planning to bathe and/or dress the person, unplugging the refrigeration is useful because it brings the body temperature down to a comfortable level for the hearse van staff to move / handle.

The thing I realized is that news of death spreads really fast. I remember that all it took was a few phone calls to some relatives and friends, to let them know when the cremation would be. Then my sister and I wrote a facebook post and put it up on my mother’s wall.

We had a priest come over to our house and recite some prayers with a few close friends and family before we took my mother in the hearse van. At the cremation grounds, more friends and relatives just tend to show up.

Again, many side businesses mushroom right next to the cremation grounds. We found the flower shop particularly useful. One of our friends had the foresight to generously buy enough flowers for everyone who had come to see my mother off. This was a way to spend a few moments with her by standing beside her and laying flowers across her body. And then the priest said a few more prayers and then we had the cremation. 

And so, yeah. That’s pretty much how it’s done. Abrupt ending, I know, but death is like that

Friday, February 24, 2017

things I figured out when my mother died – how to get paperwork organised if the death occurred at home

While you and your family/friends may be able to easily TELL that your loved one is dead, remember that we live in a world highly affected by documentitis and it is therefore prudent to organise a document declaring death.
I recommend calling a doctor as soon as possible – try to do this within the first 15 minutes. Request him/her to come over to your house along with their letterhead and seal to write out a statement of death.

I say first 15 minutes because bodies tend to decompose pretty steadily and you may want to begin preserving your loved one’s body in a refrigeration unit as soon as possible. I also say first 15 minutes because when you realise a person is dead, emotions run high and /or a complete numb shock may take over and you just sometimes need a few minutes to grieve.

When the doctor arrives, he/she will need to check the person before pronouncing them as dead. Once the person is declared dead, the doctor will proceed to write out a statement on the letterhead. You may be required to supply details such as name of the dead person, their date of birth, name of parents and/or spouse, house address,  approximate time of death and nature of illness (if any). You may not necessarily know all these details - that's fine, just do your best to give as much correct information as possible.

In India, this statement of death given by the doctor is one of the things you will be required to submit when applying for a formal death certificate, which is issued by municipal authorities. Note that if your loved one passes away in a hospital, the hospital will issue a death summary that you should submit.   I will write a separate post explaining the procedure for obtaining a formal death certificate.

I hope this has helped you. I would be happy to edit and update this post - let me know in the comments section if I have missed out any crucial information. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017


The day my mother died, there was a moment in which she was lying on her bed, connected to the ventilator and my dad and I were with her. My dad was undergoing dialysis, I was administrating it for him. It was just the three of us in the bedroom. Like it used to be, several years ago.

The same three people.

So much change.

It felt surreal.

Friday, February 10, 2017


A few weeks before my mother died, I lent her a pair of socks, which she wore until she went to the hospital for the very last time. I found them the other day and put them in the wash. I’m wearing them today and I feel like somehow the more I wear them, the less of her will remain inside them.


But I’m now greedy about these socks, I feel like they are the pair my mother and I share. I want to wear them and yet I don't. I don't want them to tear. But they're just socks, and they were a gift from a man who is now .... well.

Sigh. They're just socks. In all likelihood, one of them is going to disappear into the black hole of our washing machine. The end is predictable.  

Sometimes I wish emotional associations were just as straightforward.