Birth, death and everything in-between

I was having a fulfilling day. I woke up at eight in the morning after a night till two. The previous evening started off as a quick dinner between two good friends from college. But then, the evening progressed through exchange of playlists, interesting conversations, and frequent episodes of nostalgia filled with laughter. The morning was a continuation of the previous night’s conversation, complemented by idly dippings in white and red chutney.

My mother had left for volunteering at a hospice for cancer patients, leaving her husband, my father, under my care. My father had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s few years earlier, and my mother against her better judgment, trusted her son with her husband. Whatever.

I went to check in on my father. He was working on his fine motor skills, practicing his signature. He complained, he can’t sign the same way he used to, and can’t quite remember what his signature looks like anymore. Poignant moment I thought.

The rains abated. I took my father outside, sat with him without much conversation for a good ten minutes. We stared into my parents’ garden, that was showing off its vibrant green and sparkling water from the recent rains. I took him on a photo expedition around the garden, showing him how beautiful everything in the garden was, while capturing life on my camera. The rusted mini-bicycle, the prayer bells, the white picket fence, yellow flowers and purple eggplants – all of them just stunningly beautiful on their own. He silently nodded in approval.

The rains came back and I was having a lazy afternoon editing my pictures on my iPad. I had a cup of evening coffee, and then spoke to my wife who was in Delhi. We talked about our lives in India, and about our aging parents. She was on an Uber returning from a wedding and a 50th wedding anniversary celebration. Two unrelated events separated by a generation. Just an average day in India.

I completed the photo-series of my parents garden, which I then took to share with them. As I walked in, my mother and father were playing Rummy, a favorite card game in the family. I showed them the pictures of their beautiful home, which they were delighted to see. I then said, I’ll join them for a round of Rummy. My father was instructed by my mother to deal the cards. According to my mother, it apparently helps with his fine motor skills. My father was taking his time, his own sweet time. I joked, “At the speed with which Daddy is dealing the cards, I may have to come back tomorrow morning to begin the game.” All of us laughed loudly.

Like I said, it was an average day.

My phone rang.

It was my best friend’s mother. Sometimes, you don’t have to hear words to know something is not right. Her sister’s husband, Bhas maama had passed away. Bhas maama was close to me. I had known him for more than three decades. He was a good man. He was an intelligent man. A writer who charmed everyone with his very British eloquence. A man who knew how to make seriously good beef. A kind soul, who only lucky few got to know. But then, he got too old and his turn came.

It must have been one of those three a.m. calls for Bhas maama’s son, who lives in California, on a different continent.

When the call comes, it really doesn’t matter what time it is, does it?

What started off as an average day ended like the ultimate end was here. Mortality was in the air. We may not see it everyday, but it’s happening around the world, not just in our own world. Two of my friends, cousins, had lost their eighty-eight year old aunt. Another friend had just returned home after attending two final rites ceremonies of relatives. Mortality is always in the air, we just don’t know it.

Just when you think everything is calm, life in its very literal sense can get snatched away.

As I was writing, I realized, it was nine pm already and my mother had said she would make dosas for me. I shamelessly finished off three dosas, treating myself to generous helpings of chutneys, this time around, green and red. Someone else’s life may have ended, but mine carried on, for now anyways. And, not too long from now, my turn will come too, while others lives continue.

Tomorrow is another day. It will have its own twists and turns which I will never know until tomorrow. But, for now – today was a good day, a family day, a rainy day, a card-game-kind-of-day, a lazy day, a talk-to-wife-in-Delhi day, a sad day, a grateful day. About tomorrow and the day after, I sometimes question having a plan for life, because I know life usually has some other plans for me. It’s easier for me to surrender to life’s plan, and be equanimous towards everything that’s changing around me, than attempt to execute my own. It creates a spiritual balance that is good for me.

I visited Bhas maama’s house. While the grieving family was busy making chai, Bhas maama was resting peacefully in a mortuary, not too far from the place where he once lived, waiting for his son to return from America. We reminisced Bhas maama’s Britishness, supreme culinary skills, and how often he said “thank you” to his wife. He was a good man. As I drove out of Bhas maama’s house, I witnessed a wedding procession on the one side of the street, and a war cemetery submerged from the recent rains on the other. As I photographed this incredibly sad, yet poetic sight, I couldn’t help wonder, if even nature stopped caring about the departed.

On Life and death

Life in itself doesn’t just end. In one corner of the world where one’s life ends, on the other corner, someone else’s life just begins. In my life, as I was remembering someone who had just passed, there was a wedding in a different place and a wedding anniversary in yet another. When one corner is grieving, the other corner is celebrating.

Nature seems to maintain this tight balance between evil and good, innocence and dementia, young and old, sadness and happiness, celebrations and funerals, birth and death.

Right now, here in India, I happen to have a front row seat for watching the previous generation gently fade away, leaving behind memories that will someday fade as well . The last death of a close one was one of my grandparents, almost twenty years ago. Since then, I have witnessed twenty years of births and birthdays, weddings and anniversaries. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll be fortunate enough to witness one more round of celebrations before I myself start fading away.

I think of death differently. The departed don’t pass away. They simply pass through. All of us pass through the earth, pass through the joys and trepidations of life, pass through hopes and fears, pass through life and death.

We don’t pass away.

We just pass through.

R.I.P. Bhas maama. I’ll call you when I get there.


Published by Arun Muthu

In 2019, I relocated to India after having lived in California for more than two decades. These scribbles attempt to capture my observations at what I call home through a foreigner's eyes.

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8 Comments

  1. Very tough subject handled with great care. Well done Arun! Regarding “fading way”, someone reminded me recently that ” … there will always be more dead than living.”

    Like

  2. Hi Arun, Great writing and images as always. I can’t help but smile that no matter how harsh and clear the reality, the desire to find meaning is irresistible.

    Liked by 1 person

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