Of losses; big & small

Experiencing loss, one memory at a time.

I was in school when I first felt loss. I couldn’t find my favorite pencil that had a scented eraser at the back. Before leaving the classroom, I had kept it on my desk. After lunch break was over, I went back to my desk only to find it empty. I was hysterical. I cried, and cried. I asked my friends, who shrugged and then started a search for the missing pencil. We looked everywhere; under the desk, inside the dustbin, I also raided everyone’s pencil box. It had disappeared. This wasn’t the first time I had lost something in class, and this wasn’t the first time I struggled dealing with the loss of something I cherished. As a child, getting attached to inanimate objects was easy. Loss, as a concept, seemed confusing to me, and somehow I still haven’t wrapped my head around it. My teacher complained to my brother one day, annoyed at how sensitive I was. She said, ‘Your sister starts crying every time she loses something,’. I was baffled at my teachers’ lack of understanding. Crying was the only way I could explain what it felt. How else was I to make her believe how much it meant to me? For a seven-year old, it seemed too real, too personal. Sure, it was something I could replace but it was loss nonetheless. As I grew up, the losses took the shape of a lost tooth, of a lost book, of a lost friend, of a lost dream. One day, it was a pet rabbit that didn’t survive, on another occasion, it was a plant I had forgot to water. Each time I lost something, it hurt less but I felt like I had changed. The losses represented something I no longer had, but whose absence felt ephemeral. The losses didn’t stop. They only kept changing shape, presenting itself in unique ways, intensifying in magnitude. The response to these losses also changed.  Grief, somehow, found an outlet. It channeled its way every time I mourned the death of a fictional character, every time I would hear about a child learning to hear for the first time, every time I would cry during movies & every time a person I looked upto passed away. It would mold itself like water; fitting, squeezing, expanding & contracting wherever there was enough space. It ebbed & it flowed. But it kept coming. 

Nobody grows up learning how to mourn. No one teaches you how to weep. Grief is universal. It can be found in every household, in every corner. The death of a loved one, the death of your old self, the collective loss of our identities. Loss makes you confront your worst fears, it brings out everything you hate in front of you, and asks that you dine with it. Your worst fears, your worst self, is suddenly out in the open, staring at you, almost smiling. But somehow, you deal with it. You look grief in the eye, and shake hands. You discuss what must be done. You’ve felt loss before & you’ll feel loss again. You’ll grieve over the things you could have done, the dreams you can no longer dream, the loved ones you can never bring back. But then one day, you feel the sun on your face, the wind in your hair, and you learn to walk freely, you learn to dream big dreams. 

Loss is inescapable—it’s a fair-weather friend that keeps coming in and out of our lives. We just learn to accept it. 

Daddykins by Kalpana Mohan: A bitter-sweet memoir that will make you laugh and cry.

Daddykins is an intimate and deeply relatable account of our relationships with our parents whatever our age, and the shared experiences of love and grief that unite us all.

While driving back in the car after the party, he turned to my sister to ask her the one question that seemed to giving him heartburn. “Was this a birthday or a sendoff?”

Returning back after celebrating his ninetieth birthday, the one thought that kept lingering in the mind of Daddykins, was that of mortality, and how much more time did he have? In this memoir that’s written with utmost affection, love and respect for a man the author grew up loving, her father, we see life through his eyes, and how with changing times, Daddykins, remained loyal to his routines, his family, and everything that was dear to him.

Kalpana Mohan, a journalist in California, flies down to take-care of her father whose health keeps deteriorating, She describes her father’s life, piecing together every little detail with precision, and caution coupled with laughter and wit. She traces her father’s life of when he was growing up in a country that went through partition, his marriage at an early age, and fighting poverty to landing his first job. Often dealing with the crankiness that the illness brought him to seeing him wither down and accept defeat when his body could no longer cope, Kalpana, captured the journey of a man who never lost sight of his bold nature, and smiled even at his lowest, never letting his physical inability hinder his sharp mind.

It was delightful and heartwarming to read about the relationship between a father and a daughter. The instances narrated made me tear up in parts, often making me think about my father’s idiosyncrasies, and how universal the bond is. No matter how old you are, you’ll always remain your daddy’s little girl.

The staff at the theatre walked up to Daddykins and asked after his health. He introduced me to them. “My little girl,” he said. Fifty-one years old, with hair dyed black to retain her youth and on supplements to stave off the onset of osteoporosis and peripheral neuropathy, his ‘little’ girl held Daddykins by the elbow and led him to their seats in the first row.

The camaraderie between Daddykins and Vinayagam, the witty remarks laced with admiration and respect for each other together with the author’s stark observation about the mundane, made the book even more special. Families come together during difficult times, and it is families who help us see the shore when the tides are high. Through this memoir, Kalpana, weaved a beautiful relationship between daughters, and their fathers, and how, when all is said and done, you need your parents to help you see the light.

I never imagined that my father would really die. Death had been a stunt practised in our home. My father had ‘pretend-died’ and come back to life many times before. Sometimes when my mother or his daughters castigated him for something, Daddykins’ face would fall. “I’ll just go away,” he would say, “and then you’ll see how life will be.” Then he would flump down on the sofa or bed. In a display of cinematic bravado, Daddykins would let his arms go limp. His head would roll to his side, his eyes would shut and the tongue would leak out of his mouth. But he always got up and walked back into our lives. That night in June, however, while my sister and I paced outside his room, anxious about the readings on his oxygen monitor, Daddykins exhaled, never to inhale again.


Author: Kalpana Mohan

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Pages: 192

Rating: 4/5

Format: Paperback

Blurb:

When journalist Kalpana Mohan’s elderly father falls ill in Chennai, she is on the next flight over from California and the home she has shared with her husband for three decades. Caring for her sometimes cranky, sometimes playful, and always adored father at his home in Chennai, Mohan sets out to piece together an account of her father’s life, from his poverty-stricken childhood in a village in south India, to his arranged marriage, to his first job in the city, all the while coming to terms with his inevitable passing.

 

Mohan’s tender, moving, and sometimes hilarious memoir is an account of a changing India captured in her father’s life, from the sheer feat of surviving poverty in I920s India of his birth, to witnessing key moments in the nation’s history and changing alongside them. Above all, Daddykins is an intimate and deeply relatable account of our relationships with our parents whatever our age, and the shared experiences of love and grief that unite us all.

 

A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena

A Girl Like That By Tanaz Bhathena is a powerful and disturbing debut, and a fresh voice that is sure to create ripples. 

One of my most anticipated reads of 2018 was A Girl like That by Tanaz Bhathena, and I wasn’t expecting it to be so emotionally devastating, and hard hitting. But, alas. Here we are.

Right in the beginning, we know that Zarin and her friend Porus have died in a car crash. Their spirits sit above the scene of the accident, hovering, and floating, looking down at their own lifeless bodies, and wondering what’s next? Everyone, from the religious police to Zarin’s classmates, are suspicious? Was Zarin having an affair with Porus? Was she trying to run away? The rumors just keep getting nasty. The story is a build up leading to the cause of their death. It’s more about what happens before then what comes after.

Set in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Zarin is an orphan who is brought up by her uncle and aunt, and is the unlucky recipient of her aunt’s physical and mental abuse. Her uncle is just an enabler, often acting as a pacifier between Zarin and his wife. Zarin, in an attempt to ridicule and mock her aunt, starts playing around with boys, often flashing smiles in malls. This soon becomes an escape for her since her family has been tainted ever since she was born. Her father was a gangster and her mother was a cabaret in a Mumbai bar. After their deaths, Zarin along with her uncle and aunt moved to Jeddah, to start a new life. But things as we find out, are only getting worse.

There are several important themes that Tanaz has covered, and all of them are substantial considering the times we live in. Bullying has become a culture, and the mental and physical impact of being bullied is catastrophic. We see how Zarin is always the topic of discussion, is slut-shamed and has her modesty questioned at every step of the way. At home, her aunt’s over-protective and controlling nature do more harm than good, and the romantic liaisons Zarin has only prove detrimental to her in the long run. Other themes such as domestic violence, sexual assault, and mental illness have been incorporated in a way that reflect the hypocritical nature of the society at large, and how this regressive nature has affected young minds.

The story has been narrated from several povs which was surprising and refreshing to read. We have Abdullah, Zarin’s ex-boyfriend, his  holier than thou sister, Mishal, who has sworn to tarnish Zarin’s reputation and  Farhan, the popular guy who takes every girl for a ride with his money and good looks. The story as a whole is narrated by Zarin and Porus, respectively. We see the life of two youngsters and also understand the story as outsiders.

You couldn’t win anyone’s approval by trying to fit in or even by doing what they expected you to.

Zarin is a rebel, unafraid yet scared, to whom love has evaded. She is terrified of loving and is in search of a home she fails to find. Porus, on the other hand, has been the hand that keeps lifting her, protecting her from every obstacle, yet finds himself in a war zone, a conflict between his love, Zarin, and the world that has other demands. However, Zarin’s attitude towards Porus often annoyed me. Her reckless nature and lack of concern for Porus, even as friend just didn’t make sense to me. This is the only issue I feel could have been dealt with in a more mature way.

Memories can be like splinters, digging into you when you least expect them to, holding tight and sharp the way wood did when it slid under a fingernail.

Tanaz’s writing is beautiful, extremely vivid, with powerful insight into the society we live in. It talks about teenage alienation, their fears and angst while also tackling issues of race, caste and religion.  A Girl Like That By Tanaz Bhathena is a powerful and disturbing debut, and a fresh voice that is sure to create ripples.

There were times, however, when stories came alive. When someone who you thought you’d never see again stepped back into your world and knocked the wind out of you.


Author: Tanaz Bhathena

Publisher: Penguin India

Genre: YA

Pages: 369

Format: Paperback

Rating: 4/5

Source: Review copy.

Blurb:

Sixteen-year-old Zarin Wadia is many things: a bright and vivacious student, an orphan, a risk taker. She’s also the kind of girl that parents warn their kids to stay away from: a troublemaker whose many romances are the subject of endless gossip at school.  You don’t want to get involved with a girl like that, they say. So how is it that eighteen-year-old Porus Dumasia has only ever had eyes for her? And how did Zarin and Porus end up dead in a car together, crashed on the side of a highway in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia? When the religious police arrive on the scene, everything everyone thought they knew about Zarin is questioned. And as her story is pieced together, told through multiple perspectives, it becomes clear that she was far more than just a girl like that.

This beautifully written debut novel from Tanaz Bhathena reveals a rich and wonderful new world to readers. It tackles complicated issues of race, identity, class, and religion, and paints a portrait of teenage ambition, angst, and alienation that feels both inventive and universal.

Review: Love Letters to the Dead

Story of a 15 year-old girl who writes letters to dead people.

Author: Ava Dellaira

Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary

Pages: 327

Format: Paperback

Synopsis:

It begins as an assignment for English class: Write a letter to a dead person.

Laurel chooses Kurt Cobain because her sister, May, loved him. And he died young, just like May. Soon, Laurel has a notebook full of letters to the dead—to people like Janis Joplin, Heath Ledger, Amelia Earhart, and Amy Winehouse—though she never gives a single one of them to her teacher. She writes about starting high school, navigating the choppy waters of new friendships, learning to live with her splintering family, falling in love for the first time, and, most important, trying to grieve for May. But how do you mourn for someone you haven’t forgiven?

It’s not until Laurel has written the truth about what happened to herself that she can finally accept what happened to May. And only when Laurel has begun to see her sister as the person she was—lovely and amazing and deeply flawed—can she truly start to discover her own path.

In a voice that’s as lyrical and as true as a favorite song, Ava Dellaira writes about one girl’s journey through life’s challenges with a haunting and often heartbreaking beauty.

My review:

Letters. Dead people.

The above words were enough to drag my attention to this book. Love Letters to the Dead, is in its own way, intriguing. Several questions run through your mind, possible answers to what the book could be about. I was shaken a bit after I completed this novel and I have all the praises in store for the author, Ava Dellaira.

“I think a lot of people want to be someone, but we are scared that if we try, we won’t be as good as everyone imagines we could be.”

The story is about a teenage girl, Laurel, who started writing letters to dead people as part of her English assignment. This routine assessment turns into a heart-wrenching series of emotions that the protagonist goes through. Her daily struggles, her mindset and everything else that happens in her life. Laurel started writing letters everyday and soon found parts of herself that she never knew existed. Those letters gave her comfort and she could confide in them. She never turned in those assignments.

“I know I wrote letters to people with no address on this earth, I know that you are dead. But I hear you. I hear all of you. We were here. Our lives matter.”

The death of someone you love changes you. You suddenly become a different person. You outgrow people and things but most importantly you outgrow yourself. Through these letters, Laurel finds an outlet where she expresses her innermost feelings that have been bottled up for quiet sometime. We see how slowly the letters unravel parts of her life and bring us to a tear-jerking past.

Each chapter has been written as a form of letter. That in itself is great writing. Having the ability to keep the readers’ hooked is a talent very few have mastered and Ava Dellaira is one of them. The book is profound, contemplative and powerful. It is a sad story no doubt but also moving in several ways. It showcases the eternal sister-love, the intense need to protect each other against all odds and longing to be with one another. The story is narrated skillfully weaving different aspects of the human nature and the naivety of adolescence.

“You think you know someone, but that person always changes, and you keep changing, too. I understood it suddenly, how that’s what being alive means. Our own invisible plates shifting inside of our bodies, beginning to align into the people we are going to become.”

There are parts that are slow but even in those moments you’ll find a sense of anger, pain and abandonment that the protagonist undergoes. I was utterly upset with the ending but I wouldn’t have it any other way. The characters in the story seem real, each struggling differently, trying to figure out life.

“Sometimes when we say things, we hear silence. Or only echoes. Like screaming from inside. And that’s really lonely. But that only happens when we weren’t really listening. It means we weren’t ready to listen yet. Because every time we speak, there is a voice. There is the world that answers back.”

The coping mechanism one one uses after they lose someone they so dearly love is confusing and haunting. The ways in which they try to fill the void, to overcome the heart-break which ultimately leads to a sense of detachment from the world.  This aspect of bewilderment has been beautifully captured by the author.

“We do things sometimes because we feel so much inside of us, and we don’t notice how it affects somebody else.”

If you’re looking for a book that would stay with you for the years to come, I’d highly recommend reading this book.

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira is worth a read. Painful yet beautiful.

“I think it’s like when you lose something so close to you, it’s like losing yourself. That’s why at the end, it’s hard for her to write even. She can hardly remember how. Because she barely knows what she is anymore.”

Timeless

Just something I wrote a few months back for a competition I didn’t get selected for 😀 Give it a read, anyway.

The hospital room looked like most hospital rooms do, terribly sad. The kind of sad that doesn’t believe in sunshine, colours or even rainbows. It’s surprising how one place can bring to you happiness wrapped in glitter paper yet leave you dry and lifeless. It was sultry and the harshness of the summer was here to make the insides of the human body melt. The fan kept moving in circular motions making the room humid, the air smelled of sweat and medicines and of emotions leaving one’s soul. Somewhere near I could hear the ambulance blaring, a few doctors and nurses rushed to the main entrance to attend the patient who had a heart attack. There was a flurry of activities with silence resuming as quickly as the storm arriving. My visits to the hospital are not very routinely but sometimes my headaches get the worst of me. On waking up this morning, my head started to explode like a thousand loudspeakers set off at once. The painkillers failed to give any relief and I almost collapsed. I saw a few newspapers and magazines lying around and to occupy myself I kept flipping through them. The doctor was stuck in traffic which meant I had a lot of time in my hands. After about an hour, when the waiting became monotonous, I decided to stroll and stretch my muscles a little.

While walking down the aisle, I passed a room which was slightly open. I heard someone singing. It sounded like the voice of a man. Deciding to not let curiosity get the best of me, I kept walking.  The voice kept getting louder and before I could open the door to understand what was happening, an old man came out of the room looking tired.  He looked a little taken aback by my infringement on his privacy but I apologized for the misconduct and admitted it was just out of sheer curiosity. He listened and then laughed. Unfamiliar as it may sound, his eyes bore a tint of belongingness and comfort. He turned around and closed the door slowly, making no noise while gesturing for a cup of coffee. Hesitatingly, I obliged.

The next few moments changed my life and how.

The old man was a retired police officer. After having served the country for about 30 years, he decided to live the last few years of his life with his wife in peace and togetherness. On inquiry I found out he had no children and no regrets. In the middle of our conversation, he stood up, went inside the room and returned. He kept doing this after every ten minutes. Before I could say anything, he sensed the uneasiness starting to develop, the air getting denser and that’s when he spoke. “It started when we went on a trip post retirement to the hills. She loves adventures and I don’t. But her enthusiasm always wins over my resistance and we end up visiting different parts of the world. While we were returning, she forgot the names of the places we visited. It was strange but not unusual. On another occasion, she couldn’t remember her favourite TV shows or where the locker keys were or where the laundry clothes were kept. Blaming it on old age, we didn’t pay much heed to her forgetfulness which we believed happened to everyone.”

He paused a little, wiping the tears that came running down. Once again he stood up and went to the room. He returned and continued,” Sometimes I wish, I had known. But there are certain things in life that are beyond your capacity and control. When we were having dinner at a dear friend’s house one day, she forgot the names of the people she was surrounded with. And that’s when it hit us. The reality came crashing down and before we could realise what was happening, it was too late. The months that followed kept getting worse. In between everything that was happening I kept telling myself we’d sail through this, we always did. That no matter how extreme the disease was it won’t tear us apart and for a few weeks it felt like there was hope. But as fate would have it, she didn’t remember me. She woke up one morning with terror in her eyes and a scream so deafening it shattered my whole world. I tried to calm her down but nothing would make her feel better. Maybe I knew this would happen. I wasn’t ready to accept it. Nobody can handle such a blow. My wife and I have been married for 60 years and I have never needed anyone else in my life. Seeing her in a state of such helplessness broke my faith in ways more than one. It is difficult trying to be a new person everyday for her because she doesn’t remember me; it’s like living a life wondering whether I will ever get the old her back. Most days, she refuses to look at me. She is scared of my face, this stranger that I am becoming to her.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.” I mumbled.

He went on, “But you know what kept me going?” I nodded.
He smiled and whispered, “Her love. I could not for the life of me be who I am had it not been for her. That’s when I decided my story wasn’t over. It could not end like this. There were parts of her still left that loved me and appreciated me and I wasn’t going to give up so soon.”

It was time for my appointment with the doctor but I refused to go. The old man was staring at the walls of the cafeteria, looking at nothing but I knew his mind was with his wife. A gentle smile spread across his face. He looked at me and I knew. He was reminiscing all those precious times he spent with his wife when they went on adventures along with their nights spent lying under the star lit sky and when the world was cruel but their love wasn’t.
After sharing a few minutes of silence, he stood up for the last time.
“But why were you singing?” I asked.
“When I sing, her eyes lit up like a million fireflies and even if it’s for a few seconds, it’s worth a lifetime of happiness for me. And if you have a wife who smiles like that, you know you’ve found the one.” And he went inside. I don’t remember how long I sat at the cafeteria. His words echoing through my mind, his unwavering faith and the courage to keep believing opened my heart to a new dimension.
I walked down the aisle once again to go back home but this time things became clearer and calmer.

How do you define love then? I thought. Is it when you build a foundation of faith so strong that even fate trembles? Or when you see the one you love slowly disappear yet you keep holding on to the damaged parts till there’s nothing left?
Maybe we will never find out. Or maybe we might just get lucky.