Picking up the pieces

It’s been fifteen years, you tell me.

You had just come back from college,
and had to rush to the hospital.
It was close to the end of the visiting hours.

And then you saw your father,
that independent man you had always known to be,
You saw him leaning on your brother’s arm,
struggling to stand.

Your uncle came in the next morning. ‘Freddie is no more,’ he said.

You did not know how to react.
While you struggled to come to terms with it, someone asked you to buy red bangles.
They were for your mother, they said. You complied.
On the way back you saw father lying in a coffin in the hearse. You realized he was gone, it was sinking in now. The vacuum was getting bigger.

At home, they made mother wear a red saree and the bangles you had bought. Just like a bride, a newly wed.
As your father left home with the final prayer,
a few women stepped ahead, and broke Ma’s bangles with a spoon.
It was a ritual you were told. You had played your part in getting your mother to follow it.

Before they shut the coffin, you bent to kiss his forehead. It was cold and sweaty, unlike the warm touch of your father.

As the years trickled past you, his memories dried up.
Earlier you could hear his voice in your head,
you could remember him egging you on the race track as you ran to pass the baton at the relay.
You could see him, out of the corner of your eye, running with you on the inside of the track.
You could feel his touch as he picked you up when you had collapsed after giving your team a winning lead.
Over the years, that egging voice has morphed into yours.
The smell you can’t remember.
The touch has faded too. You can only remember how his skin felt both cold and sweaty when you kissed him goodbye.
You will forget that too, you say. It’s like an empty word whose meaning is draining away.

You remember being disconsolate when the cemetery was running out of space and you had to let go of his last remains.
You took time to know it was okay; you could not hold on forever to shreds that would remind you of him.

And then you grew up. Into a woman.
You began to understand what Pa meant to you.
You hung on to the positives, only because you had suffered a sudden loss.
Slowly you stumbled on the skeletons.
His frailties, his shortcomings.
You realized you had lost a person you did not even know.

Even then you remember him for the independence he empowered you with,
how he lifted the burden of conventionality off your shoulders,
and yet wanted his wife to tread the conventional path.

You struggled with this duality. You forgot he was only human.

You realized a lot of memories you created of him were second-hand ones,
some passed down to you through your mother or your aunts,
some you had gathered through hearsay.

You had created your own idealized virtual image of him.
That was your guarded cave you retreated to whenever you wanted to think of him.

You have blown apart the cave now.
It was all unreal.
You had glossed over the vices,
even covered the glitches with wallpaper.
Yet the faults remain.

Yes they do.
Yes, you built your own illusion.
An illusion that helped you through the dark years,
memories that egged you on,
to make you the woman you are.

I have never lost someone whose memories I would have to hang on to.
Yet when I do, I wish I can deal with it like you did,
so that when everything turns to dust,
when the jigsaw falls apart,
I can still smell the fragrance in the picture.




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