Thursday, November 26, 2009

Not waving, but drowning

Elizabeth Kuhbler-Ross theorized that grief is a continuum starting with denial, moving through anger and depression to finally, acceptance. But as anyone who has experienced it first hand will tell you, grief is a Sisyphean struggle. One swings between the stages, starting one day with anger ending with denial or another with acceptance funneling into depression...human nature trumps any effort to sequence or categorize it.

I have been watching the television programmes marking the first anniversary of the carnage in Mumbai on 26/11/2008. The media is speaking to ordinary people, survivors and those who have lost someone close. There is a commonality I have year on, there is a significant difference between those who have experienced a personal loss and those who have survived or have been mere observers of the Golgotha that was 26/11. There is a wet deadness in the eyes of those who are grieving. No Duchenne smiles, no tolerance for frivolous banter, an emotional distance...

Having met several people who have experienced similar losses in the past year, I have seen the same deadness in their eyes. They use the same words, in the same flat tone. "I look at people laughing and enjoying themselves and I wonder how they do it. I could do it before but I don't remember how. Wonder if I'll ever feel the same or anything, any more..." I feel the numbness they speak of. It is like my soul has disconnected from my physical body. I have become a functioning, living, breathing, eating third party emotional zombie...

The night Shekhar died, something broke in me. I don't know how to fix it. I have been told that over time the pointedness of the pain will wear off, acceptance will come to stay and resilience will out. But I know that even though the wound may heal, the scar will remain. The damage has been done...time will tell if it is reversible, if at all. In the interim, that person I see swimming in the sea of grief is me and...I am not waving, I am drowning...


Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning.
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning...

From Not Waving But Drowning by Stevie Smith

Friday, November 6, 2009

A little sob in the spine

I started this blog with an audience of only one in mind, as therapy, an expression of what I could not articulate when I spoke. Why then such a public platform? Why not just stick to the journals I wrote ever since I can remember?

My life has been documented in the banal inanities of everyday living, the small crises that buffet the day...on paper with a fountain pen, in numbered copybooks of all shapes and sizes, marking years, journeys, destinations in Bowdlerized words...who knows who might read them and know the tortured soul I truly am?

I remember Shekhar wanting to read what I wrote. "I'm sure you're writing about me..." he would say. "Everything is not about you," I would reply. He would hover and find reasons to peek over my shoulder as I wrote. Soon after he died, the journals became about him. Every page was a letter to him, a litany of what one would be afraid to say to a person who was still alive. In death there is no privacy, everything is accessible...there is no place to hide, no secrets to keep, no approval to seek, no permission to grant...Communication between the dead and the living is the most honest it can be...but it is not enough. Your words float into the ether. There are no consequences...

Hence the blog - to make oneself reach out and know that someone, somewhere might be touched, might know your pain, might a world that is bolting past your stillness, it is a cry to be validated, acknowledged as still living.

Vladimir Nabokov the author of Lolita said, "I don't write to touch hearts. I don't even want to affect minds very much. What I really want to produce is the little sob in the spine of the artist-reader." I find myself agreeing with him, the only difference being - I write because there is a little sob in my appeared 18 months ago. Shekhar put it there...


As soon as one writes one miraculously ignores the current circumstances of one's life, yet our happiness or misery leads us to write in a certain way. When we are happy, our imagination is more dominant. When miserable, the power of memory takes over.

Natalia Ginzburg