Sunday, November 24, 2013


The boys hated my last post. They thought it was lazy and did not fulfil the contract with the reader. In my defence, there were two reasons I chose to post a video of a song… apart from the title ‘I grieve’ and the haunting music of Peter Gabriel, the lyrics suddenly had a new resonance. Especially, the line from the chorus – life goes on and on and on… Then there is the change in tempo towards the second half of the song. I have realized that much against my will and resistance…life does go on and on and on…relentless, overwhelming and at times, in what seems like an unending spiral…but with grace, always with a touch of grace. The change in tempo reminds me that despite all the pain, there is hope for alleviation.

I was hit by a bout of nostalgia recently after listening to some music that I was passionate about in the past. Like any of the senses, it brought back memories…and with them the freshness of a pain that I am trying to move away from. It’s not funny when you can put a time and place to something you heard for the first time or what became a signature of treasured and shared moments or a totem of love.

It means that I cannot listen to Enigma without thinking of Zambia or Deep Forest without envisioning the Western Ghats. This music is embedded at a cellular level, not just in my memory but the boys’ too. It brings recollections of long drives, mountains made green by rain and mist rising from the bowels of valleys…just the four of us…happy, together, whole…

Shekhar was a romantic, something he demonstrated most ably by choosing music that expressed what he could not say. I remember Foreigner’s ‘Waiting for a girl like you,’ Rick Astley’s, ‘Never gonna give you up,’ and ‘Drive’ by Cars were songs he recommended I listen to when we first started going out. When he shared his precious stash of cassette tapes with me, there was no question about my place in his life. Over the years, he continued to search and find other musical missives…my life had a background score.

I will admit when I heard some of the songs again, I was gutted. But listening to them on repeat has somehow sweetened the pain of remembrance…those were good times. At least I had those…

Now, as I find myself changing, the choice of music has changed too. New music defines my score – remastered and remixed. It includes the sound of our older son’s soul playing on his guitar, songs our younger one chooses for me and whatever resonates at some subconscious level and pounds to the beat of my heart. I feel blessed. These are good times too…even if life does go on and on and on…


Yes, they're sharing a drink they call loneliness
But it's better than drinkin' alone

Sing us a song you're the piano man
Sing us a song tonight
Well we're all in the mood for a melody
And you got us feeling alright

From “Piano Man” by Billy Joel


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Need I say more...

"I Grieve"

Peter Gabriel
It was only one hour ago
It was all so different then
There's nothing yet has really sunk in
Looks like it always did
This flesh and bone
It's just the way that you would tied in
Now there's no-one home

 I grieve for you
You leave me
'so hard to move on
Still loving what's gone
They say life carries on
Carries on and on and on and on

The news that truly shocks is the empty empty page
While the final rattle rocks its empty empty cage
And I can't handle this

I grieve for you
You leave me
Let it out and move on
Missing what's gone
They say life carries on
They say life carries on and on and on

Life carries on
In the people I meet
In everyone that's out on the street
In all the dogs and cats
In the flies and rats
In the rot and the rust
In the ashes and the dust
Life carries on and on and on and on
Life carries on and on and on

It's just the car that we ride in
 A home we reside in
The face that we hide in
The way we are tied in
And life carries on and on and on and on
Life carries on and on and on

Did I dream this belief?
Or did I believe this dream?
Now I will find relief
 I grieve...

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Run first…choose your destination later

It has been a challenging year, thus far. For the most part, I have found myself at the receiving end of many lessons from the Universe, which was why a horoscope prediction this week made me smile – “You will make plans…and the Universe will laugh.”

Shekhar and I had that in common. We were both planners, with plans A, B and C always in place. But his going reduced my vision and ability to look forward. I relied on the next best thing. Lists. Each tick mark, a step towards an unknown destination. I did not think of outcomes and what's next. It was just enough to take one step and live one day, at a time. This telescoping was very useful. It made the trivial extraneous. It made fear redundant. Not planning liberated me from the tedium of thinking through and working out all options and scenarios. This has been a blessing in disguise. It has allowed God’s grace to work. He has carried me.

As creatures of habit and bias, we struggle to live in the moment, to breathe deeply and actually be present. I have learnt this the hard way. In the past five years, I have clung to memory, to the pain of remembrance, living in the dark abyss of anger and bitterness, victimized by a past I could not rewrite and a future that refused to unfold. I was a failed state and the Universe was laughing at me. I did what I could do…I got out of its way.

It is only then, I found His grace become visible. Unplanned things happened, what needed to happen, happened seamlessly, unknown people appeared as angels, familiars became God’s instruments …helping hands were everywhere. Hiding in the dark depths of despair, I was hard to help. Something shifted at the five year mark this year, I allowed a hand to reach out and pull me to where I could see some light. Letting it guide me, I took one step and another…and the light became brighter. It is where I stand now. I know one misstep can send me hurtling back to the bottom. It has happened before.

The key difference is - I am now looking up. Not letting the light out of my sight. It is difficult and the need to retract and return is like a siren song floating up from the abyss. I resist its call. Just like I resist the urge to plan. I have only now understood, nothing I could ever think or imagine would equal or surpass what the Universe has planned for me. I have surrendered to its will and found that…the Universe is laughing not at but with me.


Somewhere there's a star that's shining
So bright that I can see you smile…
From “Things my father said” by Black Stone Cherry


I’ve done it, I’ve done it!

Guess what I’ve done!

Invented a light that plugs into the sun.

The sun is bright enough,

The bulb is strong enough,

But, oh, there’s only one thing wrong…

The cord ain’t long enough.

Inventionby Shel Silverstein

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

What about today?

Sixty four months and another birthday looming…Should one continue to mark the birthday of a dead loved one? Why does the day still hold the power to bring you to your knees?

I remember the first time I met Shekhar…it was a strange happenstance. A lift that would not stop. Trapped by fate in close quarters with no choice but to acknowledge each other. There were no fireworks, just embarrassed laughter. There was no meaning, no significance. It was only after a few meetings that the why became apparent. Life had brought us to a place and awareness where we recognized each other as souls that had travelled together before and were meant to travel together again through another lifetime. A soul mate? That is just a term we use…I am sure there are many in each journey. Families of souls have been said to travel together. Some are bound to us by blood, some by circumstance but it is the ones that we recognize that make the journey worthwhile. Strangers at first, the connection that arcs beyond what can be explained by mere contact is a spiritual experience that defies logic and rationale. It happens with that person with whom the conversation assumes a depth of previous knowing, the one who responds to your unasked questions, touches the core of your very being and understands your unexpressed dreams, needs and fears…

On my birthday that year, Shekhar spent more than half his salary to ensure that we celebrated in a way neither of us would forget. It was a tradition he carried through our time together…birthdays did not mean a day…they meant anticipation, build up, a crescendo and then as he loved to say when the day was done, “It’s still your birthday somewhere in the world.”

The boys have carried the tradition forward for me and expect the same level of celebration for their own. We relive Shekhar’s dictum by making it seem like the day will never end. It is Shekhar’s birthday that poses a problem… expressing religious gratitude for giving him to us is par for the course now. But each passing year makes me wonder at the cosmic joke played on me by a God with an unfathomable sense of humour…what do I do with a day that makes me both jubilant and wrenches my soul? A day, I wish, the calendar would skip…

I have been told that at the level of consciousness there is no beginning or end, the soul’s journey is a continuum of shedding one body and donning another in an effort to evolve. We choose our lessons for each lifetime as we enter the world…then we forget what we have chosen the moment we are born so that life can be explored anew. We leave when we have learnt the lessons we came to this world for…time remains a human construct, the day of our birth into one life just a milestone in our eternal journey…I envy the fact that Shekhar’s lessons were done before mine. His birthday is a grim reminder that at the level of my soul, I chose to be here without him…to learn and grow through grieving for him. Although that begs the question – why, I now understand that this parting is just a separation in this physical plane…I obviously have many more lessons to learn but there is a certain peace in knowing that he still travels with me.

Happy Birthday, my angel!


It is the secret of the world that all things subsist and do not die, but only retire a little from sight and afterwards return again. Nothing is dead; men feign themselves dead, and endure mock funerals… and there they stand looking out of the window, sound and well, in some strange new disguise.

Ralph Waldo Emerson
The sun is breaking in your eyes
To start a new day.
This broken heart can still survive
With a touch of your grace.
Shadows fade into the light.
I am by your side,
Where love will find you.

From the lyrics of “What about now?” by Daughtry


Sunday, July 28, 2013

Reminiscence bump

I have recently had several opportunities to revisit pieces of me from the past. Parts of me that were forgotten, lay buried or have lived on the edges of my memory through the years…it has been a peculiar experience to encounter this stranger to me, the one my friends talk about in the third person…the Jo I knew would have, could have, should have…did, said…

Joan Didion wrote in 1968 that, “Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.” I am one of those people. Over the years, I have had a compulsive need to log my life in notebooks. I started early and along the way although I have lost some of those records of memory and the therapeutic aspects of talking to oneself on the page, I find some fragments live on in other people’s recollection of me. Different times, different people, different memories…

Funnily, when you are with people from different stages of your life, you recapture some of your old spirit. Becoming for that period, the person you were. It has been surprising to relearn about who I was in the eyes of others. Was I really that person? If I was, where did I go? Who is this person I see in the mirror every morning?

In her book, “Time Warped,” Claudia Hammond speaks of the reminiscence bump, which refers to the fact that we are most likely to vividly remember experiences we had between the ages of 15 and 25, largely because of the novelty. This is the period that records the largest number of firsts and ties into when we are forming our unique identity.

I met Shekhar during this period of my life. Our time together was full of firsts and the memories are both strong and vivid but I am learning I have other firsts, ones that came before Shekhar. The ones I recently rediscovered…sublimated below the grime of years gone by. Made shiny and new by friends, who I have not met for decades…our mutual absence from each other’s lives making certain memories sharper and others fade into insignificance. 

The reminiscence bump has been known to recur for those who undergo major transformations in identity later in life. It has taken me five years to reach a point where I am willing to let go of the sadness, to look at not what was taken away but what was given, to stand at the threshold of such a transformation… I have and am accumulating many more firsts after Shekhar. As I forge this new identity, part old self, part consolidation of who I was with and because of him, part damaged, part regenerated…I cannot wait to meet the me I am becoming.


We are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at four a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were.

Joan Didion, Slouching towards Bethlehem



Thursday, June 20, 2013

Statute of Limitations

I watched the Reluctant Fundamentalist recently and encountered the term ‘Iddat’ for the first time. In Islam, the Hadith states that a woman should observe the mourning rituals for a period of four months and ten days after divorce from or death of a spouse, no longer. There are very specific rules to follow during this period but after that grieving ends.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), released in May this year, has included bereavement in the diagnostic criteria for Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), in which five out of nine symptoms should be exhibited and if demonstrated for two weeks or longer would need medication and treatment. It implies that grief should ideally end in two months and if not, is pathological.
I stand at 62 months today, way past the statute of limitations society, religion and science puts on grief. I will admit the nature has changed but it does not diminish the pain of separation from my loved one, the loss of someone I loved more than life itself.
I remember immediately after, the GP put me on some very strong anti-depressants. I found myself vibrating at an unearthly frequency, rocking my body unconsciously and trying to get a full breath. I went back to him and said I could not take his recommended medication. He gave me Ignatia instead, which I checked on the net was homeopathic medication for women hysterical with grief. Hysterical? Me? I hadn’t shed a tear in the first 24 hours.
The nights were the hardest to get through. I craved sleep to shut down my mind but medication was hard to come by. A friend gave me some for the first few nights. I took one at bedtime each night and let sleep blanket me in the security of its darkness. My mother arranged for more but it was conditional and rationed on good behaviour. After the first two weeks when people left, I was alone at night with the medication and alcohol.  The fear was I would choose an easy way out to end it all. I will not deny that the thought did cross my mind but the anxious and troubled faces of my children kept me on the straight and narrow.
I revisited the darkness of those first months and then the passing years while reading Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala a few days ago. Her memoir of surviving the 2004 Tsunami that took away her husband, two boys and parents in one fell swoop has messed me up. I find it hard to breathe in the realization that it was my birthday. We were on the sea with friends in a Junk, celebrating while disaster had wiped out a huge chunk of humanity and for this one surviving individual…
I have now realized that there can be no statute of limitations on grief…it remains embedded in the foundation of surviving life, it lives and breathes in memories, photographs, songs, snatches of writing, smells, gestures, in every sense…just when you think you have travelled far into your journey of recovery, a brief glimpse of life as it was can bring you to the extreme rawness of your separation from it.
As years layer on themselves, it is hard not to think of how it could or would have been if…but as I fall off the wagon, I pick myself up yet again. Life does that to you, it makes you hunger for a better tomorrow, a painless rising from sleep and a yearning for a semblance of wholeness. I have found some of it by not seeing Shekhar as separate, gone, lost…he is here, integrated in me and in grieving for him, I grieve for me. That’s the paradox…I am not dead yet.


I have gone ahead despite the pounding in the heart that says: Turn Back.

Erica Jong


The nights are so unkind
Bring back those nights when I held you beside me

Un-cry these tears
I cried so many nights
Un-break my heart

“Un-break my heart” by Toni Braxton



Sunday, May 12, 2013

Speak politely to an enraged dragon

Disclaimer: This is an unashamed expression of personal frustration. I am not responsible for any feelings of irritation, discomfort or amusement that may result from reading this post.

This past week has been challenging in many ways and I hope you will understand why on certain days I don’t like people very much.

Life is a bitch…

Yesterday, our downstairs neighbour’s dog attacked our younger son. This has been an ongoing issue ever since they brought her into their home as a sweet little pup over six months ago. Her aggression and hostility has been a burr under our saddle despite our somewhat feeble attempts to befriend her. We have put up with her nipping at our heels, chasing us down the driveway and making it unsafe to leave the house without ensuring she was restrained. As the ever protective mother, I stood outside our neighbour’s door to express my anger at their inability to train their dog. I waited until the lady of the house deigned to make an appearance, but it was not worth her attention. Her son, however, told me in no uncertain terms that we had not made the required effort to ‘make friends’ with their pet and had we spent time doing so, this would not have happened.  Wow!  You will agree from any standpoint that it was an irrational argument and one which I gave up on since instead of an apology I got an earful about my failings. Having slept over it, it struck me this morning…in the past four years, I have never been invited to associate with these neighbours or been party to any attempts to befriend me or my children. So, by their book, we are only fit to fraternize with their dog and not them!  The sheer gall and arrogance…

Texting madness    

While driving home late in the evening the other day, I was stuck behind a car that was slow and weaving rather strangely. I thought the driver might be drunk until I saw the light of his smartphone above his steering wheel. He was texting. I was peeved and to never lose a teaching moment, told our sons, who were in the car with me, that this is highly inappropriate behaviour. I was rather surprised when the car turned into the building next to ours. Feeling the need to make a point, I parked and walked up to the young man saying, “You must realize that by texting while driving you not only endangered your life but also of my children and me.” He was good enough to say he was sorry and then the zinger as I turned to walk away from a very civilized conversation, “You didn’t say thank you,” he said. “I don’t understand what you mean,” I replied. “You should have said thank you because I apologized even when I didn’t have to,” he said. Sorry begets thank you…that’s a new one for me…

Leftist leanings

In another enlightening driving incident this week, I was turning left at a T-junction when a car sped up on my left and scraped me in an attempt to get past. I pulled over just a little ahead but did not get out of the car. A six foot four man in a white pathan suit knocked on my window. I rolled it down a couple of inches and said rather aggressively, “Who overtakes from the left on a turn?” To which he replied, “There was more than enough space for a car on your left…You should learn how to drive correctly.” My jaw dropped. Really?

People say the darndest things

Over the past five years, people have shown stellar compassion in many ways but some statements like, “Millions of people die every day,” “You are not the only widow,” “Get over it,” have reflected an amazing lack of grace. It was not only the content but also the source that made it feel like someone had put a finger into an un-anaesthetized, open wound and moved it around. Last week, I got another gem to add to my list of things you should not say to someone who has lost a loved one, “You can’t fathom the pain of knowing the person you love is alive but with someone else instead of you.” Of course I don’t, you idiot!…I can’t understand personal choices that result in self-inflicted pain, I can’t fathom how excruciating it is to be able to call someone on their birthday and most definitely can’t work out how, if circumstances change, the person you love may suddenly become available, giving you a second chance to make things right. I do understand, however, that death is irrevocable and sometimes words that come out of your mouth are too…


So in the spirit of irreverence, I have now accepted an invitation for high tea with my neighbour’s dog. It will be an opportunity to acquaint myself with her wonderfully amiable demeanour and possibly make a BFF. I will drive on the extreme left to the sylvan surroundings of our rendezvous, while mailing and waiting for…a second chance…


“I'm making a list
I'm making a list of things I must say
For politeness,
And goodness and kindness and gentleness
Sweetness and rightness:
Pardon me
How are you?
Excuse me
Bless you
May I?
Thank you
If you know some that I've forgot,
Please stick them in you eye!”
Shel Silverstein, Where the Sidewalk Ends

“A dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot...”
Robert A. Heinlein, Friday

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A lustrum…

I broke a tea mug the other day. It was one of a his and her pair with Shekhar’s and my name on our individual mugs. The day was our 23rd wedding anniversary. A sign?

Yesterday it was five years since he passed away. We just finished the akhand path in his memory and my thoughts, as always, are maudlin at these milestones. How can the years pass and the moments still carry such weight? How can I be here and at that moment at the same time? I never quite understand.

I remember the day my chartered accountant was filling out my tax returns for the first time after Shekhar. When we came to the section on my marital status, I said married and he said single. I found it hard to agree and still do. For all means and purposes, I am married. This was not the end of a relationship, a parting of ways by choice…death did us part.

When you get married, you know deep down inside that whenever it happens one of you will go before the other. There are a fortunate few who do pass together, but for most it is likely that one will be left behind. I prayed it wouldn’t be me.  I didn’t believe that I would be able to survive without Shekhar, to breathe and live in a world that was marked by his absence…

For the first few days, I stood at the gate looking at how people went about their lives when mine had changed so dramatically. But had it? The sun still rose, bright and beautiful. I slept a chemically assisted sleep, I woke. My appetite disappeared then reappeared. I took one step after another, I moved, I breathed, I talked, I cried…I was amongst the living, so I lived. Without him.

In one of my favourite movies, Phenomenon, John Travolta’s character is hit by lightning and develops extraordinary abilities to read, think, grasp and understand. He meets then falls in love with a mother of two, played by Kyra Sedgwick. It turns out that his new found abilities are actually the result of a fatal brain tumour and he has a very short time to live. The movie for me is defined by a scene toward the end where they lie together and he asks her, “Will you love me for the rest of my life?” and she replies, “No, I will love you for the rest of mine.”

It is how I feel about Shekhar. A cup breaks, marital status on a form changes…I put one step in front of another and suddenly five years have passed. I have no illusions about life standing still. It will go on, more years will pass, circumstances will change, I will change but this I do know for certain, I will love him for the rest of my life.


Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.

Lao Tzu

Of our hurts we make monuments of survival. If we survive.

Joyce Carol Oates

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Curved Straight Line


In the fifth year since Shekhar, everything has eroded…memory, discipline, focus, joy, commitment…I have exhausted all resources – mental, emotional and physical. I yearn to wake up from what seems like an unending dream, to see the glimmer of light at the end of a long tunnel, the other side of the mountain I have climbed…to breathe an untethered breath.

In the interim, the erosion of memory has served Shekhar well. It has chipped away the unpleasant, smoothened rough edges and created this wonderful being who was human but is now an angel of a better nature. I look at myself and feel unworthy…I think of him and nothing is good enough. He is now a gold standard - impossible to match, to live up to…I live everyday with the guilt that comes from growing old when he died young…sensing, feeling, living moments he never will. That’s the compassion…the anger speaks to the fact that he is not here when I need him.

This part of the journey is familiar. I have been here before…and despite the pain, I keep returning to visit it, like picking on a scar until it bleeds. Could it be that I am walking in circles? Circles were Shekhar’s favourite shape…a curved straight line, he called them. I like triangles. Sharp, pointed…edgy. Therein lies the rub…I still use Shekhar’s words to define my life. They make more sense. But if the words are not mine...

As another milestone approaches, I am realizing circles are not my shape. No more boundaries, circumferences, curved straight lines…just edges and falling off the map.


Chubte kaante yaadon ke, daaman se chunta hoon

Girti deewaron ke aanchal mein zinda hoon

(Rough Translation: I pick the prickly thorns of your memories from the edges of my clothes

I am alive in the cradle of their crumbling walls)

From the lyrics of ‘Yeh hai meri kahani’ by Strings


Saturday, January 19, 2013

The look of love

Three conversations I had with Shekhar in the week before he passed away still echo in my ears. In the course of life, we do not give what we say enough respect and even less to what we hear. Would it be better if we knew that the words that escape would be the final say on a matter? I can’t say...can you?

I still remember where we were when we had this conversation. He was tying his laces, meticulously as always, and I was standing by resenting that he would not look at me as I spoke. The morning light was ambient in the foyer of the house. “For the past eighteen years, I have given you and the children my all. I am done playing second fiddle. It’s my turn now,” I said. Shekhar continued to focus on his laces, then looked up at me. His eyes saw me. Past the crumpled night clothes and the frumpy dressing gown, straight to my soul. “This is the right place, the right time,” I continued. “Don’t for one minute think I don’t understand and know what you have done for us and the family…you are right, it is your turn,” he replied, “we’ll work out how to do this…”

Our 18th anniversary a few days later was a memorable day, I got my driver’s license and Shekhar ran home from work with flowers! I got through on the first attempt. It had taken him two. He turned to the boys and said, “Your Mom’s much smarter than I am.” Then as we proceeded to make plans for leasing a car for me, he said, “Great! Now we can take the boys off the school bus.” I lost it. “The idea is to give me more freedom not get pulled back into doing the school runs,” I said. We were sitting on the stairs. I pulled away. Shekhar was contrite, “That’s not what I meant…” I never clarified what he did mean. I was too angry at the contradiction of our earlier conversation.

Later that day, we sat at the dining table deciding where to go for dinner to celebrate. Shekhar’s heart was set on fondue…we looked at all the places we could go but there was nothing close by and we didn’t want to drive into the city on a school night. So, we settled on French food, minus the fondue. To make up for his gaffe, Shekhar asked, “So what will we do on our 50th anniversary?” I had thought to myself, today is just not his day. “Why 50th? Think of the 20th, the 25th, even…they come before that, you know,” I couldn’t resist being snarky. He went quiet but I knew that he was trying to tell me that he was there and would always be there. For now, the 50th was as far as he could imagine.

The boys took several photos of us, the food and the location that night. These were the last photos of Shekhar alive. In one, he’s looking at me as I look at the camera. It is a look of pure love. As I looked at it later, I realized the words didn’t matter. I was loved. I was visible. I mattered.

Do I regret what I said? No, I have no regrets…everything that needed to be said at that point in time had been said. We never pulled our punches, Shekhar and I. Ours were not fights, they were gentle reminders of promises made. A fact I am grateful for because two days later, he was gone.

On my birthday this year, the boys and I finally found fondue in the most unlikely of places. As we sat on the terrace of the restaurant in the winter sun, I know Shekhar was there. Not for the fondue. For me.


I see me through your eyes
Breathing new life, flying high
Your love shines the way into paradise
So I offer my life as a sacrifice
I live through your love
I see you
From the lyrics of “I see you” by Songwriters: Simon Franglen, Thaddis Harrell and James Horner