Monday, December 1, 2014

The empty seat

Shekhar had three main material aspirations, two of which he fulfilled in his lifetime. The third, to be at Wimbledon watching the matches at centre court, didn’t come to pass while he was alive. His organisation, aware of his desire, gave the boys and me four passes in his memory just after Shekhar died. “Take whoever you want as the fourth,” I was told. It was an odd suggestion and a daunting one to fulfil. Who would qualify? Why? The only person who came to mind was gone. So, instead of struggling over the decision, the boys and I went on our own. We settled into our seats in a full audience, keeping the fourth next to me conspicuously empty. For others, it may have seemed like such a wasted opportunity…but to me, it was as if Shekhar was there. That empty seat belonged to him. For that glorious day of sun, tennis, champagne, strawberries and cream, we channelled Shekhar’s excitement…for those few precious hours, he lived again.

On our family holiday this year, we met a gentleman from Canada. He was travelling alone on work. As we met on two locations, back to back, a kinship developed. One evening at dinner, the boys and I sat at a table for four, while our new friend sat at another table. I wondered if I should ask him to join us but hesitated. In a recent e-mail exchange, he echoed my hesitation but his reason gave me pause. He said he would have joined us but it felt like what seemed to be an empty seat was actually occupied…by Shekhar. It was both a touching and sensitive observation. It made me realize I carry the metaphorical empty seat within me all the time. It’s Shekhar’s real estate in my life. Only it really isn’t empty…

I often wonder if I make Shekhar out to be more than he was and remember our love as greater and more meaningful. After all, memory has its failings. Living people make mistakes, they fall, they get up, they apologise and redeem themselves but dead people become saints. We build edifices in their remembrance, monuments of their memory and create absent personas where all negativities fade. I asked my older one about it. The boys were not just the witnesses to our marriage and love, but also its true outcome and legacy. They interact more with people than I do these days. “Dad was exceptional,” he replied, “there are very few people like him in this world.” I relaxed in the truth.

What I know, and not just remember, is that Shekhar was a very special man…he was light, fun, secure,  not conflicted, whole…and he loved me with a complete acceptance of who I was/am…as I did/do him. We complemented each other, like yin and yang, reflected each other in many ways, were remarkably similar in some but most importantly, we brought out the best in each other. We became better people because of each other…and that’s what makes it hard. Who are you when an intrinsic piece of you is amputated and the phantom, is just that, a phantom?

That is the thing about grief…it can become a habit. And it is a very hard one to break. Grief focuses your attention so acutely on what is missing that life gets remaindered. Your search for lost parts of yourself, makes you miss the new ones that emerge…and they do. Shekhar defined me in many ways but he did not define my grief. I did that all by myself. And honestly, I have not done a very good job…but then, I am still alive and can redeem myself…Shekhar may yet be surprised enough to fall off his empty seat.


“I said nothing for a time, just ran my fingertips along the edge of the human-shaped emptiness that had been left inside me.”

Haruki Murakami, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman


“For in grief nothing "stays put." One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral?

But if a spiral, am I going up or down it?

How often -- will it be for always? -- how often will the vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say, "I never realized my loss till this moment"? The same leg is cut off time after time.”

C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed