Ninety Eight

This is where the pen hovers, trying to incant the right term of endearment,

And this will be the most well-planned line in all the prose to follow. This will be the line to shyly admit that writing a letter is a self-conscious moment of shedding the towel at the pool before jumping in. Here will then be something that’s akin to clearing a throat – an apology for this awkward start, and/or an apology for poor legibility. This line will be a little revelation of setting, context, on why the author is resorting to write, why today was a good day, to what this author owes you the honour. This will be a line that will feature any unit of language that means “let me get straight to the point” –

And this line, will be a tender confession.

This line will madly pulsate with the jitters that follow an act of passion in white-heat. This line will sew in one argument. This line will hammer in the next. This line will be the breath that comes before a kiss. This line will quiver like the tingle down a spine.

But, this line – it will temper heady boldness, dispel the moment. This line will half-heartedly cast a doubt and mention a slew of options that will hurt the sentiment of the letter – mostly there to prepare the author for a worst-case scenario. Followed by something that says, “I would completely understand”.

This line will gingerly meander into another warm idea. This one will ask a “never mind, what about you?” question. How is the reader feeling, doing, placed in life? Remember that time when this happened, and that made you, the reader, laugh, cry, angry? God, that was perfect, perfectly timed, perfectly silly, wasn’t it?

Here, the author will pause, looking down to smooth the wrinkles the iron-box missed, silently half-chuckle, and observe – “time flies”.

This line will then look you in your eyes, burn into your soul, and bare something the confession had always hidden – a truth that will make you go back to the confession and reread its careful, casual wording. This one will luxuriously take its time to let you steep in what you’ve really been asked for: your time, your ears, your allegiance, your heart.

This line will be a triumphant slow-spreading smile that knows you’ve been lured in by words. This line will be that innocuous glance a girl gives you when she knows you noticed the most beautiful thing about her.

And this line will hold you when you fall in sweet surrender. This line will be a make-up kiss. This line will say something funny to make up for pushing you to the near edge of trust (with a new layer of joke hidden in these parentheses). This line will let you know that you are not the only one naked in the cold, shivering.

This line will apologize for being such a bother. And this one will apologize for boring you and/or making you squint at such poor handwriting.

This line will be the one long-winding, singular point stretched to unnecessary near-distortion, that’s actually killing time before reaching the end of the page. This will be a last point remembered and added hurriedly, spilling into the margin (if there is one) showing skills to put even a contortionist to shame, damn imprudent use of space.

Here, the heart will thank you.

Here, the pen will hover again, wondering what intimacy to assume,
And here a name of infinite meaning will be signed.

PS: This will be a line that says the author doesn’t want to say goodbye.
PPS: Ever.

For all the ghosts of unrequited postcards and emails.

Ninety Seven

Our father’s father had died as Mr. Ashwath.

A name well-earned by a man who sired 13 children from two wives. A name befitting a grand patriarch with a bearing exactly like that of a big, regal banyan.

Yesterday, it was time for us to finally find Mr. Ashwath’s 11th son, his favourite – our father – a name.

We hadn’t thought of one yet. The necessity of having to do so had evaded us long enough. When father had had his first heart attack, my elder-by-six-hours brother, T1, had cleared his throat, and I had known what was coming.

T1 had gingerly said, to no one and everyone, “We need to find him a name”.

Mother had slapped him and left the room.

Nobody wants to prepare for death. Nobody wants an imposition that permanent. Everybody believes that thinking about and dealing with impending death, actually makes it happen.

Oh mum. Death is hardly the malaise that living on is.

Soon, worrying about how long Father would last became a priority bigger than how he’d last. He had ambled on, tremulous like T1’s voice that day. A sputtering kidney. An unrelenting left arm. His blood thinned by medicines by day, and thickened by sly gulab jamuns at night.

Father had known. All along. He’d observe his bustling, hysterical wife with unsettling serenity. He’d caress our hands and heads every chance he got, memorize T1’s left dimple, my unruly hair. He’d recount over and over, stories of T1 and me – how we were born a sunrise apart. The most glorious, fearsome, momentous morning of his life.

If father had to be distilled into one name, one word, what would it be? A faulty Brahma who’d fix broken planes with sellotape? A work-in-progress Yudhishthira whose knowledge admitted its bounds with an “ask your mother”? An irascible Shiva? A generous Sagara? A barely pious, but true prince of a Sukumara?

The difficult really wasn’t what his name could be.
It was, just what couldn’t his name be?

Wasn’t he the beginning Om? Wasn’t he immortal Amartya?

I’d once asked him why we choose a name after someone’s passing. Shouldn’t a person choose his own name, in his lifetime? I was certain I wanted to be remembered as some offshoot of Batman. He’d laughed and said that names cannot be claimed, that’s immodest. But, if I had been a middling Batman all my life, after I was gone, I sure could be called Batman.

The actual superhero then had to calmly break up the battle of rights to the title that raged between his two proteges.

He later continued, on a rainy day in his autumn, that things are most accurately named, once they come into finite being. A stone. A species of chameleon. A novel. An invention. And so, a person’s name has to transcend the trap of identification – and become identity. In something as organic as a person, being born over and over, the best time to find such a perfect definition is when they cease to be born. Ever again.

To name someone after they have left, is to etch a full-stop of the most fascinating, meaningful shape.

What then, was Father to us? The beginnings of wisdom. The light switched on in the middle of a screaming nightmare. The filter coffee in the morning. The constant start over, the eternity of optimism. The reward of a hard night. Today. Every day. The glory of that sunrise between my brother and I.

And so, this morning, we cremated Dr. Uday Ashwath.

For CEB. Just as promised.