50 CANDLES IN HEAVEN

This is a special tribute to an incredible woman who graced my life for a few years and left all too soon. Sometimes, even the briefest of influences impact our whole life. This is one such relationship. Over the past six years, I’ve written her several letters. It is just my way of coping with grief. Today I’d like to share a piece of this unique love with you all. Marie would have been 50 today, and I imagine the heavens might be lit up with 50 candles.

IMG_20180913_16505207 February, 2012.

Dear Marie,

Time slowed down the minute I walked into your hospital room yesterday. The contours of your frail body looked stark against the backdrop of clinically white sheets. But what followed me home was the vacant look in your eyes. It stilled my heart and I felt betrayed. But recognition slowly returned and you whispered, “Looking good”, like you always do when you see me. I have no recollection of my own response because somewhere in the long expanse of those few seconds, time had slowed down considerably.

Later, while feeding bland grains of rice into your reluctant mouth, I thought of all the meals we had cooked and eaten together. Do you remember how I couldn’t handle your spicy food, but gradually got addicted to it? Those flavours, your laughter, our shared dreams and thoughts, they have soaked into my skin.

You were my rock; and now it is I who awkwardly babbles words of encouragement to you. What do I know about your pain? All through it, you sat motionless; then with a sigh you said, “I’m tired”. That was the moment I knew you were giving up. It felt like the setting sun was taking everything with it and we were struggling to breathe.

As I write, I look at the darkness outside and try to understand the one within. Maybe you need to rest. Maybe I should be okay with it. But I forgot to say ‘I love you’, so will you hold on a little bit longer?

R

[Marie passed away on the 9th, before I had a chance to visit her again.]

IMG_20180913_16483927 September, 2015.

Dear Marie,

It seems like another lifetime when we were kissing each other’s flaws, blowing on burning wounds, our laughter spilling the chilled cocktails that you so enjoyed. Or was it just yesterday that we were confiding over kitchen counters, our words falling over each other, flavoring pots of your spiced curries. Time blurs and I lose myself in what was and what could have been. You continue to live in soulful poems, crop up in the lines of tuneful songs, smile from behind flaming orange suns. I step on the shards of my broken memories and the sting takes me back to you. They say closure is found in stillness, but when I try, the silence becomes your voice and it follows me wherever I go.

[Written two and a half years after her passing, on her 47th birthday.]

 

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27 September, 2018.

Dearest Marie,

There is a silence around me as I write; a silence so dense that I can almost touch it. I hear a distant laugh that sounds just like yours, but it halts right outside the window. It’s been over six years and yet there’s an empty space that nothing seems to fill.

Mostly I try to focus on the good memories, but every little pain reminds me of you too.  I have my own little collection of aches and pains now; although they seem ridiculously miniscule to what you went through. I remind myself of how your myopathic heart brought forth your warrior spirit. ‘The best we can do is find spectacular ways of dealing with our tragedies’, you would say. I try to find solace in words; sometimes I curl up inside thoughts and fall into reveries. Most times though, I flow like a river, unimpeded onto my own course, following my covert goals, unconcerned with the world. You always pushed me to be the best version of myself and I think you might have started being proud of me now.

Last week, we stopped by at your resting place and arranged flowers in your memory. The greenery and peace there are so perfect. I recounted how much you had loved my surprise bouquet on one of your birthdays. Maybe I should have sent you flowers more often. Maybe I should have written you letters while you could still read them.  Maybe what they say is right, that regret is stronger than gratitude.

You would have been 50 today and the air would have been redolent with ginger tea, Davidoff, Peach Schnapps and fried chicken. As the evening folds into the night, I shall raise a glass to the sky and whisper, “Happy birthday, Marie”. Surely it’s a myth that people become stars, but darling, twinkle a little brighter if you are one.

R.

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ENDNOTE:

The purpose of sharing these personal letters is just so they serve as a reminder of how we take people and love for granted. Good people are precious. Recognize and appreciate them. Celebrate life and smile a lot. Never say no to love because not everyone will value you and the ones who do will not stick around forever. So love with the wildest abandon while you can. Tomorrow might be too late.

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FLUORESCENCE

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Thanksgiving need not be one day in a year; it’s an emotion that must be felt and expressed as a frequent, if not daily, ritual. So, as I celebrate another year of my earnest and quiet life, this constitutes a toast to all that I’m grateful for. A life, by no means perfect or even remotely recommended, but profound all the same. To me, what enables an impassioned, bona fide life is the people who grace it. People who have taught me to sift the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. If it wasn’t for these little superintended tutorials, I would have strayed and how.

Recently, my friend, Gazala, wrote about how they nurtured their bashful little orchid plant that refused to flower. It took a year and a half of coaxing and whispering sweet-nothings for a beautiful white orchid to finally bloom. That’s how people are too; you dust them with rhythmic sprinklings of love and encouragement and they’ll flourish.

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Sometimes, love can feel smothering though; but it does well to understand where it comes from. This reminds me of one of the two times I’ve talked back to my mother. Dad being away all the time made mum over-protective about me. I wasn’t allowed to stay out late and it rattled me to think of all the parties, camps and adolescent fun I was missing out on. One day I got flustered enough to blurt, “What do you suppose I might do in the dark, that isn’t possible in daylight?” She was hurt and I bitterly regretted my outburst.

Around that time, an aunt was giving me stitching lessons. One day, she taught me how to use the basting thread. A basting thread is essentially used to temporarily hold the fabric together and removed once the work is complete. Parents are quite like those basting threads, holding us together until we’re ready to face the world on our own. Like a butterfly that flies in and softly rests on an outstretched hand, the realization settled in on me. Through the years, I became mum’s confidante and she, my anchor.

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There is a beauty in leading by example and I have a list of people to thank. Doting family and vintage friends, no doubt; but the unacquainted too. The ones who came tiptoeing into my life and gifted me fresh perspectives. The ones who inspired me by being who they are, sharing their ideas and fortuitously guiding me to execute my own. The strangeness and magnificence of life is authenticated by such associations. And before you know it, these kindred souls become the flourish to your ordinary life.

A couple of years ago, when I signed up for a songwriting course, I had no idea that I was setting out on a journey to find a part of me that I didn’t know existed. It was a fun experiment that not only reinforced my belief in myself but showed me how a person you never ever meet can influence you. My mentor, Mr. Pattinson opened up a world that intrigued my passionate heart. I became a diligent student who never defaulted on assignments, even while on an overseas holiday. To the procrastinator in me, that was a growth beyond any other.

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As the days get longer and hotter, I draw strength from the Gulmohar tree outside my window which flowers abundantly in this season. Like a Japanese baby’s first hanami (cherry blossom viewing), I’ve always taken this season seriously. The Gulmohar brings back memories of a long forgotten childhood when we used to play under its fiery red canopy and wait for its long seed cases to turn brown and hard, so we could rattle them all day. But what really makes the Gulmohar precious to me is an allegory that I have dearly held on to for years: that the flowering of this bountiful tree coincides with my birthday for a reason. I see it as Nature’s gift to me; a reminder that when the summers of life get unbearable, there is always a burst of hope to cling on to. That even as life hurts me, it hands me the idea that I inherently possess the grace to find my own fluorescence.

Despite my polychromatic weaknesses, I have come a long way. I am beholden to all who walk with me and lend a hand to help me execute this sometimes dark, sometimes sparkling life with a poise that can only come from genuine love. Here’s hoping that a decade from now when I revisit this page, I’d be just as grateful.

 

FROM EXASPERATING TO EXEMPLARY

 

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Most nights, the neighbourhood women would gather together after the day’s chores to pour their hearts out to each other. The tales were a jumble of this and that, a tirade so to speak, of the rigmarole that is marriage. There was not one woman in that cluster of huddled heads who would say something hopeful or different. This was a constant feature in the neighbourhood I stayed at while I was inching my way up to adulthood. Compared to this, the fairy tales of my childhood seemed largely phony. The collision of whimsy with reality doused something deep inside me. By the time I turned twenty-two, I was habitually sceptical. That’s the kind of apathy I took into my marriage.

My husband on the other hand, was full of beans. Always buoyant and talkative, he compensated for my lack of words and enthusiasm. The first couple of years were a disaster; a comedy of errors almost. I wondered if the Gods were amused enough with our union because we certainly weren’t. On hindsight, it seems like I was approximating the voices of those women from my past. I had tuned myself to believe the worst. At some point he lost patience and his hot-headedness took over. The dissent and rebellion blurred out the good parts. We were nice people underneath and had similarities too. But much like parallel lines that have a lot in common but never meet, our heads stayed rigidly divided. Even then, there were invisible threads that held us together.

One evening in the middle of some nondescript squabbling, I caught the distraught look on my little daughter’s face. It haunted me deep into the night. Kids are like little sponges, soaking up every little word, emotion and behaviour around them. The next day, my husband and I made a decision: that we would never argue in front of our daughter. It was a quantum leap, one that spurred little changes but ended up having a major impact on our lives. Slowly, but surely the skies cleared and thereafter got dotted only by the occasional cloud.

I gratefully eased into the flow of things and turned my attention to other things; things that were going to eventually change me and bring my distinctiveness forward. One day I came home and announced that my full time day job was no longer interesting to me. Even though we needed the extra income I brought in, my husband did not even blink. His silent support gave me wings and freedom all at once.  With his understated ways, he made me descend into depths of myself that I didn’t know even existed. The words that had eluded me for almost three decades poured out. They gushed out in torrents taking me by surprise and making me feel worthy like nothing else had. Quite suddenly, I was a published writer. I had only ever thought about a pond but he saw that I was capable and worthy of the ocean. That to me was enough heaven right here on earth.

When you start feeling whole and loving yourself, it becomes easy to extend that warmth to all around you. There were instances when my husband made me feel like the best wife on earth. As we mirrored the liking we felt for the other, our best selves started coming forth and compatibility settled in easy and good.

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When we celebrated his 50th birthday, I got him a cake that read: Vintage Dude. Because vintage is not about being old or archaic; vintage is about class, about being first-rate. These words are as much an ode to my husband as it a testimony to what makes a marriage shine and all the years together worth our while.

Ours was neither a classic love marriage nor conventionally arranged. But somehow along the way, we turned it into an exemplary one. The meaning and importance of ‘love’ in life is vast, but when you single out relationships, and one that is as weighty as marriage, then there are other things that can matter more. Like respect, understanding, support and genuine liking for the person you share your whole life with. And the one thing that makes a relationship go from miserly to magnanimous is ‘validation’ from the other. Validation of your freedom to live life on your own terms. Validation for who you are, for what you are worth.

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This story was first published on http://www.bonobology.com/ Bonobology is an online magazine that publishes real stories highlighting the various facets of a relationship. The idea is to provide a platform for understanding, discussing and resolving conflicts by encouraging a fresh perspective. Do explore the numerous stories and discussion forums by clicking on the link above and feel free to leave your comments or join in the discussions.

To find the above story on Bonobology, please click here:

http://www.bonobology.com/marriage/the-married-couple/286-from-exasperating-to-exemplary-in-marriage

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