On the first day of 2016, my last surviving grandparent, my father’s mother, had a stroke. For almost a month she lingered with extensive damage and paralysis, almost oblivious to what was going on around her before, finally, breathing her last.
My father, who had already shuffled back and forth to her city a couple of times during this time, decided to fly back there again for the “Shraddha”. This was a little surprising, and a little upsetting to me. For one thing we are both atheists, me having kind of imbibed the basic idea from my dad. As such we definitely do not believe in the soul, last rites, rest in peace, for her Atma’s sake, she is watching kind of stuff.
Secondly, neither one of us has ever cared much about “what people will say”. So, it made no sense to me that he would spend so much time, effort, and energy, and miss work, to go to this religious ceremony. After all, he had already said his goodbyes on the day of the cremation! It could not be to appease gossipy and criticizing neighbours and “larger family” at all.
So, he went, and I wondered. Until I texted him one morning to ask how he was holding up and what was going on. His answer suddenly made something very clear. He was sitting with his four brothers, all five of them together after something like 25 years, and probably for the last time in their lives.
That shook me. I simply hadn’t thought of that! I was thinking religion, social standing, misplaced sense of duty, etc etc, and not once did it occur to me that this need dad felt to be at the funeral rites had nothing to do with all that and everything to do with love for his brothers, a desire to see them all – one more time – and an attempt to relive or recapture happier memories when the five of them had been boys in that city, in that house.
Considering how close I am to my brother, how much he is a part of my thoughts every day in everything I do, it gave me nightmares, this thought. Having gotten to an age when my own mortality is not such a far-off, almost unbelievable, almost untrue entity, it is keeping me awake at night and giving me the heebie jeebies.
I CANNOT imagine never seeing bhai again. Nor can I imagine a situation where we would have been apart long enough and meet infrequently enough for people to forget that we might want to! Sure, for the last 12-15 years, we have managed to be in the same place at the same time something like once every two years, but so far, the intensity of my resultant neglect for the partner and offspring surely drives home the point quite adequately of how much bhai matters to me and how much our shared time is important? To think that someday, life, time, distances, and circumstances can create a situation where this is no longer true is something I don’t know how to handle.
My kid brother is my best pal. One of the few people on this planet that I can be myself with, who knows me, where I need no pretense to be loved and appreciated. More than that, he is, or at least used to be, my sounding board for ideas, my vetter of creative theories, my tuning fork resonating with an equal craziness, my middle of the night coffee partner, my wild imagination story spinning companion.
Already, in the last decade and more, I feel bereaved in many ways. Every time I get super excited about something and want to tell bhai about it, every time I want to sit at home and wail and tell bhai about it, every time I read a new great book, hear a new great track, find something (anything) fascinating, or intriguing, or disgusting, or anger inducing, I want to turn to bhai and say “did you …” and I can't. Hundreds of thousands of miles, years of distance, they take a toll. Busy lives, commitments, responsibilities at both ends, they take a toll. Something as simple as time zones…. When I email/message him, and when he can see it and reply … makes a difference to the ease and comfort of communication.
Even when he visits, or I visit, I find that time simply gets swept away in the seeing and doing and frenetic activity, so that I am left feeling vaguely dissatisfied and craving just ONE good, long, deep conversation in the end. And it feels like an amputation almost. This absence of a part of me that was so vital and integral, and the phantom pains of feeling that it still remains, is by turns painful, depressing, normal, mundane, and simply weird. And I am sure this is just the beginning. Much as one may love family and friends, life does get in the way.
As more years go by, I am sure it will get wider and deeper, this gap, this absence. It is something like what happened to Dad and his brothers, it is something like what happens to most grown up siblings. And yet, I have always imagined (and valued the fact) that bhai and I are so close, so much more really good friends than just brother and sister, that we are so much a part of each other’s lives and minds and opinions and thought processes.
I am sure it will happen. One day it will be like this. Accepting that distances and life and circumstances and responsibilities and the simple process of having a life has inevitably taken something away from the intensity of the sibling bond may become necessary not too far in the future. And I dread that day.
Even the very thought of the slightest possibility of there EVER being a “last time in my lifetime” meeting with him is something that is – frankly – driving me quite insane.