21st January 2023
Another year has come. This one came apprehensively, almost hesitant. It hovered at the end of last December as if not really wanting to step over. Not really wanting to carry forward the incomplete affairs, the scattered unsaid words and the consuming grief of the passing year.
But on the eve of the Thirty First it couldn’t defy the one cardinal law of the universe for time and tide and without waiting stepped over, taking us all into a January we didn’t really want to be in.
The thing about grief, Anand, is that you stop breathing even though you are still alive. You no longer connect with the seasons. Your body not able to decipher whether to be hot or cold because your skin no longer feels the times of the year change.
And so maybe why I didn’t notice that the winds no longer carried whispers of your breath to me. Even though it has been many years since we last met whenever I close my eyes towards the sky thinking of your eyes, the winds have always secretly let me know in which direction you are headed next; how you are keeping. I haven’t been hearing lately.
Are you still breathing, Anand?
I don’t know why I feel you have stopped still somewhere and for a long time now haven’t moved. As if some grief has enveloped you in its fluffy folds and convinced you that there is where you should be. Griefs have a way, you know, to cajole you like that. To make you believe like you’re the only one it lavishes entirely on.
Once Ludhianvi sahib asked “jahan me aisa kaun hai ke jisko ghum mila nahi?” (is there anyone in this world who hasn’t met grief?”) alluding towards the infidelity of grief and how it sleeps around with everyone. It also creates illusions. Of opaqueness. Grief lets you believe that you are in a big cylinder of solid colour. With walls so dense that if you tried to look nothing will be visible through the other side.
Have you ever noticed a red lantern-like light outside a doctor’s surgery, Anand? Maybe not in one of those big cities you love, perhaps in an old sleepy town you might’ve passed through once? In the 1800’s around Europe, doctors used to hang a red lantern outside their homes to let patients know that they were in. When electricity came around, these were replaced by red lights in glass boxes. Though now doctors no longer see patients in their homes. They’ve moved to those big medical practices in fancy complex buildings where you need an appointment which won’t be available for the next 5 days to see them. And those old lanterns…probably on the floors of rusty antique stores.
To me there seems to be this comfort in those old lanterns. Imagine weary travellers & wanderers coming across a lit one on a dark winters night? To know that there is someone inside who will tend to their chafed, blistered feet.
You must keep going, Anand. You wanted to travel all the roads to the ends of this world and there are many forks still not explored. “jo ghum se haar jaoge, toh kis tarah nibhaoge?” (if you get defeated by grief, how will you keep your promise?)
In the 1960’s Ludhianvi sahib struggled with these lines against the background of a war. To convince someone they loved that her grief was in fact his. How do you convince someone you love to let them in?
Tumhare pyaar ki kasam tumhara ghum hai mera ghum
na yuh bhujhe bhujhe raho, jo dil ki baat hai kaho
jo mujhse bhi chupaaoge, toh phir kisse bataoge
main koi gaiyr to nahi, dilaaun kis tarah yakeen
ke tum se main juda nahi, mujhse tum judaa nahi.
I swear by your love that your sorrow is my sorrow
Do not fade away like this, tell me what is in your heart
If you hide those words from me, then whom will you tell?
I am no stranger, how can I make you believe me?
For you are not separated from me, and I am not separated from you.
You have to know this, Anand. These years between us is not opaque. If you just looked up and squinted through those deceiving layers grief might have wrapped around you, you will see the faintest light from the lantern hanging outside my new front verandah. You will see a chair with warm grey blankets. You will see a home that has never stopped waiting for you.
And I also want you to know this, Anand, that if the winds don’t bring me any news of you by autumn, I will come find you this year.