About Grieving (Ten Years Too Late)

I have never seen death up close.

I have never lost somebody very close to me in front of my own eyes. I’ve heard stories of others losing a parent, a grandparent, a close relative, a friend, right before their eyes. But I have never seen it upfront.

In fact, up until I was ten, death seemed like a myth to me. It was just ridiculous. How could somebody just cease to exist? I couldn’t wrap my head around it at all.

When I was ten, I lost Boroma.

Boroma, translated from Bengali to English, means ‘elder mother’. She was my maternal grandfather’s aunt but only a few years older than him. She’d led a very rough life: she had not been educated, then she got married, the marriage was difficult and she chose to walk out of it and then she lived with my grandfather. She had no children, and nobody else to call family. These were not the things I knew through her though. These were things that my mother, father, and grandfather told me. The Boroma I knew was not somebody worn out by a tough life at all. She was a completely different person.

Boroma loved me. I think there were few people in the world that Boroma loved as much as she loved me, and there are definitely very few people in the world who will ever be able to love me like she loved me. When I was a baby, she bathed me and fed me. I have childhood photos of myself, sitting in a small tub, and Boroma looking at me proudly. When I grew up a little more, she made some of my favourite dishes. I loved aloo bhaja (potato fry) and whenever I would arrive at my grandfather’s doorstep, my first demand from her would be some aloo bhaja. And she always, always had some ready. She would tell me stories about the hanumans (grey langurs) in our locality. She would talk about how clever they are and how they could interact with humans. Boroma made me feel happy and warm in a way that I rarely feel anymore.

Boroma’s rough backstory caught up with her as she grew older. She had fallen and dislocated her hip joint, which had to be replaced. After that surgery, she never really walked properly again. And I think this led her to feel like she could not really contribute to the family anymore, like she was a burden. That’s what I think now, anyway. At that age, I didn’t know any better. All I knew was that she was Boroma and I loved her and that she could never possibly be a burden to anybody in the whole wide world.

When I was nine, going on ten, Boroma fell again and dislocated her other hip and had another surgery. Doctors discovered bedsores. When they discovered them, it was already quite severe. Without doubt, Boroma was not going to survive.

My mother explained this to me in the gentlest way she could. I never really grasped it. We weren’t in Kolkata when the bedsores were discovered and we were not going to back for almost another ten months or so. But I wasn’t worried. I’d seen Boroma that summer, hardly two months ago. I was confident I was going to see her again. Everybody had always told me Boroma was really strong, really resilient, that she was a fighter. She didn’t have a single unhealthy cell in her body: perfect blood pressure, no cholesterol, no sugar, no problems at all. How could something as insignificant as sores take her away from me?

I was wrong. With each passing update from my grandfather, it seemed like Boroma was getting worse. The sores were horrible. I heard about them: the way there were gaping holes where her skin was supposed to be. Yet I was convinced that Boroma would survive this. She is a fighterFighters do not die.

But fighters do die, and so did Boroma. That morning, I was woken up a little earlier than normal for school. My mother informed me that Boroma had passed away. I listened in shocked silence. I didn’t really react. It didn’t seem real. Boroma couldn’t go away. She would never leave for anywhere where she wouldn’t be able to see me.

I went to school, went about my day, and life went on. We did not go to Kolkata for the funeral. I never got to say goodbye.

I never shed a single tear.

The next summer, we went to Kolkata. Boroma’s regular space on the bed was empty. Her walking stick wasn’t there. A real, living, breathing person had once taken up this space. And now she just was not there anymore. It was one thing to see her spot empty. It was quite another to have other people sitting there. My heart would leap into my mouth with only one thought swirling around my brain: “That’s Boroma’s place. You can’t sit there.”

During that Kolkata visit, I recalled the previous year, when I’d last met her. And I remembered an incident that I carry with me till date, something that haunts me over and over and over. Boroma, in her later years, had begun throwing tantrums. My mother and grandfather could not understand them and at nine-and-a-half, neither could I. At that age, I was quite cranky myself and Boroma’s daily tantrums had been driving me crazy. And one night, when she was throwing a tantrum before dinner, I shouted at her. I told her to stop creating a fuss, I told her to eat her dinner, I told her to stop creating a ruckus every single day. She didn’t even fight back. She listened.

I am sure that before I left for Muscat a few days after that incident, I hugged her and I touched her feet. But I never forgot that I’d shouted at her. I’d raised my voice at somebody a good seventy years older than me, somebody who had always treated me with tenderness and affection. I never forgave myself, more so, because I never got a chance to ask her to forgive me.

Nobody really talked to me about death. Nobody helped me deal with Boroma passing away. And I never talked about it. I allowed myself to be immersed in everyday life, without paying too much attention to the ache in my chest. I never really dealt with her death at all. I just pushed the the pain it caused me far, far away, hoping that it would never catch up with me. I thought if I would run away from my hurt, it would not be able to find me.

Around two months ago, I began preparing a speech for a contest in my Toastmasters club. Having spoken to many senior members about how to write my speech, I decided that a simple message with a personal story would strike the right chord. And somehow, Boroma sprang into my mind. My speech’s message was about not waiting to tell the people you care for that you love them. My personal story was about how I never really told Boroma that I loved her.

It was a simple enough story. I gave it flawlessly at my club and came first. I represented my club at the Area Contest and gave the same speech and came second. I received lots of comments on how important the message of my story was and how well I delivered it.

Nobody knew how many times I’d cried in the shower while practising that speech. Nobody knew how many times the words had choked in my throat as I practised. Nobody knew that ten years after Boroma passing away, I still hadn’t really grieved enough to move on.

2 April 2017 was the Division Contest. Having come second in the Area Contest, I had gotten the chance to represent my area at the division level. It was a big deal. Winning this would mean going to Mumbai for the next round, speaking in front of Toastmasters from my District. I was really excited.

Somehow, with the lights, with the audience, and maybe with the lack of sleep the previous night, I fumbled. For the first time while publicly delivering the speech, I felt my words choking in my throat, my mind going blank, and my body aching for Boroma to wrap her arms around me. To most of the audience, I looked fairly composed. I work well under pressure so the stage doesn’t frighten me. But inside my head, I was falling apart. The moment I left the stage, I was in tears. I had told so many people the story of Boroma and with each retelling, I had been forced to say out loud that she had passed away, something I had refused to accept despite not having seen her for the last ten years. And so now, ten years too late, I am allowing myself to grieve.

I am allowing myself to remember the way her curly black and white hair looked, pulled back in a bun. I am allowing myself to remember the way her face looked when she smiled her nearly toothless smile. I am allowing myself to remember the wrinkles on her skin. I am allowing myself to remember how I would wrap myself around her lovingly and receive aloo bhaja in return. I am allowing myself to remember how she would lovingly run her fingers through my hair. I am allowing myself to remember that once upon a time, she was here, and she held me and hugged me and told me many stories. And most importantly, apart from everything else, I am allowing myself to cry. All the tears I never shed ten years ago have come tumbling forth now. I am allowing myself to feel the emotions I didn’t let myself feel for all of these years.

It’s true when they say that ‘when someone you love becomes a memory, your memories become treasure’. I may not get any more time with Boroma ever again, but I will treasure the fact that I got the chance to feel her unconditional love for me for the first ten years of my life.

I really, really hope that no matter who I become, I always remain someone that Boroma would have been able to look at with love and say, “Aamaar shona Bibil.” (My dear Bibil).

Boroma

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In an Alternate Universe

In an alternate universe, I am not hurting over you. You see that you were wrong and you apologise, you ask to have me back, you tell me that it was a mistake. In an alternate universe, I am aware of how wrong the way you treated me was and I don’t think about letting you come back into my life. I respect myself and walk with dignity. In an alternate universe, I am not shattered into a million pieces on the inside, with each shard piercing into me till I bleed, bleed, and bleed, until I can bleed no more. I am not a broken little thing that people look at with pity. Poor girl.

But all that is in an alternate universe. In this universe, I am hurting over you, I want you back in my life, and I cry myself to sleep wondering why it cannot happen.

In an alternate universe, you are in love with me. We are so in love and the world is perfect. In an alternate universe, you hold my hand in front of your friends and carelessly put your arm around my shoulders. Everybody knows that we were made for each other. In an alternate universe, we fit like pieces of a two-piece jigsaw puzzle. You hug me and I melt into your arms and feel like I am home.

But all that is in an alternate universe. In this universe, you are not in love with me, you hid me from all of your friends, and we fit as well as Cinderella’s glass slipper fit on her step-sisters’ feet.

In an alternate universe, I am at peace with myself. I don’t toss and turn at night, wondering what I could have done differently, wondering what I could do differently now. In an alternate universe, I don’t look at my phone a million times a day hoping you will send me one message to acknowledge my existence. I don’t care whether you care at all. In an alternate universe, I am okay. I am alright and I can handle whatever is thrown at me.

But all that is in an alternate universe. In this universe, I have made elaborate lists about every single thing that went wrong, I open your chat window over a hundred times a day, and I am struggling to get up because I don’t have the strength to get out there and walk, talk, and trust again.

On the Same Boat

It was a large, unending ocean. And in that ocean was a single boat, small and weak, with a lone girl in it. Her hair was matted, her eyes sunken, and her arms and legs covered in scars. The waves would toss the boat dangerously and sometimes, the water would splash onto her, causing the salt to sting her wounds. She spent most of her days curled up into a ball, wanting either to die or to be found by somebody else in the desolate ocean.

The boat had been stuck in this ocean for months. She didn’t know where exactly she was. She didn’t know which way land was or how far she was from it. She didn’t even know how she’d landed up here. Everything before her life on the boat felt like a hazy dream.

It was just another day. There was still no sign of help. She wasn’t sure if anybody missed her and was worried enough to actually look for her. She looked out into the never-ending grey sky and sea and suddenly, spotted a speck in the distance. She couldn’t believe her eyes. All these days, she had let the water toss her around. Upon seeing the speck, she got rowing. She had to get to the speck in the distance because for the first time in many months, she felt a flicker of hope.

She rowed furiously and as she got closer, she realised that, after what seemed like a lifetime, she was not alone. There was another boat in the ocean, with another person in it.

He was exhausted when she found him. His hair was dishevelled, his eyes barely open, and his clothes hung loosely from this thin frame. When she extended her hand to hold his hand to remember what it felt like to touch another person, he recoiled. Confused, she retreated to her own boat but she was determined to not let this boat out of her sight. She wasn’t going to be alone again. Most importantly, she wasn’t going to let somebody else be as alone as she had been.

“I’m tying your boat to mine,” she said. He looked up and watched as she tied their boats together so that they could not drift away from each other. She couldn’t have been happier. She still didn’t know which way land was or how far it was but she knew now that there was somebody else who was with her and they could look for it together.

Every day, she talked to him, passed him snacks from the supplies she had, and sometimes she sang him her favourite songs to pass the time. As days went by, he began to sit up and take interest in what she was saying. Some days, he talked back. Some days he ate what she offered. Some other days, he even sang.

Sometimes, one of them would get seasick and cry. One would cry while the other would talk. But he never let her touch him. He never let her hold his hand. And so, she didn’t ask.

And then one day, her boat sprouted a leak. She woke up in the morning, her clothes wet, and she looked around and panicked. Quickly, she began to untie her boat from his. He woke up, confused. “What are you doing?” he asked. She gestured towards the water in her boat. “This boat won’t last. It’s too risky to stay together. You can find land on your own. I’ll give you my supplies.”

He stared at her. In the days that they had spent time together, it had never occurred to him that one day she might not be there and he would have to be alone again. They had never crossed into the boat of the other because they were afraid but now, there was no option. He would either have to call her over, or let her go.

She threw her supplies over to him. “When you find land,” she said, “write down what it’s like. Toss a bottle into the sea with a letter telling me all about it.”
“Are you insane?” he asked.  “I am not letting you go. Let your boat go down. You don’t have to go down with it. What’s the point in finding land if I can’t find it with you?”

She looked at him. “Are you sure? You won’t even let me touch you. How will we live on the same boat?”

“I don’t know. It’ll be difficult. But all I know is I can live without finding land and living on this boat. But I can’t live with finding land if you aren’t with me to find it. Come over, come over, come this side.”

She looked at him for a few minutes. And then, in a quick motion, she jumped over to his boat. Without speaking a word, he untied her boat and they watched as it sank. Slowly, hesitantly, she took his hand in hers. And for the first time, he didn’t withdraw. They were on the same boat.

Inspired

My sister wrote a speech about me for a class in school and it moved me to tears. I had to share it.

Journey to the Centre of My Heart

We had to give a speech at school about something which inspired us and I was really blank till I remembered the person who played a huge role in my life and shaping it. When I started working on the speech the words flowed almost automatically because they were from the bottom of my heart. So I decided to share it 🙂

Since we are supposed to talk about something which inspires us, I would like to talk about someone who has played a major role in the sixteen years of life, my sister. My sister was my first friend, my first role model and my first hero. My sister was 3 and half years old when I was born to become a part of her world. She was assigned with responsibility of being the ‘older sibling’ at the tender age of 4 and she accepted this responsibility gracefully. When…

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he’ll make promises. you’re the one. your flaws are beautiful. your insecurities will be looked after. and so you let go. you let it all out, raw and pure, and the fire burns him and he can’t take it and he leaves. and you crawl back into the crevices of your own mind and stay there. today he leaves, tomorrow she leaves, they all leave. that’s why you hide. that’s why you you break before you can be broken. you take that head start but you lose the race anyway.

Babli: Turning Sixteen

28 February 2000. I was informed I have a little sister.

29 February 2000. I saw the forty-five centimetre little human being that was my sister in a little cradle for the first time, with only one thought in mind: she is so tiny.

Flash forward.

28 February 2013. I wrote a list: 13 things you should know about being thirteen (Buzzfeed should employ me for this). It was her first birthday without me and I sent her an intricate video with “Ek Hazaaron Mein Meri Behna Hai” playing in the background.

28 February 2016. Away from home for the first time on her birthday, my sister hits Sweet Sixteen. I don’t have a list of sixteen things that she should know about being sixteen. But I do have much to say about the sixteen years that she’s been in my life.

So, dear old-head-on-young-shoulders, this one is for you.

I don’t know where to begin. Could it be the day you got your head stuck in a chair? Could it be the day I took you to the slide for the first time and you fell off the top while peering down at me, instead of sliding down like normal children? Could it be the day you told me you were going home and then went to the neighbour’s house instead and gave everybody a heart attack?

But I know what I want to talk about today. And it’s none of these notorious things that you’ve done. It’s something else entirely, something that is far more important to me. It’s about how you are, in so many ways, a part of me.

When I was about five years old, I came home late after playing and Ma locked me out of the house. You were too young to remember this but I do. You were on the other end of the door, banging and crying and trying to force open a lock you didn’t know how to operate.

When I was about six years old, I was walking on a freshly cleaned floor and I slipped and fell. You were at the door, and you saw me as I got up quickly and sat on the couch, trying to figure out if I’d hurt myself. You burst into tears and toddled towards me on your pudgy legs, wailing about how I had hurt myself.

When I was about ten years old, you quickly cleaned up after all my messes so that Ma wouldn’t get the chance to scold me.

When I was thirteen years old, you would be my alarm clock in the mornings, wake me up, and make sure the bus waited for me while I attempted to hold shoes, socks, a tiffin box, and a comb in my two hands.

When I was fifteen years old, you would pack my bag for me while I announced my timetable from the bathroom while bathing to the point that you knew my timetable better than I did. I’ll never get over you asking me if I have my lab coat with me while I entirely forgot about lab-days.

When I was seventeen years old and in boarding school, you sent me cute songs that you would record so I could listen to them and then show off my talented sister to the entire dorm.

A few months back, at nineteen, I was upset and crying because of horrible things that people spoke about me behind my back and you picked up the phone and gave them a piece of your mind. But when you called me, you cried more than I did because you were in boarding school, while I was here, in college, and you couldn’t be with me.

You’ve been my constant for all of the sixteen years you’ve been around: right from the day you lay fast asleep in your cradle in Duliajan till right now, as you read this from your dorm in school. In this world, there is never any guarantee for who will stay and who will leave, but you, I know, are well and truly forever. People might think that that’s because we are sisters and related by blood, so we have no choice. But there’s a saying on the wonderful Internet that says: chance made us sisters, choice made us friends. And in that context, you are my best friend for a lifetime, right since you were in your diapers.

Our friends and random strangers who have seen us together know that together, we indulge in more public displays of affection than any love-struck couple does. Hugs and kisses, tickling, giggling together – people are always confused by how two sisters can get along this well all the time.

It’s not like we haven’t argued. I can’t even count the number of times I threatened to fill your schoolbag with rocks while you slept. The gullible little child that you were, you diligently checked your bag in the mornings to make sure that your books hadn’t been replaced by rocks. We tossed things at each other (I did the tossing) and shouted and cried (you cried more). But these things couldn’t last. One of us would always relent quickly and we would be back in action: choreographing intricate dances together, playing games in our made up worlds, and faking loud fights to confuse Ma.

I know I am the elder sister, and I am supposed to look out for you and be your source of advice. I always feel like Google to you: the first thing you look at for the answers to all the questions in the world. But what is more important is that you being younger hasn’t made you any less responsible for who I am today. You held me through nights of tears, you listened to me plan elaborate lies about my marks when I messed up, and you took my side even when Ma and Baba picked on me. You helped me make good decisions, and you let me make my own share of bad ones but stood by me for their consequences, never once saying ‘I told you so’. You wrapped yourself around me and slept, making me feel like I was in the safest place in the world. You listened to my ridiculously long stories and didn’t get mad at me for dominating conversation shamelessly like the talkative person that I am. You were patient with my faults and encouraging about my strengths. Nobody has ever motivated me like you have. Because you may be only sixteen, but your mind is filled with insight that I can only hope to have someday.

So, this birthday, I don’t have advice to give you. I have only love, appreciation, and gratitude. With each passing birthday, I am becoming more and more painfully aware that my role as a caretaker has diminished. But that’s okay. I know that I don’t have to follow you around to ensure that every step you take is the right one. I am here, and that is enough. I am proud of who you have become in all these years and I am proud to say I was there to see it happen, and that I will have the good fortune to see you change and grow more each and every day. I told you when you turned thirteen, and I’ll tell you again: life’s a car and you’re at the wheel, steering. But if you ever get lost, I am sitting shotgun to give you directions. All you have to do is ask.

Dear Babli, happy birthday. Celebrate your existence today because I know I will. 28th February is the most cherished date of my life because it marks the occurrence of the best thing that has ever happened in my life: your birth. I may not be next to you (especially because I have class from 1PM to 6PM on a Sunday; can you believe it?) but I am always right there, party hat on my head, ready to dance with you endlessly to all the Bollywood songs you can think of.

When I asked you on the phone what you wanted for your birthday, you said you wanted my happiness. You said me being happy was all you wanted. Here’s your gift then. I am happy. Every single day that I wake up and know I have a sister as wonderful as you, I am happy. Every single day that I know that I have a little ball of joy excitedly looking forward to the details of all of my follies, I am happy. And most importantly, every single day that I know that you are happy, I am happy.

Remember when we were little and I was mad at you and made a list of all the things and people I loved more than you? I said you came way after tenth (or was it fiftieth? Hundredth?) on the list of people and things I loved. But I love you more than I love my pillow cover, phone, laptop, and every other human being on the planet. On that list, baby, you’re always going to be number one.

Love

Didi

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“Ye Mera Favourite Game Hai”

I recently gave my third speech at my Toastmasters Club and found the topic (suggested by my mentor) to be one of the most enjoyable topics I have ever spoken about. Therefore, I decided to share the longer version of the speech (which I had to cut down to fit the time limit) over here. I have made the speech more article-friendly, but if it still reads like a speech at some parts, I apologise in advance! The topic fits with my personality: life lessons from Jab We Met. So, here it is!

Jab We Met is more than just an ordinary romantic comedy to me. I am not lying – I’ve watched this movie over a hundred times. Back in the seventh grade, I was even labelled ‘Geet’ by my friends, ‘Geet’ being the crazy, bubbly protagonist of the film. In my capacity as ‘Geet’, I find it fitting to present three important life lessons that I learnt from Jab We Met, lessons that I hope you can all incorporate in your lives.

Lesson Number 1: Own Your Decisions

Meri life jo bhi hogi, mujhe pata hoga ki meri wajeh se aisi hai. Toh I’ll be happy.” Geet says this when she is hiding on the terrace of her house with Aditya after a badly-planned attempt to run away from home. Her confident assertion that her decisions and consequences are her own to deal with is inspiring. Too often, we make decisions under duress and then blame the consequences on everybody else.

“I failed in college because my father made me take engineering.” “I started smoking only because my friends forced me to.” “I couldn’t study for my test because the neighbour’s music was playing too loudly.” Parents, friends, neighbours, the person sitting next to you in the bus, the situation: it always seems like everybody and everything is responsible for the consequences of our decisions except us! We should be sure of the decisions we make so that nobody else can sway us from them. If we aren’t sure of our own decisions, why should anybody else be?

Lesson Number 2: Love Yourself

Geet said, “Main apni favourite hoon.” I referred to this line in my first Toastmaster speech as well, saying that it is a mantra that I live by. Be your own favourite. Be the best version of yourself Geet was her own favourite person, and that honesty to her own personality is what fuelled her to keep going. She went about her life exactly the way she wanted to, without trying to follow somebody else. It was this attitude of hers that led to her being able to deal with her lover’s rejection of her as well. Throughout the movie, Geet is filled with love for everybody and everything around her. Such pure, untainted love for others is only possible if we love ourselves first. A little narcissism never hurt anybody. So go ahead, pull out that selfie stick, hold it up, and pull that duck face because you need to believe that you truly are the best.

Finally, the lesson that my friends (and I) believe I am best qualified to teach:

Lesson Number 3: Act like a Child

Bacchon jaisi baatein karo!” Imagine a calm lake. You are sitting on a ledge above it, swinging your legs. Would you dive in, with no good reason? Sometimes, you should! Geet did! Sometimes, to unwind, you need to consult your inner child. We all have one. I resort to my inner child in all times of need. Sad over boy problems? Sing songs about heartbreak at the top of my voice! Happy? Share my chocolate with strangers I meet on the way! Annoyed? Write all my problems on paper and tear it up! In times of trouble, turn back the clock to more innocent days and be a kid again.

There are very few movies that stay with us long after the credits roll and the popcorn is over. Jab We Met is one such movie. It taught us three lessons: to own my decisions, love myself, and not lose my childishness. Sometimes people might find these lessons hard to accept and ask you, like Aditya asked Geet, “Kyun khel rahe ho apne zindagi ke saath?” – “Why are you playing with your life?” And like Geet, you should reply, “Kyunki ye mera favourite game hai, zindagi!