Guest Post: My Mother

When my friend and guide, Yogini shared her thoughts on the passing away of her mother last year, I was amazed at the insights she put together into old age, relationships, death and dying. I knew that I needed to host her experience on this blog. I continued to pester her till she finally sent me this - a poignant tribute to her mother and the lessons learned from spending the final days of life together. Over to Yogini.


My mother lived part of her life in Africa and part in India. She was married at age 16 and the only thing her people exclaimed to her father was ‘where did you give your daughter in marriage!'

Hearing this, my mother determined that she would never let her father’s name down. Her married life started from being this princess in her house to doing every household work including fieldwork, milking buffaloes and making food for 40 people and taking care of in-laws with a terrifying father- in-law, garden work, and fetching water from the wells that were far off. She did all this with an aim to please everyone.

The mental agony of being treated like a child-bearing factory and to put up with a nasty tempered husband, not to mention the sarcasm and taunts of the other co-sisters who had three or four children while she had 13 of which 9 remained alive - it was not something that any of us today can either endure or want under any circumstances.

I do not remember my mother ever complaining about her life. I do not remember anyone mentioning that she shouted or screamed or cried and never heard anyone saying bad things about her. I was too young when all this happened and by the time, I was 18 she was already 54. While I write this, it occurs to me that even when I turned 22 I was unaware of my mother’s age. I lived with her at that time but was not present to my mother’s feelings, likes, or dislikes.

That I May Not So Much Seek

A few years back, we went through a particularly testing time of our lives. I had quit my job because I was unable to agree with my role of “optimizing” productivity and cost. My entire life’s savings and investments had been wiped out following a personal crisis. I did not have any marketable skills and I am not too clever at, well, anything. We chose to simplify our lives and work towards setting up a revenue stream from the only thing I knew to do – write. My wife, who, along with me, was then recovering from a deep personal loss, began to look for work. However, in the time that was going to happen, we were at home, with a good deal of spare time (even the most wicked writers do not write all day long or do they?), and heads and hearts full of dreams.

The dominant emotion we experienced during those many months was that of need – need for sustenance, for validation, for belonging. As we explored these feelings, we realized that we were not alone in our need. All around us, need was crying out. We also began to see that while a great part of this need was real, it tended to obscure the riches that we were blessed with. We had our health and faculties intact, we had a roof over our head, and food to keep us alive. We also had unbounded faith in the innate goodness of human beings in spite of having been bombarded by "takers."

Over the next several months, we explored the art of giving. Giving of our possessions, giving of our time and attention, and giving of our physical presence. We opened our doors to anyone who needed us – from the neighborhood kids to idealists doing incredible work with little or no support. We worked at no charge for organizations and individuals who wanted to make a difference to the world. We ran errands for the sick and the elderly. And we did this not so much as to test the law of cause and effect as to express our belief in abundance, to share what really belongs to us all – our humanity.

In the process, we learned a few things about giving. Here are some of them.

Another Such Victory

Is there any God greater than time?
At his altar loved ones wait in a line.
No bond undying, though it hurts to think so
Wonder where whose pyre must glow.

The carnival ends. The lights go out.
Fog rushes in, floods the emptying ground.
Empty of exchanges. Love, acclaim, censure.
No one knows where whose pyre must glow.

Surajit Dasgupta (July 31, 2013)
Translated by Subhorup Dasgupta

Consort Of Voices

Voice at first assembly: Superhero do not. Me do. Me tire. Often and easily. Rules forming systems. Discard not infringe. Many I know, love, and admire who persist. Then those who will not care. Respect to them all. The dark stillness of the heart knows the rising. Knows that rising and falling are one, inseparable, vital. Standing silent. Returning. A shipwreck. A fire. Diving straight back. Knowing. Understanding. Reach out. On good days, you hear music. The senses filter all else out. The analytical mind wonders where you lost it. As do the cursed. Superhero.

Voice in the air: Gladness and pain – looking out at the forest of desire and wishing for what was true, even a while back, but is not any longer. Blackness, fear, despair, hope. Accepting nothing suggested, knowing all knowledge to be misconceived, I never was just as I always am. Courage and grace superhero stuff. Whitman stuff. Nietzsche stuff.  I do not need to be known. Or to be understood. Does not mean I do not care. It only means I tire.

Voice at third assembly: The Bible that the daughter reads, the psalm the son sings and wonders, is this about me? Strange how coming of age means different things “in” different ages. To the flamboyant and frivolous and persisting, respect again. I am content with my pulp fiction and The Bad Plus. Is jazz discourse? Discourse leads to nothing. Nothing is as desirable. The fortunate few. Do not form systems. Look up, look up, look up. No conversation please. The word. Meaningless. I am everything. Ever was and ever will be. Not Buddha do. Not superhero do.

Disclaimer: This post is about representation, language, and spaces. My heroes include S. Dasgupta, Superman, S. Buddha, Beatrix Kiddo, Zarathustra, and the body electric. If anything in this post is perceived as offensive to any of them, please talk to my Dad.

Sleep Little Darling

Most people do it at night. Some take a go at it during the late morning, while others prefer a quickie after lunch. Some swear it is best in the late afternoon. There is really nothing quite as deliciously decadent as a snooze during the day. The problem is that for most, it is not an option during working hours. If you are at work during the day, it might not be possible to catch a nap on regular days, and if you work at night, your daytime sleep is really your night’s sleep.  With the new global economy and teams working across time zones, the sleeping hour has turned into an abstract concept. I am a sleepaholic, and like all good -aholics, I have tried to sharpen my understanding of sleep, albeit from a very subjective point of view. So on the occasion of International Women's Day (don't ask me why), here are my sleepy thoughts. I hope to be able to touch on daytime sleep, sleep hygiene and early rising in this post. And if you start feeling sleepy while reading this (an outcome my writing is well known for), you will know what the universe is trying to tell you.

Sleep is fascinating. How the most energetic, loud-voiced beings, regardless of age, gender or social standing just have to crumple down and recharge through cycles of REM and non-REM sleep is rather  amazing. Just think about it. No matter who you wish to be seen as when awake, when you have to go, you have to go – without a care for snores, drools, restless legs, sleep-talking, or throwing your arms over whatever or whoever is next to you.  The most aggressive or nasty of adults become childlike and angelic when they curl up and enter deep sleep. Like food, love, life, Buddha, and jazz, it is a universal secret code, one that nobody fully comprehends yet everyone is familiar with.

Condition Serious Hai

This one, nothing really really serious, is for all of you who wrote in over the last few years to tell me that you missed me. In this post, I try and be my old, lighthearted, loving, kind self. 

Explanation of the entry:

Recently, a friend sent me a book that s/he had written. It was a book of verse. Fairly straightforward, loosely asym-metric, everyday stuff. Very similar to what I write. What was interesting was the format of the book. Each poem came with an introduction, putting the poem in context. In some cases, the introduction explained why the poem was written. In others, they explained why the explanation was written, which then dutifully followed. Half way between Angelou and Spark Notes in terms of self image. After a few days, s/he asked me what I thought of his/her book. I was tempted to say what I say every time the mother (not "necessarily" the mama this post is about) cooks up one of her obtuse dishes, “Interesting and courageous.”

I did not though. The only reason for my compassion was that unlike many of us who sell shampoos, the future of the nation and cars (or hope to win contests) in order to support our creative selves, s/he teaches. To me, that is noble, no matter why (or what, heh heh heh) you are teaching. So I said something like, "I appreciate your commitment to what you are trying to do." I thought I was being pretty kind. Those of you who know me know that I was. Those of you who have read the book in question must be jumping up and down by now.

But then I thought, maybe that is why people don’t like what I write. Especially my poetry. Because I don’t throw in an introduction and an explanation. You feel cheated. Hence this preface. But then, thankfully, this love poem (please note, not about politics) is a contest entry. For a Cadbury 5 Star contest. With really one condition. A serious one. I will confine this overture too to the same condition, a small request not to be serious. At least not about the subject of this post. Because seriousness, as they say, it’s contagious. May the contagion always be with you.

Politics Of The Funeral

Anita Desai (not to be confused with her more popular namesake) is an upcoming story-teller, poet and song-writer from Hyderabad. This blog is honored to feature this piece by her.


Since my childhood I had come to see funerals as extremely poignant and solemn rituals. The thirteen days following the passing of a dear one would be simple, unpretentious affairs. All family members; relatives; friends and neighbors would be completely shorn off all kinds of emotional pretense except grief for the departed soul. That would be the time when even sworn enemies would offer sympathies.  However, recent deaths in my family exposed some funeral behaviors in contemporary urban families. I share below a few observations.

Genuine Condolences
For any funeral, there are always a few concerned elderly people who turn up to offer genuine words of comfort to the grieved. For them death is the eternal fact of life, unconquered by mankind. They put in their years of experience,follow all rituals of fasting in the presence of the body, shoulder the deceased on its last journey and take charge of necessary arrangements. Sometimes help comes from unexpected sources, those who may not even be close to the family but land up at their doorstep to bring in food &tea, and reassurance. Some kind hearted folks stand by as they recollect the past association with the deceased. Someone stood by as they had not known their father, and this kind soul provided emotional stability. Some friends of an elderly gentleman who passed away tearfully regretted that they could not be with their buddy on his last journey, as they received the news of his passing much later. These are heart-warming moments which reinforce our belief in humanity.

Payback Time
A funeral can be used as a platform to settle past scores.  Some relatives decide to show up only for the sake of visibility among other relatives, devoid of any emotion for the departed soul or the aggrieved family. One close relative, who had been incommunicado with the grieving family for years,surprised everybody by just walking in straight up to the body, stared at it for a few moments and walked out. The person was later seen outside the house chatting up people. Some closest relatives turned up only an hour before the funeral,  passed a few comments on the generous soul and left without so much as a sympathetic pat to the grieving family. Other acquaintances called up to say “they had something important to do hence could not make it"; some bluntly said "be practical, if we have time will come."For some others, death wasn't serious enough to even call to offer condolences. All this only to settle some past differences. What better time for payback.

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