• malavikameh

Death among other things.

Drowsing and starving my ass into the night, I search all over my place to eat something. My tummy hurts and the walls of my stomach are crying meow, meow. So I walk across the room and after a couple of frantic attempts to fill my tummy to make it as happy and as full as possible, I find a small jar of mangoes, salted and pickled, a thing which might go as a side dish for a traditional Kerala cuisine. I haven't used them for long, all of a sudden I spot my mother's familiar handwritten note, carefully labelled across the plastic tin; it reads "tender mangoes". And I smile at her cautious attempts to keep things organised, her legible handwriting, her wise anticipations to ward off any danger, any scrutiny that might fall on her child. It reminds me of my grandfather's death. Deaths are an occasion full of tributes, compassion and silence; we share sadness, even if half of us do not even care about whose death that was, what, why and when. Death is an occasion of grandeur and significance, like any grandeur, the scale of death's improbability depends on the importance of the human who lies on the deathbed.

I remember how my mother's aunt who used to predict the death of the men who were close to her, predicted my grandfather's as well. She knew when death descended, the moment, close enough to snatch its prey; she knew about the last breath, the final wheezing, the final rise and fall of the rib cage, the feeble attempts of a human to push his diaphragm forward, a leaning sense of wanting another human beside him, to let us know and make us aware that there is life, still some life left inside us. It reminds me of Keats panting and waking from his deathbed, way too ill into his final days, irrecoverable he asked for reconfirmations on his life. What surprises me about Keat's death is that he repeatedly asked the one who took care of him whether he was dead or not. He was perhaps least concerned about life, but he still wondered, he still raved somehow at that slight, grim, narrow chance of not being dead yet. What did John Keats expect out of this world? What is it that he might have imagined about this world, and what did he want out of it? Did he think too much into it, did he want and need something particular, and were his expectations a bit too far-fetched?

My aunt, the predictor of deaths, held my hand near the hospital bed in Cochin. She scrunched her palms into mine. She almost broke my finger bones. My grandfather's friend who was also the doctor taking care of him, called us all in to have a last look, to recite our prayers, to course droplets of water into his dry mouth with the holy tulsi leaves. I saw tears in my father's eyes. It did not occur to me at that moment to take a pause and run my eyes across and realise how everyone’s eyes in the room had welled up already, how each one of them had taken deep care to keep their heads bent, especially I wondered about my father's unusual gesture of paying respect, his ways of hinting at his deep-held feelings. I was too tiny for realisations like these, I stood beside his bed with my lost face and my useless curiosity. I could only guess what had happened; the high-pitched voice from the monitor sounded heavy all at once, and then it receded into a chilling-somewhat-quiet.

I am a single child, my father decided to have no more than one child early into his marriage, and my mother agreed (Communist Kerala, insert chora veena mannil ninnum). If my father was a communist, my grandfather was a socialist. People visited our ancestral house all the time: people from all walks of life, people from different places and castes, people who would cover me with lots of love. Whenever we visited our hometown in Calicut, I made sure to cling to my grandfather, I went wherever he wanted me to go with him. I followed him. He narrated to me stories after stories: stories out of Mahabharatha, Ramayana, Bauddha Samhita, Jaina Samhita, Koran, Bible, Jatakas, and Aesop's. I never quite liked Ramayana; I thought Rama was too clear about things. But I loved all things about Mahabharatha, and he encouraged me to read it all by myself. He told me that I should pray every day, that praying right before one went to bed made us immortal. He told me that there were several eras, and during the era of Kalki the world descends into turmoil, he asserted that this was the dark era. He sat across me simply to spend time, narrating stories to me, and I would sit obediently with my hands folded, arms folded, legs folded and listened to whatever it was that he wanted to narrate to me.

It reminds me of my mother's love for her father, spending long, long months in front of the intensive care unit, on a couch, she waited patiently for him to recover. Unfortunately, he never did. She ran behind doctors, arguing with them and asking them questions about the diagnosis. It reminds me of how clear and firm her decisions were around taking care of her father, even if at the expense of her own health. My beauty of a mother grew extremely thin those days. She ate very little. What might that be - what might be that moment, when we wake out of our bed, only to wonder, to cry at the possibility, to realise that we are alive still.m? How many times have we reached too close to death, and woke up and cried at the possibility of being alive, or at the possibility of being dead?

I am thinking about death quite a lot these days, I am thinking about the pickled mangoes right now, I am thinking about an impending doom called misfortunes of life. If pickled mangoes remind me of ancestry and death and therefore about a moment awaiting and John Keats; his wailing ere to death, what then is death. How can I get used to it? How can I face it, accompanied with long, long hours of love and pleasure, as if dipping myself into the holy waters to wash off my sins (the holy waters at my place are fucking, fucking dirty by the way)? But what is death, which when answered, often reminds me the other question, the mirror image of a question; what exactly is life? To live for what, for whom, and most importantly- how? As life reminds one of death inspired by the labels on a jar of pickled mangoes, should I eat it or throw it away. Depends on how long it has been staying inside the freezer, LOL.

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