Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Portrait of a Lady

Today marks month four since I lost my grandmother. And today, 99-year-old Khushwant Singh called it quits and left the plane of mortal existence.
I was not sure what the vague connect is, but there is one. At some point this evening, I glanced at the television and noticed that his last interview to a news channel was in November – the same month I lost my grandmother. And that’s when it came tumbling back. When my brother was in Class Six, he had a story by Khushwant Singh as part of his coursework for English Literature. I am a short story junkie, and can devour even textbooks indiscriminately without a thought. It was then that I chanced upon The Portrait of a Lady.
And it was moving.
So moving, that for a fifteen year old, I shed more tears than many of my peers would for a short story.
In reading that story, I saw my grandmother in a whole new light. She was always someone I loved, cherished and looked up to – and we were as thick as thieves, blissfully hatching plan after plan to do whatever it is that we wanted to do at any given time. But this story, it was like they said in Inception – it was an idea planted in my head – an idea that showed me an inevitable truth that I would be forced to accept some day.
At that age, I shook it off. Inevitable-shminevitable. Other people die. People in books and movies die. Not people I love.
I could have claimed to have an invisibility cloak and that would have seemed a more realistic proposition.
To my mind, my grandmother was not just my grandmother. She was an era, an institution that was an ambassador of the life she taught me to lead. Khushwant Singh, on the other hand, was an era in his own right – an institution that captured the Indian ethos from long before to long after Independence. It’s sad when one loses a loved one: no matter how young or how old they maybe when they pass on. It’s the loss of the receiving end of the love that hurts most, it’s the loss of the fount of the love that hurts as much.
Four months after my grandmother passed on, the wound still seems too raw, too alive and too fresh. I don’t think it is fair to believe that the wound will completely be and stay healed: it’s just one of those things you carry with you because you do. Life leaves marks on you, and these are some of those marks.
Hold onto the good times, and the good memories, people say. Of course, of course – because what else can one hold on to? But then there is that wistfulness laced with melancholy – a feeling of having lost a book for all but the cover – and that sheet does all it can to help you recollect what it held within.
Life is so fleeting…