Sunday, 1 May 2011

Joyous dinner in the face of gloom

It has been two weeks since my great-uncle expired. There was much grief and misery in the family as the news broke out. The women in the house wailing; the men expressing their sorrow through a still silence; the children confused as their glance moved over dozens of people weeping at the sight of a man sleeping on the cold floor. Since we're Maharashtrians living in Karnataka, we had relatives leave their houses in Maharashtra to visit the house and pay their condolences to the family at the earliest.

I was spellbound when I first heard of my great-uncle's death. But it took me only a few seconds to get back to an assuring state - "Yeah, it happens to everyone" - a view of life, or rather death, that I donned as I witnessed the death of my father when I was 9 years old. This view never fails me; and it still didn't; even after 12 years. My mother asked me to visit their house located a couple minutes away from mine. I refused. I told her I'd visit later. The death didn't seem to matter much anymore. My mother, a few hours later, asked me again to visit the house as the body would soon be taken for cremation. I had a moment of resistance but I didn't yield to it. I left for their house that instant.

At the house, I paid my respect to the man who had taken such great responsibility of the family. After the death of my grandfather six years back, my great-uncle took it upon him to be responsible for the family. It startles me somtimes when I think of how we automatically recognize the "greatness" of a man, or the "strength" of woman, when they are no more. Why don't we recognize it when they're alive? The man who led his life and is now dead is the same. It is just our actions and speech that undergo change. It is not a challenging task to know that this absurd quality stems from us, and doesn't have anything to do with the other.

After spending 15 minutes at their house, I was on my way home thinking of this most profound aspect of death - an all pervasive force of life. The profundity didn't last too long as I was back on my computer doing some mathematics.

A couple of days ago, my mother informed me of a lunch and dinner get-together at their house. I agreed, inspite of the age-old initial futile resistance. The next moment, I found myself sitting on a chair with a banana leaf on a small table placed in front of me. The silence was loud. My uncle, with whom I spent so much of my childhood, was serving me food on an ocassion that for sure didn't please him much. I sat in silence, as though in agreement with the cry of silence expressing, - "yes, someone had died".

My uncle and I didn't speak much. I told him about my childhood memories of the place. He smiled. Much of our conversation was what he would want to serve next. I was liking the time I was spending there; so much so that I decided to sit there, albeit in silence. An hour had passed; it was time for me to leave.

That night, I returned for dinner. As I entered, a far relative came forward and greeted me. I felt the warmth as I was being greeted by people in the house. They were calling out to each other shouting out, "Karan is here. Let him eat. He must be hungry." I entered the hall in the house where 11 of us sat, waiting for the food to be served. There was much comfort and ease in this "pankti," as we call a group sitting for dinner in Marathi. There was the one responsible man who was ensuring that none of us sit even for a second waiting for further servings. There was the funny guy who looked to entertain. There was the silent guy who took great interest in talking to me. There was also the guy who liked being entertained by the funny guy. Not to forget the ladies, who did the serving; and the other ladies who walked with great expression of experience as they walked the hall and the corridor. It was a pankti I liked being a part of. It was a family that hadn't sit together for many years. It was a family that was now automatically donning its roles in a group - any group leader's dream - except that each was his own leader here and there wasn't a need for any one person to lead. It was a night of together. We stood as one, and it showed.

This is the essence of family

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