Being Beta

Exercises in the higher banter with One of 26. Elsewhere called 'poet of adland'. By a whipple-squeezer. Find out why being beta is the new alpha: betarish at googlemail dot com

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Death at a distance

My grandmother died in Kolkata on Friday. 
 
She was 92.

She was the last of my grandparents.
 
I dashed back to my parents house, after getting the call mid-morning.

We watched TV. Drank tea and ate poppadoms. 

There wasn't as much hysteria as I thought there might be, as there was when the penultimate grandparent died.

Just the dull practical details. Like sorting visas to fly out in case the divvying of the inheritance turns into even more of a bunfight.

The phones were ringing, furthering the discussions as to who the representative might be, from this distance. 

Details filtered back across time zones.

That she stopped eating four days ago.

That her last words were, something like, “I won't be getting back up again." 

That it was enormous luck that my uncle, her eldest son, was visiting her and so able to take the reins of the situation. 

That everyone there agreed that it was a good death, whatever that is.

And anecdotes about her too.

Like how she'd ask for a receipt for any gift she was given. 

What I picked up on most were the incidental details around the religious rituals of death that I barely know anything about.

That my uncle had to hold some fire in his mouth before lighting the funeral pyre (the cremation had to happen within 24 hours of death. So she was ashes even before I was awake.) 

That the mourning period involves the family not eating meat – I haven't obeyed this injunction. (I felt some sort of odd consolation that this period will end with a family repast at Ping Pong next weekend.)

That Parsees hang bodies from a tower, for the vultures to pick at. (My grandmother wasn't a Parsee.)

Our family belies the cliché of extended Asian families – there's only the four of us here.

But outside of us, our clan is literally extended in space and time.

Which makes you feel even more like insignificant when things like this happen.

Death bridges distance, brings you closer, but it still doesn't answer those questions caused by those dislocations, voluntary or otherwise. 

I felt the oddness of my second generation upbringing.

I only knew my grandmother as a name. 

As a some photos in an album.

The object of some stories, occasionally told.

There was never any sense... impulse... pressure to get to know her.

(Or indeed, India, Bengal, Kolkata, my culture, my other language, my heritage.)

Is this is a bad thing?

I've never thought so. But then you re-consider, and ask the question.

And others.

How do you grieve for someone you didn't know? 
 
And only met once when you were two years old? 

Outside, snow was falling as the sun was shining. It was cold and beautiful. Like the day. 

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4 Comments:

Blogger tracey.ca said...

sorry to hear about your grandma.

after my faraway grandma died my sister and i felt as though someone was missing -- as though there was an empty space where there once was love -- even though we did not know her well or see her often. now that space seems less empty. perhaps it is the pictures and stories and the distances bridged that does that. faraway grandmas connect us to so much even though they are far away and those connections are strong.

peace and love, t

10:33 pm  
Blogger Rish said...

Thanks for that. 'Empty space' is indeed a good way of putting it.

4:15 pm  
Blogger Musab Bora said...

Rishi, really sorry to hear about your grandma. I grew up without knowing my grandparents either.

As an Asian/Gujarati/Indian with hints of East Africa. The challenge I face is how does one keep a hold of that; to hold on to those things important to ones parents but not to oneself? I take little notice of 'Asian' culture in the UK.

However, I can read and write Gujarati, and my travels to India as a child instilled in me reference points independent of my parents experience. My India is a different country to theirs.

The big gap I think has been the absence of grandparents, that lack of link to the past, that chain of humanity that stretches back till it fades. I have that curious obsession with family trees; a trait shared with those of no history like residents from Idaho who traipse around Aberdeen and Munich, stalking descendants of their ancestors.

This view shifts if you become a parent, you are merely a peg, with a pyramid of humanity above you and a pyramid under you, a twig on the tree of life.

4:25 pm  
Blogger Rish said...

Musab; yes, it's that 'gap' that I've been thinking about, even before last week. It's become more apparent that there is one in my life, and the question is how to fill it, in a way that remains true to me.

I have no idea.

5:08 pm  

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