Lost and never found

The mist hung around, dense and impenetrable. There was a deafening silence to the place, like that of underwater. In addition to that, numb fingertips made it three non functional senses – vision, hearing, touch. The absence of smell hadn’t dawned upon her yet. The non functionality of the senses made her surrounding appear still. She tried looking through the mist for some clue of what this place might be. Her memory of how she landed here was non existent. She couldn’t remember what was the last thing she was doing before she opened her eyes to the present scene. She continued digging into her recent memory to trace some connection to her current state. Her efforts met with more silence. The lack of any sound on the inside and the outside was unnerving. She was clawing into her memories for a thread of recognition. 

The dark grey wall of mist made the scenery appear endless yet a claustrophobic restricted space. It did not help in figuring the time of the day. At the slightest noise of a cloth flapping, she turned around with a start, only to realise that it was her own skirt fluttering in the breeze. There was nothing else moving to indicate the slightest of the winds. Absolute silence enveloped her, along with the chilly damp breeze. It was as if the breeze was only around her body and did not extend to anything beyond. Her senses adjusting to the surroundings made her crave for some visual cue. She looked around for some sign of life… some sort of movement. Nothing obliged. The place didn’t feel right. She wasn’t sure what prickled the back of her mind but it gave her the shivers. 

Questions and doubts flooded her mind. What was this place? And more concerning, what was she doing here? How did she get here?

The only information she had- she was standing on hard ground. At a certain height, the mist started. So the ground had a wider view than at the eye level. The ground appeared damp and dark in patches. 

“Is that blood?”

A scream rose from her stomach, silenced at the throat for the fear of whatever had spilled blood here. Invisible beyond her nose, the mist hung around close… too close for comfort, blinding her from anything and everything around. She gathered her courage and took a step in some direction. She had to crouch to get a closer and clearer view of ground beneath her feet. Her hands found a cold wet metallic mound-like object which needed a slight tugging to pull it off the ground. A soldier’s helmet! Dark and shiny with the condensing dew on the metal. As if her popping joints might give her presence away in a hostile environment, she stood up as slowly as she could, and began to investigate the helmet in her hand. “But dew isn’t sticky”, she thought to herself and flinched at the realisation that it wasn’t condensed dew but blood. Partially dry, the blood along with grime stuck to the surface of the helmet. Reflexively she dropped it and followed a loud metallic clang. She froze at her place, anticipating consequences of her carelessness. Few moments later, the silence was back with a full blow.

Promising herself to be careful yet helpless in the face of curiosity, she bent down to see what is it that the helmet fell on as it hit the ground. And there it was. Glazing metal and partly buried, as if it had been there for more than a few months, lay a hip flask. The initials “B. D.” scraped on the side. She wondered what was the owner called, or was it a loved ones initials that he held onto. Momentarily lost in her imagination of what life did the owner of the hip flask might have had lived, she took the risk of indulging in weaving a life of the man, she assumed was referred to as BD. Unfortunately, possessions do not help in placing an identity to the respective owner and her sense of unknown geography didn’t help assuming a face. But the life of BD might have been similar to what a typical soldier’s life is like. Prolonged periods of absence from the family home and the sword of uncertainty hanging over his head at all times. More scenes danced in front of her eyes from the innumerable movies she had watched. Unsure of whether to leave the flask back in its place, she chose to carry it forward onto her next step. 

She stepped on something. A buckle. Probably, belonged to a helmet. It had bloody fingerprints on it. She ran her fingertips along those, that gave her goosebumps. Did the man survive or perish after he pulled this buckle off him? Did someone respond to his call for help? Did they bury him or never found him? But if they never found the bodies scattered in this place, where did they disappear? There was no sign of any life yet she knew all kinds of life forms had crossed this place. Fear of the unknown crept into her being slowly through every pore of her skin. “What is this place?”, she wondered. 

Calling upon the universal forces of bravery, she took a few more steps picking up a ring, a blackened disfigured coin of some sort, frames with shattered glasses, a torn wallet with creases of prolonged use but empty otherwise. None of those things gave her any confirmation of which part of the world she might be. Or what timeline was it? “How did she come here?”, the question was nagging her louder now.

A battlefield of sorts. That’s where she stood. A battle long over and she walked around rummaging the remains of the men who fought it. The mist seemed to fade away into distance with time. Yet all she saw was possessions of possibly dead soldiers scattered everywhere. The fact that men had been killed at the spot she stood, made her uncomfortable. Thankfully, the place had only belongings and not the corpses of the owners scattered. The very thought of dead bodies around made her knees wobble but she held onto whatever strength she managed and kept her senses wide open.

She racked her consciousness to remember news of any recent wars that she had come across. Though there was no logical explanation of how she had landed wherever she was, the threads of information were sewing the place for her bit by bit. The images from a visit to the World War II cemetery in a corner of the country surfaced up in her memory. And came along the overwhelming sadness that she felt while she knelt beside the graves of the men whose names stood evidence as their presence in the battlefields. Everything else lost. How did they identify bodies? She knew for some they had only put names because they couldn’t find anything else that belonged to them. How did the families react to not knowing where their sons or husbands had disappeared? When so many men died in wars, how did anybody know which side the body belonged to? Not the soldier but by the time they were discovered, it was a stiff cold body.

The silence that she thought had been following her suddenly started jarring her with the image of what had happened here. People running from every possible side, some wounded, some ready to charge, some battling for the last breathe, some waiting for help, some looking for shelter from the destruction. “Oh dear lord! Where have I landed?”. She didn’t know where to hide. She heard non stop firing from somewhere close. The vibrations that followed the explosions made it all feel more real than ever. Her heart clenched like a fist, the pain unbearable as if she was trampled by emotions overwhelming her of the loss and the tragedy. Her knees gave away and she shut her eyes tight hoping that this is all an illusion. Nothing happened. She screamed for the fear that she was drowning in. The chaos around her threatened to crush her and her paralyzed self struggled to pull her hands onto her ears in an attempt to shut the noise. It seemed to die away instantly. Except a distant hum which seemed familiar. Yet she didn’t dare open her eyes for the fear of what she might witness, for the fear of what she might not be able to escape, for the fear of the scene that she has no recollection of walking into, for the fear of dying and not being able to let her loved ones know, for the fear of being lost to an unknown cause, in an unknown world, in a battle uncalled for. Is that what the soldiers fighting here or any other battle felt when they knew they would never see their families? The concern of lost individuals and their lost identities plagued her…

(more later)…

Chasing shadows

The crunching of dry leaves made her turn around and check for whatever was following her. I stood there, bare feet smiling at her. She smiled back with concern in her eyes. “You are not supposed to be walking bare feet in the garden. Your mother is not going to like it.”

“Please don’t tell her. I couldn’t find my chappals and I had to catch up with you”, I said. 

She walked back to me with the warmest of the smiles, took my hand in hers and we headed towards the house. “Don’t you have to pick flowers for the puja?”, I asked her confused about the direction we were moving. “Yes”, she replied, “we will go back into the garden but first, we need to find you a pair of chappals.” I didn’t mind the walk up and down from the house to the garden as long as I could shadow my grandmother. We went back to pick a few flowers for her daily puja and then holed up in the puja room for two hours. I had no role to play yet I wouldn’t let her out of my sight.

This was a daily routine. Dad would drop me at Bou’s house around 10 am after morning school and pick me up after a few hours. One could make me do anything with the greed of taking me to see Bou (maternal grandmother). Her house was the warm comfort space that every child looks for… until she was gone and the house stood as a cold reminder of her. 

After her passing away, we moved into that house. Every day, every moment, for the next six years, was torturous to navigate through emotionally. But as a 10 year old child, one doesn’t understand grief, except that it is a dark sinking feeling that you find painful yet cannot pinpoint at it. I wondered if I had done something silly for her to abandon me abruptly or if there was a way I could apologise and coax her to come back. Little did I know that it was goodbye forever without saying it explicitly.

Bou (maternal grandmother), sometime in the late 1970s when
she was the headmistress of a girls high school

It’s been 24 years, yet the loss pricks like it happened yesterday. Certain losses become a tacit mourning for eternity. There is no time limit on how long it takes to come to terms with the void carved by the absence of a loved one. At times of complete despair, I reach into the void, looking for her presence that would warm up even the coldest of the souls. Not necessarily the yearning is fulfilled but I cannot resist the urge to dive into that vastness with the hope of finding her. I was used to being Bou’s shadow and shadows don’t exist without the subject that casts them. At the loss of my anchor, I never stopped grieving but life went on and I walked along with it, hoping someday I will find something to hold onto. Twenty four years and counting….my search continues. 

Lockdown diaries iii

Driven by the fear for our lives, every research lab across the world is investing all resources into finding a vaccine or even a reasonable way to stop the SARS-CoV2 rampage. Every individual or organization that can contribute to that cause, is racing against time. We crossed the 100 day mark since the world knew about the novel coronavirus disease. The numbers are above 1,600,000 cases in the world which is an average of 16,000 people infected every day and about 950 people dying each day out of that disease. Too many numbers and too many comparisons with previous pandemics or earlier viral outbreaks and the unpredictable trajectory of this virus. The blame game and the conspiracy theories flood our news feeds.  

It seems like a deep dive into the ocean of overwhelming information and misinformation on this new disease. And every individual comes up with their theories and hypotheses. Part of the world admits that it is driven by fear and worries about how this pandemic ends and the other half is busy behaving like Ostriches- in denial cooped up in their dens, hoping no inconvenience shows up in their plans and lives because of a damned virus.

A cure is nowhere near and expecting scientists to pull one out, like the rabbit out of the magician’s hat, is absurd. Vaccines take years of research and trials before it benefits the public. There might be interim solutions but they come with their share of side effects. Until a feasible option is available, why not comply with the common sense of staying away from people to break the infectious chain? There is enough proof of health workers who have died fighting on the frontlines, irrespective of the age group. The only way non health workers can help is to stay away and stay home.

Every member of my family is negotiating their way through the barge of infected individuals headon. A constant worry underlies my actions and reactions through the day. I cannot help but wonder if I should be doing something. It is extremely frustrating to stand on the sidelines and watch them helplessly take on the wrath of the pandemic. Yet on every call, every message, they assure me this is the best I can do to share their burdens.

Lockdown diaries ii

Chaotic as expected. Everybody is scrambling to save their own asses or expecting the higher ups to take better decisions for the sake of the greater good. Both the extremes clash in most cases and results in inaction. The leaders are failing people and a lot of people are failing their communities. 

Spoke to G & M. Their respective hospitals have opened their doors to suspected and positive cases. They look around their own colleagues and see an extremely low morale. Doctors or not, they are humans. M fretted over why has the hospital shirked away from the responsibility at such unusual times. With the lockdown on, a lot of employees have trouble getting to work- why not do something for their transport? All the prediction models say we are yet to hit the peak of the outbreak, then what are we waiting for? Indecisiveness at higher levels of management delays actions that can stop the worst from hitting the population. G worried about colleagues fussing over being sent to the frontlines without proper protective gear. Fear can be at an all time high as compared to the sense of responsibilities. In these unusual circumstances, it is important for people to rise up to the occasion and dispel more than just duties. Why is it so difficult to act for the sake of mankind unless one of your loved ones is suffering? Why are we failing to understand the urgency to act and try to avoid dangers of the situation? It is not such a pleasant state of mind to go to work with people who are ready to run away from the pile of problems owing to the pandemic, knowing fully well that they are the only ones equipped to ‘flatten the curve’ of the rapidly spreading disease. 

This pandemic is a result of not only a severely contagious mutant virus but also because of multiple weak links handing down chaos to people around. When the pandemic is over, there might be a major chunk of the population suffering from Post Trauma Stress Disorder. And may be much more that we cannot anticipate yet.

Dia de Muertos

The Mexicans celebrate Dia de Muertos sometime in November to remember their dead. Loved ones lost. A few years ago, the movie Coco, was based on this Day of remembrance. In our traditions, I am not aware of any such specific day assigned to remember the lost family members but we definitely delve into our memories deeper on the day we lost them, year after year.

It is understandable when you have lost somebody and you miss them. But I hadn’t ever heard wishing the presence of someone who they have never met. I somehow, fall into that category. After I had completed my earthly presence for three decades, I married into this family. Father-in-law was long gone. Almost a decade by then. Any and every member of the extended family and friends, that I was introduced to, told me the same thing – ‘that man would have pampered you to bits’, ‘The daughter he never had’, ‘you missed meeting a good man’ and many more that I chose to ignore beyond a point. Because each time I heard something on those lines, there was a sense of deep regret, as if I should have met this man way before he was gone. As if I delayed in getting here. Survived by his wife and sons, and millions of friends, there wasn’t a person who spoke any other way but fondly of him. Evenings were full of his stories and how he added life to the room full of people. Everybody’s eyes lit up when he was mentioned and there were always more stories to be shared.

As months passed by, I started seeing the void that his absence had left in the family. I wished more and more that I had gotten a chance to meet him. As I went through the old family pictures, I started forming an image of the kind of person he might have been. With all the stories that I have heard about him from specific corners of the house- what his favorite spot was in the living room, how he loved spending the evening in the bar, his early morning cooking endeavors, his routine through the day- for a long time those particular parts of the house made his holographic self show up to me. It was haunting but in a good way. As if he would start a conversation with me right away. And I would lament away the evening in more regret of not knowing my Father-in-law. I miss never having met him.

If his holographic image in my head had suddenly communicated with me, I am not sure how I would have reacted. If I should introduce myself or does he know that I exist in the family already. I don’t know and I will never know.

A fine gentleman I indeed, missed, meeting!! So I did what I do best. A sketch of him shall do unless I am allowed to be ferried to the Land of the Dead for a day. Until then, may he live long in the hearts and memories of his near and dear ones.

Lockdown begins

Last night, the Prime Minister called for a 21 day lockdown. It was 8pm. Four hours to the beginning of an unprecedented halt to our daily lives since the Indo-Pak face-off in 1971. Panic-stricken public went on a hoarding rampage right away. Our generation (millennials) were as confused as they were when they hit their teens. They have never witnessed any such interference in their daily lives. The educated mass scrambled through every possible electronic source to check on ‘What on earth is this virus? And why is the whole world in a frenzy because of that minuscule particle? Why is the health industry in such a bad shape? What is the government doing?’ All the research fuzzed up the brains even more. The innumerable infographs on statistics from earlier pandemics to the variables in the present scenario and the comparative studies of action taken by the other countries were of no help to unclench the knotted up guts.

On the other hand, doctors pretended to go about their daily lives, suppressing the fear of life into the deep corners of their minds, making sincere efforts to ensure the growing fear doesn’t clog their judgements in treating patients. They turn a blind eye to the sword of a virulent infection hanging beside their neck and continue to look for hope in the recovering patients. Hope rises within them, as they sign off discharge sheets for few, yet the fear, for numerous patients being admitted everyday, is weighing heavier. Long duty hours as per the roster come to a close and begin again. There is no scope to hang up the gowns, or change the ever-so-scarce gloves or masks and walk out to breathe the fresh air. The cycle of the tests to treatment goes on and the faces behind the masks continue fighting this battle silently. 

They won the battle today. They survived today. Tomorrow will bring in more challenges. Their lives had reached the proverbial living one moment at a time…

The unusual war had begun three months ago in a faraway land. And now it is at our doorstep. The health sector stands guard on the frontlines. Their only weapons – team of health care workers, their only hope – lesser number of positive cases. We sit in the comfort of our homes and keep a check on the numbers increasing on the screen, while they scuttle around to save whoever comes their way until they have to send them home or send them to the morgue. We fret over the graph not flattening while they fret over the survival of the fazed and ill people around them. We worry about when and how our lives will go back to normal while they wonder if they themselves will survive the pandemic.

The war with the grossly unmatched opponent began

As the lockdown began for the general public, a countdown began for the health industry workers.

Adios ‘2018

Few more days to go before 2019 walks in and it’s goodbye 2018. It has become customary to think of what has gone by and what better way to live the new year. The past year has been an absolute roller coaster. As far as memory goes, no other year has shaken me up with joys as well as absolute disasters like 2018. Peaks and valleys in both personal and professional fronts rocked our daily lives—sometimes the same day. I can go on and on and on…..

Despite all the drama, I managed to reach my reading challenge of a meagre 25 books through the whole year. And it so happens that one of the last books I read was “Sikkim: requiem for a Himalayan kingdom”. This was triggered by a recent trip to Sikkim and surprising revelations about the state.

On our first day in Sikkim, as we drove through the mountain roads, our driver guide casually said, “Please ask me whatever you want about Sikkim, including its history.” I thought for a while and wondered every Indian state has a similar history for the last two centuries since the British took over every nook and corner of the country. So what’s so different about Sikkim. May be he sensed my ignorance and summarised the history in one line. “We became the 22nd state of India in 1975. Until then we were a separate Buddhist kingdom.” My jaws dropped. How did I not know such an important part of our country’s history.

This is why the book by Andrew Duff ended up in my reading list. It took me a whole month to read through the book but at the end, I realised the Chogyal of Sikkim went through highs and lows throughout his life for his dream of an independent Sikkim which in any case came crashing down before he died. People came and went in his life—some in support and some against. Yet all along he stood to defend his unwavering love for his kingdom and to safeguard their interests. He might have been stubborn to an irrational degree but lived his life for his passion, dreams and belief. And taught an extremely important lesson to everybody—no amount of time spent chasing your dreams is enough and there is no guarantee of dreams coming true. But that’s the only way I would like to live my life.