Sunday, April 21, 2013


Whether I'm writing this too early is a matter of debate. I am still switching between two homes - my parents' place and my own meagre apartment. I'm still confused with what I want to do for the rest of my life. Most of my mornings still start with severe depression that only gets worse as the day progresses and I still think detachment is the answer to all of my problems.

I was running around with a camera slung on my shoulder in search of 'honest' photographs. I was refusing all other forms of self-expression. I was whining to my friends about how writers were always the luckier lot. That they could express themselves with mere strokes of a pen. I was getting restless at home. I was running away from all forms of possible rejection. I was treating work with indifference or at most, contempt. I had no self-illusions, no ambitions, little regrets. And when I was doing all these, my grandfather was slowly dying.

Well, not slowly. He was dying quite fast.

It was not more than a year. Before then I was only superficially aware of his incurable disease. I was aware that he was losing it. He would often fail to recognize people, fail to find words, fail to control his unjust emotions. But then one day I came back from work and someone announced my arrival to him. He shot me a blank stare and I saw death in it. Cold, blue death. It was not more than a year ago. I could not look him in the eye since.

My father, being a doctor with a well-established practice, was a practical and, in lack of better words, pragmatic man. His practicality had told him long ago that my grandfather's was a losing battle. Long before I saw cold, blue death in his stare my father had seen it. In fact, he had seen it before it turned cold and blue. How it had affected him back then is not the concern of this story. Death is inevitable and man has always made peace with this fact, with initial difficulty of variable degrees. My grandmother knew it too, although she began to acknowledge it much later than i did.

When I was a boy my grandfather used to take me to walks around the neighborhood and tell me stories. What those stories contained, I mostly forgot. When that happens, it means they were not based on subjects which a young boy might like, but of topics that rather caught his fancy. Those might as well be of political scenarios or religious rituals, but I was a quiet listener which lied about the depth of my attention. In the last year of his life, they used to prop up his revolting body in his wheelchair every morning (an act which he often rebelled against with violent unintelligible screams, his only remaining form of communication) my mother always asked me to say hello to him before I left. I could not do it. It would mean I had to look at him straight and face death. Instead I approached him with eyes downcast and murmured bland medical advices to his attendant.

Was I afraid of losing my dignity by engaging into conversation with a corpse? No. Either I didnt have a sense of dignity or my dignity was not this fragile. It had to be something else. After my grandfather died, I got drunk one night and told all this to a friend. She promtply accused my craving for detachment and how I was close to finally achieving it. But her irony made no sense. It was not detachment. I would call it 'departure'.

Just as his identity as an individual slowly departed from his sense of being, I had departed from his identity too.

I belong to one of those last 'transitional' generations. The most important history-changing event that occurred in last hundred years is undoubtedly the free availability of knowledge. Internet has revolutionized knowledge-sharing and the social structure like nothing ever had done before. I am one of those people who have clear, precise memory of life before that happened, but swiftly adapted to the new social norms like we were born with such skills. If you take away the smartphone and wikipedia and facebook and photoshop away from me, I can effortlessly switch back to the life I had known so much when we were in school. My twentyone-year-old friend is often a source of curiosity for me for she, along with her friends, was markedly different in terms of social beliefs and practices. She has nowhere to go back to. Her generation is the first of their kind. Their parents gape at them in wonder and secretly envy them. They buy themselves ipads and smartphones and open facebook accounts with their passport-sized mugshots in order to be close to their sons and daughters, but fail miserably... because their generation was anything but transitional. Try as they may, they can never be their offsprings.

On the contrary, if someone asks me to go back to the seventies and play my father's role when he was twenty-nine like I am, now, I don't think it would be too difficult. My father often has told me how he envied the advancements that we are blessed with these days, but I've noticed that he had started to envy me only after I entered college. He had never felt his skills inadequate and his pleasures backdated when I was in school when, in practicality, we had nothing special that he didnt have as a schoolboy apart from constant access to international cricket in television, a device which only after nearly twenty years of practice he had learnt to master. We entered college and started to find ourselves in an endless procession of technological inventions, and we started to adapt. For the last ten years, all I've ever done is adapting.

While my father has long gotten off that train. His departure is one of necessity, just as my adaptation is.

I am holding a faded 6"x4" print of a picture that my father took on our family trip to Bangladesh ten years ago. It shows my grandparents at a distance, standing away from each other, looking at graves. It was taken in the Chittagong War Cemetary and the late afternoon sun was on them. My grandfather was apparently bent over a particular gravestone. I can imagine him squinting to read the name and curling his lips. He had left that country, his motherland, when he was twenty-six. And now, fifty-five years later, he returns to find his village completely digested by modern civilization and all he could do is to bend over each gravestone to find a familiar name. My grandmother was the youngest daughter of a wealthy zameendar in some obscure village but when they crossed the border and landed in this country, they were practically penniless. As my father tracked that village down and took her there, all she asked about was people she used to know, now all presumably dead.

What my grandfather did for a living is irrelevant to the story that i'm narrating now. But one thing my father stresses on is the fact that it was way beneath his educational standard. When we visited his ancestral village he could not recognize anything, not a single building. He got depressed and started a mild racist rant about how the Muslims were responsible for this social degradation and political downfall of Bangladesh. I was eighteen when this trip happened and was full of teenage idealism. I thought of protesting but as I said earlier, I preferred being a quiet listener. So it appeared surprisingly amazing to an eighteen-year-old me afterwards when my grandfather recognized one of his childhood friends in front of the village school. It was a chance meeting, a coincidence that occurs once in a million. That old villager took no time to recognize his old Hindu friend back and they engaged in an embrace. Their conversation that followed revealed the ocean-wide gap between their adult lives and my grandfather's depature from his homeland was complete.

Meanwhile my father, who did not have a past to go back to in that trip, kept on clicking pictures in his 1983 Nikon camera. It was perhaps one of the last occassions he was being serious about his photography. After this period the digital cameras started to grow like tumor cells in the market and everybody, including me, began to call themselves photographers and my father quietly departed from something he would like to call home.

At my grandfather's funeral, many of our relatives and family friends kept on stressing upon the fact that he was an extremely responsible family person. To each one of these people my father told the story about how my grandfather had used his entire salary of a month, which was very meagre to tell the truth, to buy an expensive textbook of anatomy that my father needed at the first year of medical school. They all shook their heads and agreed unanimously that he was indeed a man capable of such deeds. Then my father's two sisters, my two aunts, took over and continued the conversation and my father would quietly leave.

It was me who broke the news to him in a way. I was with my grandfather at his deathbed. The details of that occasion are irrelevant to this particular story. But at that point my father was at the hospital where he worked and he was in the middle of a surgery. I calmed myself, called him up and somebody else answered the phone. I had to tell him that it was extremely important and that he should put him on by any means. After a while my father answered and I began to stammer. He only let out a short sigh and told me that he would finish the operation as soon as possible and come. During the ten days that followed my grandfather's death up to his funeral services, I never saw him anything but composed. In front of his friends or our relatives who visited, he was calm and appeared good-natured. He worked out all the prosaic details of the funeral and assured everybody else who expressed concern that he could do it himself.

During the last few months of his life, my grandfather was a newborn to him. Devoid of cognition and recognition, just as a corpse as I took him for. But he started to engage in conversation with him even more. They were not conversations that one has with a wall, self-reflective and contemplative. They were direct questions, direct pointers, direct informations and comments about things that my grandfather held dear. And once in a while, out of no explanation, he was able to recieve a smile. A smile of newborns, devoid of cognition and recognition. And the cold blue flame of death would momentarily disappear.

When asked if he grieves his father's death at all, my father points out that this is one thing that he misses the most. I believe people grieve deaths because of two reasons in the subconscious. Guilt and dependence. I grieve my grandfather's death perhaps because of guilt. But my father had no reasons to feel guilty for the newborn, nor did he ever depend on the corpse.

My grandfather was lucky in a way that he had only one item in his priority list in all his life. That was his family's wellbeing. And, therefore, he worked honestly and relentlessly, and was rewarded with comfort and peace in the later years of his life. His children turned out to be successful, honest and good-natured as he was, leaving him with no particular regrets.

My father never became a source of shame, disappointment, worry and confusion for him. And when he found out that he could not ask for anything more, that someone with a priority list like that can not have anything more to ask for, and that he was no longer in a position to ask anymore, he contemplated peace.

I think, for me, detachment is the best solution. I often attempt to tell this to my father. But I have a queer feeling that he knows the difference only too well.

Between detachment and departure, that is.
It's time to go again
To your blue room.