Thank you, my friends.
The past several weeks have been difficult ones. I write this as a note of thanks to all of our global villagers who have rallied around us in the wake of my mother’s passing two weeks ago. I wrote to keep my anguish at bay
while I traveled to her deathbed, and then shared what I wrote as a way to shield myself from having to relive the horror of what happened in the retelling to all the friends who would want to know, to share the grief, to express condolences. I am not very good with the spoken word, especially under such trying circumstances, but seem to have found a better outlet in writing. I am grateful to everyone who read and left comments and condolences, on this blog, on my facebook wall, in emails, and telephone conversations. Thank you, those of you who knew her, and also those who didn’t know her and don’t even really know me, but have shared my grief.
I have been overwhelmed that so many tell me my writing touched them, moved them to tears, and in those tears I hope to drown the flames that took my mother
While I am bad at knowing what to say to people expressing condolences and sympathy, it is even harder to respond to the many who said they would pray for her, and me, and said “may god rest her soul in peace”. I turned away from religion a long time ago, as did my siblings. Even Aai, who had followed many a ritual in our childhoods as a matter of course, had given up her pujas
and prayers over the past couple of decades, preferring instead to read Marxist accounts of our cultural evolution such as “Volga te Ganga
” (Marathi for Volga to Ganga
), and writing angry feminist notes in her notebooks raging against the patriarchy. That is, when she wasn’t worshipping at the television altar of that other reigning religion in India: cricket
. I am not sure, therefore, what she would have said to those wishing her soul peace in god, for she too believed in neither soul nor god.
Some of her loss of faith I know about from conversations we had during college days, when we, her kids, brought back what we were discovering in science and philosophy, following the path she herself had set us out on in insisting we become scholars. At least after she had reconciled herself to my failure to become a doctor, her first and biggest ambition. It was that disappointment, deepening through years of frustration at my lack of financial success, which made it difficult in later years for me to talk to her about anything as exalted as faith or souls. Reading some of her notes now, I regret not having been able to engage her in conversations deeper than the ones we had about mundane things. I do know, though, that she never really went back to her seasonal religious rituals, and only wanted to do the bare minimum asked for by society even when her husband died seven years ago.
Some of the nurses tried to tell us that in her delirium in the ICU, before she slipped into unconsciousness, she had blurted out something about god, and had appeared to be chanting some religious hymns. Did she turn back to religion and rediscover god in her final moments, as we atheists are told is inevitable? I don’t know. My sister, who was with her, talking to her, holding her hand as she fell into her final sleep, doesn’t recount god figuring much in their conversation. Vaijoo said Aai held her hand to her heart and asked her what was happening, why she had gathered friends and relatives, was she going to die, was this the end? Earlier, looking at the burned skin on her arms while on the way to the ICU, she had laughed at the absurdity of her accident. Now it had sunk in, and perhaps she was afraid that this was it, there was no coming back from this. What will happen next, she asked Vaijoo. Masking her own emotional distress,
Vaijoo said she didn’t know, but that a lot of people who loved her were gathered outside, including her beloved brother whom she hadn’t seen in 20 years, and that her son was also on his way to be with her shortly. She squeezed her hand, looked into her eyes, told her to rest, try to be calm, and go to sleep. Then the doctor came, gently slipped Aai’s hand out of Vaijoo’s and into his own and told her he would stay until she was fully asleep.
That was the last lucid conversation my mother had, hardly regaining consciousness at all over the next 36 hours before she was gone. I don’t know how much room there was for god or religion in the cracks of her fading consciousness, nor do I find much solace in seeking out god to explain the accident that took her from us. Nevertheless, I deeply appreciate the sentiment from friends and strangers who said they prayed for her. Rituals of mourning are, after all, more for the still living left behind by the dead. So, thank you again, my friends, for your condolences.
I also find greater comfort in knowing something I know would have evoked wonder and awe in her spirit as well: that we are all made of stardust, that, as my favorite contemporary preacher put it (at c.2:40 in the following video), “Not only do we exist in this universe, it is the universe itself that exists within us
“. So allow me to leave you with these cosmic (and hopefully not too disturbing) thoughts from Neil DeGrasse Tyson: