There was some commotion outside our door and I stuck my head out to see what it was. Found out that it was my neighbour’s mother – the grand, graceful and loving lady next door – who had suddenly died last night. I have been moving around with a throat clogged with tears all morning.
And only last evening, my neighbour rang my bell to have a slanging match with me about my dog supposedly peeing on her doormat. My dog does not leave our flat without one of us, and definitely has more dignity than doing this on someone else’s doormat – he’s a right honourable fellow who only does it once he is outside the complex gates, and I must be the ONLY dog owner in Calcutta who moves out with a poop-scoop.
Anyway, I digress. So while this neighbour rang my bell to give me a piece of her very ugly mind (if you can’t keep a dog, why have one? Keep a human being instead, bla bla), her mother, – yes, her mother – stood right behind her and kept signalling to me how sorry she was about her daughter’s behaviour. I signalled with my eyes, too, that it was OK, I understood. Once our respective doors were shut, I wondered what it must be like for a mother of a grown up forty-something to apologize for her child’s behaviour. I find it difficult enough when my son gets told off by his teachers for some misdemeanour in school (thankfully restricted to breaking a window with the football, at worst, till now). I wondered about my neighbour too, about how she must be feeling – would she realize now that in one’s final days, one does not want the Rs. 1000 worth (her quoted price, not mine, – people are so filthy rich these days) of doormat, or the walnut picture frame on the sideboard, one does not ask to sit in one’s snazzy expensive Mercedes, but one just wants to be hugged and to be near one’s near and dear ones.
I have seen family feud’s taken to extreme lengths which are completely pointless. Just the other day, one of my uncles, in a freak accident, had a huge stone crash into his temple through the double-glazed (supposedly) AC windows of a high-velocity train, and as he was on blood thinners, he was bleeding profusely, relentlessly, and the train had to stop at Vijaywada and the doctor was brought in and got it stitched etc. Anyway, as I was saying, this uncle and aunt do not communicate at all with another uncle of mine. For years, over some dumb property dispute. (The world of the property-less, like my dad’s, is a much happier world – and I imagine my brother and I will be friends always, thank god. Or maybe not, who knows?) So this second uncle rings me up to find out about the condition of uncle 1. And he was in tears, very agitated and it took me quite some time getting him to talk coherently and telling him things were fine. I was nonplussed, completely. I asked my mother later whether Uncle 1 and 2 had since patched up their differences. Apparently not, said my mom.
And I thought, if Uncle 2 was so bothered about the health and danger to Uncle 1, why did they not use it as an excuse to resolve differences? Will either of them carry their financial statements and mutual funds and flats-which- had- to- be- sold- to –get- the- rightful- share to their graves? If one’s health mattered so much to the other when one heard he was in danger, if relationships mattered most then, why do they not matter now? What can be more important than relationships?
I thought also of Nelson Mandela. I remember being absolutely amazed by the man’s wisdom and probity in realizing that the time was not for revenge but for reconciliation, that South Africa could not move forward if they kept looking back in anger. “As I walked out the door towards my freedom, I knew that if I did not leave all my anger, hatred and bitterness behind, I would still be in prison”. The prison of his mind. One giant leap of faith, one new perception changed the face of some part of the earth. All the clamouring that happens each time some British dignitary arrives, about apologizing for Jallianwalla Bagh, about the British rule, is just so meaningless. The fact that they have come, they are willing to visit the place/graves/whatever – isn’t that apology enough? And then again, why is apology so necessary to move ahead anyway? I quote H. W. Longfellow here, to make my point – “If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we could find in each man’s life, sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”
But do we all learn any of these lessons? Taking the example of my uncles, we definitely don’t. Why can we not be alert to flashes of extreme beauty, compassion, wit or wisdom around us, but why do we keep circling in the mire of hate and dislike and negativity? Why do we let our egos rule our lives and take the joy out of things? What is the point of stumbling over things behind us? Why is it so difficult to look ahead with hope?
Again, my questions will remain unanswered, I imagine