Soon, he will have been dead more years now than he had been alive. His friends are now all men – have been for years – with kids who will soon be adults. And yet, how can that be? How can I still feel the silkiness of his even-then-receding-hair as I tousled it? Some memories are visceral in how real they are. They are vivid, intense, creating a narrative structure out of all the disparate and powerful images and will always be a challenge because there is no set pattern, no chronology. I remember the last time I saw him alive, his black T shirt and grey trousers and satchel over his shoulder. Yet that can’t be. because his last snap, taken just minutes before he sank, literally, out of our horizon, he is wearing something else. Memory plays tricks. I can’t remember large swathes of our lives together. It bothers me.
His eyes, those deep, piercing eyes which missed nothing, his dry skin which looked like parched farmland and no amount of cream and glycerin could quite make less dry. And his wicked humour, his incessant punning on words, his deep knowledge of literature and culture, his intense arguments with my father over things, his running all the way home during a quiz program to get a book on aircraft models because he knew baba was right and the quiz master was wrong, his need to prove to the world that when baba argues about something, usually it is because he is absolutely right. Contrary images. It bother me.
His quiet confidence when ma and I were going crazy dealing with the expectations of the entire colony of people that he would get 6 points in ICSE. His asking me to wake him up at 4 in the morning to study and never waking up before 7, and then going swimming and coming back and sleeping some more. And yet. And yet, he got his 6 points, his all-India 2nd rank. He was so casual about it that he did not bother to find that out either – my friend’s brother saw it in some paper and then we verified.
His indulging my mother and laughing kindly when she would butt in with the cost of brinjals when we were seriously discussing ICBM’s over dinner, our hands gone dry with unwashed curry. And then, when he got his NTS scholarship, he took me all over Calcutta to get her a sari, ‘with his own money’. He never gave me anything with that money, the old bugger. But he had wanted to, a ‘double-cassette recorder’, and was saving up for it. His best friend Ritwik went and got it for me with the money. But Boomba was not there. Or maybe he was. I like to think he was. Still is.
Some people, you hear them talk and get the feeling that they can never die. They are so articulate and so alive they always remain. It takes them no time at all to give up the ghost. One moment they are there, preternaturally vibrant, talking funnily or sagely and animatedly, you just know that they are indestructible, or, even, barely born. And yet, all you have to do is turn the other way, to find that they have died behind your back, just like that. Your bedside table has his card framed, your cabinet has the last picture of him, in his shorts and t-shit just before jumping into the sea which would take him in.
There is a certain democracy in death. It hits you hardest when someone you know just can’t die, just dies. Then all you can do is never get away from thinking about them, at first all the time, then often, then off and on. But they are there. Hundreds of time during my day, he is still there, in my thoughts. It’s funny how alive he is, frozen in time of course, and how dead my family is by comparison. These people go on living inside your head because there is certainly something larger than life about them now, and now part of one’s own sense of being alive is feeling them, coursing through one’s bloodstream. I think of him often, always sharply vivid to my eyes and my ears. I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing at which precise moment. I can remember his last birthday, when he showed me how my husband (then boyfriend) had given him the book ‘Love in the time of Cholera’ – he was actually showing off, telling me that C loved him more than he loved me, as though we were competing for his affections. He showed me the 2 T-shirts DDda gave him. I have them all with me still. But I can’t remember his voice. Try as I might, I just cannot remember his voice. At certain times, my older brother’s voice, the timbre as he says a certain word, makes me feel as though it is Boomba speaking but then it goes. It bothers me
It makes me impossibly angry when I see camcorders and video recorders and how I have nothing like those on him. No way to permanently keep him alive, and moving, in our memories. Sometimes I think if I had that, I would be completely healed by now. The other day a friend of mine was telling me how she almost cried when she learnt that a surgery, common now, had completely cured a lady she knew, of Parkinson’s, whereas her father, who got it at 34 years, lived a paraplegics life for decades. I knew exactly what she meant. I feel the same intense jealousy when I hear of people being rescued in a drowning accident. I don’t wish anyone ill, but well. Yes, you are right, I am not a nice person to know.
In my incredibly many hours of talks I had with him I learnt so much – some of the most valuable things I know about myself, life, our family, him. Almost everything I feel and think now is coloured very deeply by his awareness of situations and people around him. Yes, to that extent, I do carry him within me wherever I go. We might, all of us, have been been entirely different persons than what we now are, had we not been caught in our daily business of running a life without a limb. We try to shove all other detritus and get on with it, but it’s not easy.
As a family – and a few of his friends belong in it too-, we maintain separate silences. Days pass. Seminal days. But we pretend all is fine. We ring each other up, talk, text, never mentioning why we are reaching out to each other. We willfully let the prosaic get into the way of everything we do, pushing all thoughts but the most pedestrian away. We fool ourselves into thinking we are extraordinary by letting commonplace realities inevitably barge into our thoughts. Trauma like that, damage like that, has scarred us for life. I know accidents happen, and that the circumstances that cause them are inherently irregular and unselective and try as we might, we could not have controlled their trajectory. But to speak about them, to verbalize? Naah!
Our sense of perception is completely altered. The world as we knew it had changed and will forever remain changed – it was a new place, implacable, pitiless and I can never trust it again. Other people’s tragedies are always terrifying because it points to the complete fragility of things. But when they happen to you, you realize, year after year after bloody year that your world has somehow collapsed and this sort of time does not heal anything, it just cauterizes it.
Our family’s secret is that we have a secret – a hole in the middle of all of us, our insides, that every happy thing that happens in our lives will always fall into. We can’t escape that. I’ve tried.