K and L are for Kenopsia and Loss

My intention while beginning this challenge was to keep my posts upbeat and not dreary. But circumstances dictate one’s mood. Though life in NZ is back to normal, the situation back home appears to deteriorate with each passing day. Emphasizing on how dandy my life is as compared to folks back home seems inconsiderate, heartless almost.

I’ve been encountering this post on Instagram about a word that acutely describes a state of being that falls between depression and contentment – languishing. And I cannot relate more. I don’t have anything in particular that stops me from being satisfied here but there are days such as today when I feel absolutely weighed down by purposelessness and the lack of vigor to tick off all the items on my ToDo list. My work seems to be going OK. I have a cat here for company. But here I am getting sucked into lassitude. I hate it.

To fight this feeling, I immerse myself in a barrage of activities and hobbies that range from making art, playing the guitar and recording music to bouldering and dancing to bhangra music. For the most part, it doesn’t seem like I am resisting a negative emotion – I am truly happy, the cool Auckland breeze blows in my face, the sky is crystal clear and Sid Sriram’s melodious voice fills my ears; kairosclerosis. But happiness and satisfaction are not isolated; they are relative to those around me and away from me miles away.

And so my anxiety returns, fueled by news and visuals of a collapsing health system, citizens at the mercy of an apathetic ruthless state, chaos and grief. My Insta and Twitter feeds have transformed into covid lifelines. Websites and apps have been developed overnight for free, none of which are sanctioned by this government. The news is inescapable. My family placates me by describing all the cautionary measures that are in place at home and how no one ventures out unless absolutely necessary. Their consolation is bittersweet – my folks, having been compelled to stay at home beyond a year are trying to assuage my fears whilst normalcy prevails where I live. My sister has irrevocably lost her final golden year in college. My grandmother fears the outside world. This isn’t to sideline the fact that we are seeped in privilege as compared to the masses. It is indeed a privilege to be safe and sound during these unimaginable times. But are they really safe?

Last year, I used to often think of home and my favourite haunts. On days I was consumed by homesickness, I would miss walking on Salunkhe Vihar Road, meeting friends at Coffee Jar, Pune’s winter breeze, the swanky cantonment road to Camp, and dancing my butt off at Swig. I would crave the smell of filter coffee wafting into my room at 6am, watching KBC with the entire family at dinnertime, shopping with my mother and eating chaat at a roadside stall. Strangely, I’ve noticed a shift in the way I reminisce over the past few months. My longing has been replaced with deep sadness; a sense of kenopsia

n. the eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that’s usually bustling with people but is now abandoned and quiet—a school hallway in the evening, an unlit office on a weekend, vacant fairgrounds—an emotional afterimage that makes it seem not just empty but hyper-empty, with a total population in the negative, who are so conspicuously absent they glow like neon signs.

When I left Pune, it was familiar to me. The streets, schools and offices were bustling with activity, masks and social distancing were alien concepts, concerts and music festivals were round the corner, and restaurants and eateries were brimming with people. My city had been fairly resilient, having had its share of epidemics and flu outbreaks, but nothing on the scale of covid. The sheer magnitude of this devastation that may have infiltrated the homes and families of familiar faces is something I cannot fathom, or rather be prepared for. Earlier, my friends had reassured me that nothing had changed but was it pure denial? Denial of the fact that this virus would be inescapable? Denial of inevitable fear and health anxiety? No matter what, my city seems unfamiliar to me, partly due to my long absence and more significantly, due to the pandemic.

Two months into my move to Auckland and a week before an almost worldwide lockdown, I lost my grandfather to cardiac failure. Over time, relief overtook grief because the thought of him languishing amidst covid patients made for terrifying imagery. Such is loss where some of its forms are more tolerable than the rest.

A letter to a stranger

I don’t know this girl. All I know is that she is dealing with her grandfather’s death and that struck a chord.

I have never spoken to anyone about the way I dealt with Thatha’s loss. And I don’t think I can ever elaborate on that.

This is not meant to make one sad.

Dear @dustyalmirah,

I hope this helps you.

Understanding a grandparent’s loss isn’t easy. I say understand and not deal because when Thatha died, I dealt with it and the entire world tried to understand my attempts at dealing with it.

Three years post his death, it requires hours, probably days of concentrated effort to rewind and replay all those moments I spent with him (and took for granted), as compared to the time when he was around. Why is it such a task? On hearing the diagnosis, a part of him died, and the rest died within my mind because Stage-4 cancer eats one up. And it ate him from within that year, leaving behind a man who became a shadow of what he had been. Death isn’t so terrible. I’ll you what is worse – it’s the process of watching your most favorite person suffer and trying to relive those times when he was up at 6 AM enjoying his morning dose of filter coffee, or teaching you Math. So you rewind, pause, replay. The memories give you solace, yet grief punches your stomach when you come back to reality. You don’t realize the ordeal when you’re in it because Thatha’s pain becomes routine for you, but in retrospect you realize that you had indeed survived a nightmare come true.

When it’s over, a part of you experiences crushing relief and the rest feels like a void. It’s not like the movies where the grief-stricken beat their heads and loll on the floor. Instead, you sit staring blankly at the still figure which was once your grandfather. Relatives waft in and out, exchange hugs, shed tears, touch his feet and bow their heads. Occasionally a few questions pop in your head – “So this is it? Thatha has gone to the other side? Is this happening? Why doesn’t it feel like a blow? Why am I not sobbing?”

The point is there was nothing left to sink in. All that was required to sink in was the existence of his terminal illness and death was just the end of it. The anger and the barrage of questions to God about the unfairness of the whole goddamn situation lasted while he did. The Thatha I once knew, became a memory ever since and not after he left us physically.

My mother asked me if I had cried for Thatha. I hated the question itself. Tears are personal, and this is something I didn’t wish to share, even with her. I hate it when family members discuss his death with a sense of pity. No one chooses their death. Thatha was a strong man and was resilient in spite of all the torture he dealt with in his final days.

I don’t know if I miss my grandfather. Maybe I do, because there are times I wish could go visit him in Bombay and give him company whilst he reads a novel. It’s not like I have forgotten him, but the memories that come easily to me are those of his mannerisms and quirky catchphrases. When I think of Thatha, I also think of Calculus, filter coffee and fried pomfret, as strange as it sounds. There’s no sadness associated with his absence but I do get wistful (sometimes) remembering the part of my childhood that died with him. I don’t feel his loss, instead I have learnt to accept that he isn’t with us anymore.

I am a lucky girl. A fortunate grandchild to have been loved unconditionally by a man who was judged and likewise feared by many in my family. I knew a side of him that only a handful knew. It’s only now that I have come to terms with the phrase time heals.

I hope the going gets easy for you.