A cycle of circles

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm, followed by a brief moment of a pause. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. The mechanical sound of assisted breathing wasn’t anything like I had ever imagined. Breathing. The simple, unappreciated , biologically reflex process of iterative inhaling and exhaling felt sinister and daunting when there was a machine assisting it along the way. I had never paid any attention to the sound of breathing ever before. It was the mechanical hum and a sense of distortion , which felt added to the natural sound of the rhythm ,that had caught my attention.

Hmmmm and an Ahhhhh. It felt scary.

The peace and quiet of the white, dull room of the hospital to the eeriness of the mechanical breathing. There was nothing comforting and assuring about the white walls anymore. It then dawned on me. The reason why hospitals pick those colours to paint their walls. I realized the colours played a role in messing with our psychology. It was a subliminal messaging of sorts. Everything about hospitals were to either assure that things would be ok or to pacify the agitated state of minds. My mind had been racing with many thoughts. I did feel a bit distracted at the moment. I couldn’t explain how I ended up in this state of the mind, but I was there nonetheless.

I saw my dad resting silently. Unaffected by the sounds and noise. Good for him. It felt reassuring to see him rest. The past few days were a nightmare. It all started a few months ago. I think age is just a number. When there is a medical professional at the other side of the table, reminding you of mortality and that in god’s mighty plan, nothing lasts forever; It shakes your steady , concrete foundation. Neither dad nor I were prepared for the news. Dad being dad, took it all with a stiff upper lip and his usual poker face. I am my dad’s son. I didn’t display the crushing emotions publically. Inside, I was just as broke as my dad was. The news had changed our worlds. Yeah, doctors do tend to alter lives, more than god has ever altered.

I found it peaceful to see dad rest. I think , deep down , deep within his rock exterior, he had accepted his fate. He no longer resisted it. Unlike what the self help books prescribe, acceptance does not always translate to a better living. The deeper my dad’s acceptance penetrated within him, the frailer he started to appear. He was a mirage of his former self. Disinterested, disconnected and lived a hopeless existence. It pained me to see him that way. I guess , my dad also endured such a pain. He would no longer look me into my eyes. His gaze found a new way of staying distanced. We no longer spoke. We both had accepted this twisted new fate and silently choose to drift away into fears and oblivion.

That changed a three days ago. A ride in a manic ambulance does that. Circumstance had changed my dad once again. I think it was more to do with the realization of the dwindling eternity of time ahead that forced the change. Weak and distraught, my dad finally managed to see me in my eye. It was a moment , of something that I couldn’t even being to explain. It meant we both had made a choice to live in the present. We both had chose to ignore the future. Future didn’t matter, especially when there wasn’t a future ahead.

The doctors got busy and they wouldn’t let me see dad for a while. The sun had risen and had poised to set. The orange hue of the sunset dictated the flow of time. It was the first of the many conversations that dad and I managed to catch up. It had been a while. We had grown strangers in time. Dad told me of his days. How he’d ride a crowded train, on its steps, for three hours each day. He’d commute through rush to watch mom for five minutes. He’d wait by the gate and watch her walk into her university. He’d watch her leave for home in the evening. That five minutes of bliss was evenly split across the day the and the evening.

Dad paused and asked me about my tryst with love. He had never had the time to contemplate the circle of life that I’d go through. He thought there’d always be time for that chit chat. It was finally the time. I told dad about the heart. Parts broken, parts sewn back together. My dad, rather weakly, brushed my hair and said it was the way of life. He said that people often meet the right people on the rightest moment in time. For some, all it takes is a few minutes. For some, it takes a whole lifetime. Everybody eventually meets their people on the rightest moment in time.

Dad then spoke about how his world had crashed when mom passed away. He confessed his supressed guilt of choosing work to drown his sadness. He felt bad that he wasn’t there enough. None of that mattered anyway. Not any more.

Things improved for a while. We had two more days of long conversations. The doctors would take him away from time to time. Each time he returned, he looked more broke than before. I knew it wouldn’t be long now. There was only so much a man could break. I knew my dad would hit rock bottom fast. I had already reached there.

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.. The noise started to haunt again. There was dad. There wasn’t much that I had to tell him now. All had been said. I wanted him to know that everything would be alright. I couldn’t find the words. I couldn’t. The body wouldn’t. The last thing that I ever saw was the most beautiful sight of my dad, resting peacefully.

Ah crap, I thought to myself. It wouldn’t last for long.

Fade to black.

Karthik

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The recruit

‘Yo newbie’ I yelled loud in an arrogant displeasure. ‘Over here’ , I signalled her to come closer to where I was standing.

The day was gloomy and the clouds had claimed the sun as their precious hostage. The rays did struggle to escape from the thick density of the cover that the clouds provided. A chill wind swept through the city. The air that I exhaled, condensed into a smoke. Perfect. This was the perfect kind of a day to test the magnitude of my gracious tolerance towards newbies.

New guys, they are usually the worst. The come armed with ignorance and feel enlightened by years and years of mental conditioning that nonsensical notions provide. It’s one thing to deal with a clean slate, it’s another battle to work through concrete opinions. It was still part of the package that I call my job. The glitz and glamorous life of a babysitter, I wondered sarcastically. If only the world knew this, my job wouldn’t be a one that inspired a jealousy in many. Perfect.

The new one , with an air of indifference, shrugged her shoulders and walked towards me. For a given Friday, she was dressed in her best formals. Neat, clean and lavishly pressed to a wrinkleless perfection. I hated that too. Who in their right mind would work dressed like that, especially on a Friday. Years on the job had rendered me immune to such thoughts of compliance. I couldn’t care less. It was not like I put on one of the grandest show for the world to watch. The job required almost zero social skills. The job required almost near zero interaction. The job also mandated that the meetings with the boss was as sparse as godly possible. I didn’t like to dress up and pony up for no bloody reason. In time, I came to believe that a conviction towards such an obedience to a pointless dress code was a reflection of a feeble mind, a kind of mind that lacked ambition , drive and sensibilities to understand the grand picture of the work. Bluntly put, dorks dressed and I didn’t tolerate dorks.

I tried to ignore the young bundle of enthusiasm. I relented eventually. Boredom is a big part of the work. I was actually glad that I had company.

‘So, new around here? First day at work?’ I enquired. I guess I did manage to sound a little rough. Solitude does that to one.

She replied a polite , meek yes. There was a tinge of nervousness to her voice. It was normal. The first few weeks are meant to be that way. In fact, for many, the first few years are like that. I wasn’t the one to judge. I opted to tone down my hostilities and decided to be a better babysitter.

We both sat in silence for a while. We both were monitoring. New batch, waiting to run its course. I knew that it wouldn’t be long now. The Friday was not packed. Most Fridays are not packed. It’s funny that way. When I was younger, I had suspected a conspiracy. As I grew older, I was grateful. I stopped trying to poke around things. I had also learnt to appreciate the simple blessings. A relaxed day at work was a blessing.

She sat still for a while and then began to grow fidgety. She was struggling to find that courage to make a conversation. The monitoring aside, there was nothing but time and a lot of it to kill. She searched deep within her soul to muster that courage. She cleared her voice. The silence finally shattered through the hypnotizing rhythemic drone.

‘Do you?’, she asked

‘Do I what?’ I replied.

‘Do you, like remember. I tried to, but nothing. It’s kind of weird, but the more I tried to remember, I realized that I knew nothing’.

I paused for a second. I haven’t had this conversation in years. Maybe even decades. The dumb perks of doing the same job for a very long time!

‘It’s like this sweetheart. The universe is vast. Both on the outside and on the inside. It’s so vast that you’d go blank and numb trying to understand it all’

She took a moment to process the things I had said. ‘ Doesn’t made any sense. I’m sorry, I don’t quite understand’

I liked that. Meek and yet outspoken. She showed potential. She showed integrity and a spine.

‘What that means is that when you sign up, they wipe your slate clean. I’m afraid that’s how it is. You start new and I mean completely new’.

She shrugged her shoulders again. We both let the droning noise take over. I pretended to check the time on a watch that wasn’t there on my wrist. Habitual residue , is what I called it. I knew it that it was going to be a wrap soon. I didn’t realize that she had observed the nuance.

‘If they wipe it clean, it doesn’t explain why you did that. Why did you stare at your wrist? What does it mean? It feels like a memory to me’.

She was right though. The process, as dictated and mandated by the company, did wipe things clean in the ‘proverbial’ head. While it works for most. There are a few who do manage to retain bits and pieces. That doesn’t make us special, it just makes us miserable. There are things that I see. There are things that I feel. It always haunts me like an ugly ghost. It reminds me of what a pain is. It reminds me of what an experience used to be. Misplaced functions. Much like a glitch in the system. Nobody does anything about it though. There is nothing much to do anyways. No matter where you are, when you are a freak, you aren’t taken seriously. Make enough noise and you are silenced. Those among us, who are such anomalies, we do tend to shut up.

The incessant rising beeping sound yanked me away from my thoughts.

‘It’s time’ I signalled her. ‘What to do the honours?’, I asked.

Her nervousness was visible now. It was the moment of truth. What does one tell ? How does one handle such responsibility? Why is it so much pressure? The whole deal of playing out a role was an accepted norm, but no one spoke of the effect that job had. It was , both, the most important role and at the same time, the most pointless thankless job.

She walked away from me. She walked closer to the bed.

Friday, 11:11 am, October 2017. The date was scribed somewhere. Automation had it’s perks.

‘Don’t be scared’ her soft tender voice carried. ‘You are no longer going to be in pain. Here, hold my hand’ . The rest was a practiced script executed to flawless perfection.

***********

I sat by the terrace , looking at the sun peering through the clouds. She was back after a while. She sat beside me. We both sat in silence for a while.

‘Is it true?’ she broke the silence.

I said nothing. I was waiting for her to quench her curiosity.

‘That , an angel gets its wings , each time a bell chimes?’

I laughed out loud. ‘Is that what the others say these days’ I teased her.

‘Angels, us, we don’t have wings darling. We observe people. When it’s time for them to be born into this land, we ferry them from up there’, I said pointing towards the sky. ‘When it’s time for them to depart, we ferry them back. That’s all there is to it. We are monkeys with a torch light. We are glorified ushers. We watch humans, we watch their spirits soar high, we watch them get crushed. We work with their souls, and oddly we don’t have one ourselves. Maybe we are souls, maybe we are just empty vessels. We don’t have a conscience of our own and not having one makes it easy for us.’

‘You asked me about memories. I had one , a long time ago. I thought it made me special. I thought it bestowed me with a purpose. There came a day and I had to usher an old one back to the gate. The face was familiar, the soul felt known. I was miserable for a while. I didn’t know how the judgement went. I don’t know if she’s in heaven or condemned to hell or worst, left again on earth. These questions make me miserable. I’m scared of the answers too. I’d rather not ask them, I’d rather not have a memory of the existence of such questions. Empty vessels. Remember that. It is the grandest comfort that you’ll ever get here.’

She rested her head on my shoulder and said nothing. If we could cry, she might have shed a few tears that fine sunny afternoon. We cant. She couldn’t. We watched the sun set a few hours later.

Angels!!!! Our job is so overrated.

Karthik

A story of tales.

Dear Diary

I guess , after these many decades, I finally do understand the subtle difference that’s love. Live long enough with an open mind, I bet one stands to grow wise.

The many years we spent waiting, the payoff had finally come. It wasn’t much of a payoff as it was the satisfaction of seeing our kid again. I belong to the old world where a man doesn’t emote. I’m used to the code of a stiff upper lip. I appeared normal. I felt elated within. My excitement was contained and it took a tremendous effort to keep the blazing fireworks under wraps.

She was as much of the old world as I was. Her happiness was on a constant display. Life had found her again. It breathed energy into her old bones. Her movements quickened, her pace picked speed, she was no longer an old grand ma of sixty. She appeared to be thirty again. She managed to make a list of things to buy, things to cook, places to visit, people to meet. As the day approached, her spirited frenzy enthusiastically escalated. Mother’s pride , that’s exactly what it was. It was on abundant display.

‘So tell me again.. when is his flight? What time will he be out? When do we finally get to see him?’ she’d ask me from time to time. She knew the details by heart by now. The information didn’t matter to her anymore. It was the sheer joy of hearing the news that brought a smile to her face. The weeks leading up to the day, I guess I’d have answered her sequence of questions, which never changed their order, a few hundred times. I played along. It was nice to see her happy and alive again. It felt good. I didn’t mind the questions.

Now that I take a moment to reflect, I think I’ve had a reasonably decent middle class life. Born into a family of four, I had the luxury of pursuing my education. I didn’t have to worry about shouldering responsibilities. I found myself a job and there was nothing special about it. I was happy staying employed. The time had come for me to take the next step. Ironically enough, it was a step that was taken on my behalf. That’s what it was. I didn’t complain. I didn’t know if there was an option to even complain. It was just the way things were. It wasn’t a bad marriage. She was a quiet girl. She has always been quiet.

There were times when her enthusiasm for life trumped the moment. Her childlike conviction to a cause was a sight to cherish and behold. I did my best to bring that side of her out as much as I could. Her moments of sublime bliss was a challenge worth spending a lifetime to work towards. Unlike the new brave world that expresses itself out on every given minute, ours was a world with few words and fewer expressions. We worked on a simple routine of care and questions. With money tight, surprises were few and scattered away. It’s been a life no different than the usual norm.

In time, we soon had a common dream. An American dream to be precise. We skimmed through our needs, we skipped on pointless comforting luxuries, we saved ample enough for that ticket. Our son did the rest. He studied when he had to. Poor kid, he barely complained. He had inherited his mother’s smile. when the time came, we bid our goodbyes in the airport amidst hugs and tears.

With our dreams now vacant, going back to the life we had felt different. The boulders of responsibilities had waned thin. We were again thrust into a world that was constituted by only the two of us. We found a routine. She took it upon herself to feed stray dogs, tend to birds that nested around our house. She had things to do. I enjoyed watching her go about her life. It was almost like the old days. I was happy watching her childlike conviction to her causes.

We had not seen our child in two decades now. He was no longer the little kid that we sent away to the land of dreams. Work, life, promises to keep and commitments to meet, the time had flowed forward without much dissent. She cried when our kid announced his marriage. She didn’t mind the merger of cultures, she missed being there , watching them make a new start. She cried when our grand daughter made it to this world. It wasn’t the birth of a girl child that bothered her, she missed being there, watching the new one. In time, her tears had dried up. She didn’t cry any more. The kindness and care that were within here were reciprocated by the society that surrounded us. We weren’t the grumpy old couple. Kids enjoyed our hospitality. animals found shelter in our old aged home.

The call brought a change in us.

All of this was new. All of this was exciting. The day had arrived. A son met his mother. A mother met her son. A hug that took decades in the making. All the love in the world that had the power in them to stop time.

Well, that’s the story if you asked my wife.

My son started off the usual way. He couldn’t understand the economic divide that kept me from being a provider that he wanted me to be. I tried. I had failed. My son vowed to change his fate. He’d never allow his kids to undergo the same fate. The ferocity in his determination was a testament to a man who had made up his mind to change his destiny. The last of the hurdle were the tickets to his land of dreams.

He had distanced himself from his former world. He wanted nothing to do with it. He was now a part of a new world. A world that he fought hard to keep away from the one he had left behind. He had orchestrated his own life. I was happy, as long as he was happy. I didn’t have a say in what transpired. I didn’t want to have one either.

The day had come, he had arrived. Just him. He saw his old frail parents. As he hugged his mother, he shot his glance towards me.

‘Appa, hope you’ve considered my offer to sell that house and move to a care home.’

One story. Two tales. I finally understand the difference between a mother and a father today.

Cool.

Karthik

Inspired by watching this old couple stand an hour in the tube station. I hope they had a better story of life.