Lately, my maternal grandfather – Mr. Clarence Motha – has started to bear a slight resemblance to Spotted Owlets. Especially, the curving slope on his cranium. These days, it looks smooth and swollen, like the skull of an elderly owlet.
My grandfather is 91 years old. His health has been deteriorating of late. He has been referring to this phase of his life as the “sunset years”. Bed-ridden for most of the day, his body and mind are crumbling. All that seems left of him is a ghostly reminder of someone I once knew.
When it is time, I hope he finds the inner strength to let go of the life that he had led for close to a century. Because I don’t want him to suffer much longer. Despite not having exchanged a word for about 10 years, he has always been a driving force in my life.
It was around 5:00 PM. I was tonguing the evening air on a parrot-green grass hill at Mooppanpara in Kerala. Despite the cloudy weather, I wanted to stick around. It had been a long and tiring day. And the scenery was mesmeric. The sun resembled a dusty grapefruit trying to un-blush. It sunk, beneath the jagged shoulders of mountains. I felt calm, as though a blade of grass had found itself in-between my teeth.
But the weather wasn’t having any of it. Howling winds turned into hesitant whispers. The blueness of the sky gave way to a frowning shade of gray, as rain-fed clouds loomed. Unbeknownst to me, the stench of the struggle for survival was around the corner.
During late evenings, colonies of fruit bats fly across pale orange skies in my city. With militant grandeur, they soar. With purpose and showmanship. But I see them so often that I don’t look up in admiration anymore.
But it makes for a beautiful sight. The resilience with which its cold claws still clutch onto the wire. The fragile grip of its melted rubbery skin on the rotting skeletal frame. As if the two were star-crossed lovers in the middle of their last dance. Or perhaps, the tenderest end to a quarrel. And all they want to do is never let go of each other.
I wish the dead could speak. I don’t want to listen to family members talk about how much it hurts that they are gone. Or whatever their friends have to say about all they have left behind. Instead, I seek to find what went through their minds during the last few minutes of their lives. And I want to hear about it from them.
I dearly hope there was some pleasantness in the process. Perhaps, a well-produced vignette, capturing some of the best moments of their lives. A beautiful and haunting cello composition that picked up its pace for the second half. Faces of children, lovers, and pets. Sound-bites of promises kept. Pencil sketches of childhood vacations.
If you squint your eyes, babies look a lot like old people. Their soft and wrinkled skin. Tiny rows of broken teeth. Patchy hair. They tend to behave the same way too. Both need help getting around. They are easily confused. Frightened of being alone. They are likely to get hurt while trying to do things by themselves.
The first thing that I remember of the world is the sight of my mother’s arms arching out towards me. I was ducking under them to avoid getting coconut oil rubbed on my hair. I was about 6 years old then. I can’t seem to recollect anything else before that moment.
I have been thinking a lot about death since Raj Kumar passed away last year. He was a close friend. We wrote a film script together a few years ago. The story was centered on how intricately interwoven all our lives are. We were sure that it would have been the first of our many creative collaborations. Eventually, he wanted to travel the world and document people’s lives. And I wanted to move to a hill station and work in ornithology.
But things didn’t work out the way as we had planned it. The movie production was indefinitely stalled, and we had to go our separate ways. Still, we kept in touch since he had nurtured a passion for birding by then.
Raj killed himself on May 23, 2015. He threw one end of rope over the ceiling fan, and the other – around his neck. He was 25 years old; a brilliant filmmaker and one of the nicest human beings. I am hesitant to write about him. It doesn’t feel right. Writing about such personal details feels like distributing emotional pornography.
This weekend may haunt me forever. I saw The Great Indian Hornbill feed his brooding mate for the second time in my life. It was my third encounter with these magnificent birds in the Western Ghats. I also watched a person die, a few meters away from me, in a horrific road accident.
I am unsure what affected me more – the death of a stranger or the return of a friend.
What if you could bring back to life a loved one in small portions? Would you pick a nose hair or a toenail or saliva stains on a glass of chai? Or would you need something more wholesome to remember them by?