He wore long curls under a hair band and old fashioned jeans with wide trousers folded in a hem that half sagged as if unsure of the Times. Sunlight fell in his uncombed locks needing a wash but it didn’t matter. It had an educated look about it, casual disgrace. It was the funeral of a dear brother,
we stood around the sunny open air chapel Gate#1, wanting to weep but the sun shone hard. Tall trees above us burned lemon gentle yellow. “It is well with my soul,” we sang. The lyrics fell into us, there’s no other way to say it. Funerals of good people do this to me.
The man with the locks stood like a statue two feet from where I leaned on a pillar. He hadn’t moved; his shoulders crouched with either fatigue or sorrow. He must be a close relative? The chapel steamed with hushed love.
VJ looked like Peace in his casket strung with garlands, wreaths, roses, jasmine bouquet, posies, petals in the floor around – it wasn’t like a mourning, it was a Graduation. A cousin broke down as he paid tribute, a niece, a sister, a classmate, colleagues, more wreaths- they crowded now in the floor like an unruly garden. No one stirred, light shifted.
Two hours had gone by, the man with long curls stood like a rock his arms curled in at the fist. I lost sight of him then saw him again at the burial – he got as close as he could then moved politely away hugging himself, why was I looking at him. Everyone grieved soft. Polite smiles, and gentle farewell. The sky, a stark baby blue covered everything in more Light;
He moved closer to where we stood with VJ’s wife and daughter, then he hugged VJ’s wife with burrowing sobs. The daughter didn’t know who he was, he didn’t fit in with any of the groups here- work teams, relatives, church folk. The sobs mutated, no one else was crying that way. We had cultured tears, in the back of our eyes and throats. VJ was that kind of guy, he wouldn’t have wanted noise, or loud wishes. He was a tree planted by streams of living waters. A tree that bore fruit in quiet neat ways. Not spluttering in the earth, but growing gently.
The stranger caught my eye for a quick moment as he stood back and wiped his tears; his hands were large, sunburnt, like his face with wide cheek bones and thick hair held back in fine wire band. Then he hung back a bit under tall trees swaying in occasional gust of breeze. February felt hot and cool at the same time in the cemetery with hundreds of memoirs of Life by our feet; not a place to discuss things in decibels. You wanted to rest, exhale.
The man wore a red and blackish windcheater over a once white Tee. Not 6 ft tall; wide shouldered, lowered gaze in the walk where others gathered to say things to VJ’s family, ‘visit us,‘ that kind of thing. The man lingered, not looking at anything in particular, then he slow-turned to leave.
Later we heard no one knew him at all. What was he, who? Perhaps…
a person blessed by VJ. Maybe a wanna be musician whom VJ heard out. Maybe he gave him some kind of help, he had that look about him: gratitude and pain.
Or maybe, maybe he was a chronic funeral crasher, identifying best among sadness. He seemed at peace in tears, not awkward in Grief’s ways. Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but I’ve seen them- some of us humans who fit in between lives of others, and we identify best in pain. Here we can weep out loud and not be misunderstood. Here there is solace, here there are grounds to linger in, in awe at loss. At farewells, at sermons that whisper at the Other Life, at the kind of Love that happens where we stare at that edge of the coffin. We are all one here, here there is no caste, creed, other separations of Humanity. Here we are one at this place where Life gazes at death, how futile even that is- when the spirit has gone ahead. It was apparent- VJ was not there. His absence a presence so loud you wanted to applaud his transition, his earth days done so well, and him now with God whom he worked for all his life.
The stranger’s face followed me home; we talked briefly about him. Then I had a headache and curled up in bed, but had to spill my thoughts here, blog. Perhaps:
between the Living and the Dead is a Race of Humanity belonging to neither (the living nor the dead); the corridors between the Two narrow down to one fine line and there they are- a People that identify best in places like Here, where pain is an acceptable emotion.
Perhaps. Though it is most likely this was a person VJ helped in some significant way, he was so like Christ, gentle steel and hard work, not choosing to be called Reverend; his songs hauntingly beautiful like his smile that said all. A man of few words, almost shy of being heard too much, except of the Christ he loved. Just the kind of man who reached out to strangers with no name…
(Few years ago VJ’s wife had been hit by a racing biker, hit bad enough, head injury, fractures. VJ did not breathe one word against him, no law suit, nothing. ‘The brother had something on his mind, surely. Else the accident wouldn’t have happened. I asked the Lord to bless him..” VJ said in our home months after the accident, not one trace of anger in him).
Now I’m thinking what if the stranger was that biker; but my thoughts they do run wild.
Hidden, in His quiver, you thought you were forgotten. You’re there for that one choice moment, polished chosen arrow;
time & tide sifted, ground, broke you – seasoned your edge- today you think you live in the shadow of others; ha, know this, you are one set apart,
…for a Time such as this, for a day in a thousand, for a task you alone can do. He knows you by name, you are Designer-ware, made for specificity. You are needed, blest, crucial important, you mayn’t see it Lil arrow,
you are deadly to the foe, deadly to the very thing trying to destroy you. It is time to go out, fearless. You are a force to reckon with, a Season all your own. Go on polished arrow, fly in His skies, shine!
“Howmany sides does a coin have?” I ask eight blind kids in their Creativity room. 7 of them are quiet. There is shyness, diffidence, anxiety in the room.
One little girl twists her ribbon to knots. Then there’s Varun (name changed), always in trouble for speaking his mind, for being local ‘Complaint box‘ and ‘Motor mouth’. Young Varun has faced both destitution and comfort: he’s been ‘corrected’ for being unruly and is a tamed little lion today. All of which maybe has made him unselfconscious. His mind is an undefensive scramble of questions. Varu may not be the highest scorer in academics but he’s the curious one.
Now he replies with excitement, “Three sides, no?” Heads, Tails, and the Edge. He rolls the coin across the table to me, of course he knows exactly where I’m sitting, his young face filling with light as if he’d just found the key to the universe.
If I were to blindfold myself, or shut my ears for an hour, would I be able to solve a few problems that have baffled me before? Chances are…. who knows? Yes!
I don’t know how, but our son Joh who was born blind, always finds missing things at home. He says he knows when we last used it, and where we kept it. Keys, wallet, glasses, a book, papers… it is uncanny. He remembers details we cannot easily remember. Is his memory sharper? Perhaps he’s just using all he’s got, and the sense of sight he lacks, propels him to search deeper at muddles and mysteries. He knows the time of day, knows if it’s going to rain…his olfactory senses are high toned, auditory nerves on edge, every hammer and anvil fine tuned.
What does it take for us to respond to a new question from an opposite state of mind? If I’m a logical person, I respond from one side of me. But what if, when I’m startled, shaken, pushed out of comfort zone, I now respond from the Creative side, or vice versa;
My own childhood began with being left handed. In the chaos at early school where one of my teachers did not understand me, I began writing in reverse, & speaking in reverse, (spoonerismwould soon turn out to be a fun diversion in classroom and some moments of boredom).
I’m unsure how and when the transition to ‘fun with being an odd one out’ began but my parents were not conventional people. Some of the places we lived at were dangerous stations, there was travel by tiny boat, deep sea/ river crossings…and yet things seemed to turn into a joyful classroom for me. A kind of Jungle Book lens through which to enter what was given.
I met Fagoo Behera the boatman from Khujang, (names unchanged), he sang to ‘baba crocodiles’ in the Mahanadi River, Ma said. (Baba, for baby). Not to underplay how tense some days were, but when you have a Life you must live, and choose to respond not from underlying Fear/ Anxiety, who knows what you will find?
Ma taught craft & music at Stations where Dad worked (Ministry of Lights&Shipping, Govt.of India). We lived in ports from Kanyakumari to Mandvi in Gujarat 200 kms from the India border. There was always a Lighthouse, and the Net was only what a local fishermen used. My first freelance job was with Drama production at Akash Vani, Bangalore, (if you discount our Amateur Theatre, age 5, 6, 7, ..with neighbour kids. We did Shakuntala, desi Cinderella…. on septic tanks and under guava trees, little knowing oneday we’d be drawing from these Treasures).
I’ve volunteered at Schools where our blind son was at, and being with these beautiful people reminds me e-v-e-r-y-d-a-y of how we misunderstand some acts/ facts of everyday living: how I interpret the word “Challenged”, what ‘handicap’ implies. Or the word, ‘Special’. Our second daughter once remarked with loud sigh, ” …maybe if I’d had some sort of disability I’d be called Special!” It was a rude awakening for us; and I’m thinking now, perhaps the worst disability is a bored person/ with lack of confidence, or someone who has no foundational strength.
We are really only using 2% or less of our faculties.
We as a Race are now probably farthest from our creative selves than we’ve ever been. Illness both physical and otherwise, could be changing us into a species of indifferent mammals, or ones controlled by Fear.
A few years ago, Dr.Joseph, a good friend of ours here in Bangalore, invited me to a Conference for Personality Developers. ‘Be yourself’ he said.
Was I nervous? Sure, but not just nervous. I’d grown to be a full time mom by now, and hermit artist with little worry about boardroom protocol. (At home we were getting used to the world of the ‘Disadvantaged‘, with firm jaws and steel too!…)
by 3 pm that day, it was clear my notes weren’t going to work: it had been a morning full of discussion on reasons for Communication breakdown. I would need to change the dialogue here to get through to Tea break without everyone yawning at me.
I look back with a happy shudder:
me in sedate blue sari, waving my kitchen wooden potato masher in version of how early man oh, and woman !- may have communicated before they made polite words.
The room burst with noise and laughter as some immediately traded ‘fight‘ stories;
Soon it was time to ask, “How many sides does a coin have?”
One replied,”Heads, tails, and shadow..”
“Impression on palm, if count is held tightly.”
“Education and growing up show negatives and positives: the 3rd side is what I have learned from both.”
We asked a blindfolded volunteer to feel & describe a coin as if he’d never touched one before, and he said, “Flip side, flop side oh… and edge!” Just like Varun the Blind kid had put it.
One lady who had been very quiet, now smiled and said she’d not wanted to participate, (what difference would it have made to her regular life?), & how the potato masher here had seemed silly, but that it was funny and reminded her of somethings she’d forgotten…also, how we best change from regular to a little more ‘unusual‘, please?
A theater person in the room said he’d been thinking on similar lines…but did not know how to break ice in a room he wasn’t used to; and how writing Plays made him appreciate the Unexpected.
Today we live in a modest apartment overlooking army acres of forest: there’s no sparrow, but yesterday we had two peahen, and one visiting Bulbul…..
all from the balcony where Joh and I took baby steps at Homeschooling via NIOS, after his 7th std at Jyothi Seva for the Blind.
I remember hating Braille, crying my heart out, knowing there’s 4.8 million more blind people in India alone, and how little we are geared for Challenges. There would be new ones to face in the next few years, but each only serves to stretchhhhhhh my rigid bones. Life, and you and I, are changing as we speak,
it all shifts faster than we have time to buy another outfit in newer coutre! One thing remains – the Human need for fulfillment, via connectivity with other humans or self.
I grew up with tribals for friends, sometimes a deer, or a lizard that left its tail in my book! There were no Malls, or Google; Life had surprises everyday in its lulls and rogue waves,
Look at this :
Our mind can perform 10 Quadrillion operations/ sec without our even knowing it.
Imagine the power of a human alone or with another. What a big bazaar of Spheres we must all be: impacting each other in ways we might never know yet, with or without words.
Our son Joh, had a semi- paralyzed friend who could not speak, but when we entered his room, his whole body language changed. Joh could not see him, but they had their own unique exchange that was fascinating to watch: a world of touch, the vibrations of laughter… sighs, the rhythm of one’s pulse displaying emotion…
Definition of Edge:
Line or area farthest away from the middle.
Intersection of two surfaces.
Point at which something is likely to begin.
Margin of superiority, advantage.
Our single most important skill that makes for ‘Unique‘.
So, WHAT’S MY EDGE?
In my teens, someone told me I smiled too much. By age 23, a BBC retired Staffer who mentored me at Broadcast (Feba Radio), John Fear, he also produced “What they believe” –
he said, “Rayla, “he said, “Can you smile now and then? ”
JF’s shock of white hair and piercing blue eyes were daunting, but he was kind. “….though, a little anxiety in the right places, might keep you from harm y’know…..”
He urged me to observe human struggles, victories, tragedies; people in footpaths, and high places…. or in the isolation of misunderstood behaviour.
Decades later I realised I’d developed an almost dangerous fascination for Humans: it made me look at footpaths and invisible people in ways that never left, it began to change our home, it made us gaze at the beauty of all God’s Creation, at Life however mundane or high octane.
After we moved back from Mumbai to Bangalore, our visually challenged son, then 6 years old, would hardly speak, now he was further disoriented with temporary rental house and boxes. One morning right in the middle of a water crisis, as we were filling from one existing tap with borewell supply, the connecting pipe fell away from tap as water filled every place it could get. Our son was stunned, then delighted with all the happy chaos. It was just him and I at that moment, but he took charge, his deft little hands working the pipe back to tap faster than I could. His laughter filled my ears for a long time with the feeling this moment would be remembered forever.
As I write this, there’s an urge to return to subjects I used to hate, retrace some ways of thinking, unlock secrets best known to kids. Or better still, go out to play with them like we did in the age of the unselfconscious, curious innocence.
Who knows what one might find in a guava tree, or how the world looks from a wall, a roof top, a swing? Yes, yes we’d probably need help climbing trees and walls, roof: let’s just say who knows what we will find if we would just stretchhhhhh a little?
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