Friday, 22 October 2021

The burden of knowing

This is a diary, an account of the period 1 Aug 2018 and August 2019, cataloging the progress of Stephan's illness (pancreatic cancer) and whatever else happened during that time... I did not have the courage or the wish to upload this earlier as it is very personal and very detailed but am doing so now with the hope that it might be of some help to other carers or to those who might want to know more about the progress of this terribly aggressive disease. This is a battle one cannot win. And it is very painful to not be able to help one's dear ones, the helplessness is numbing. Yet one has no choice but to keep do what one hope...


Trees or how we shall all perish

Trees are beautiful creatures but I have always felt very sorry for them because they cannot move, they cannot go away; they have to stay where they are and take whatever comes their way, no matter what – rain, hail, thunder, storm, sunshine or snow. I have always felt incredibly sorry for them each time I have seen the wind, the wind that we cannot even see, make them sway helplessly in one direction one moment, and in the other the next, even while maintaining their dignity and beauty. And not only do they have to take it, they have to take it without murmur. Their mute stillness in the face of every adversity make their fate seem even more poignant. Their dignified acceptance of their lot makes it just that bit more heart wrenching. They do try to survive the best they can -- so in winter they shed their leaves to minimise loss and in spring they try to regain their strength and propagate, but that is all. For everything else they just have to take what is thrown at them the best they can… They cannot move away, they cannot complain.

When Stephan was buried under the ground it hurt whenever I saw rain or snow fall on his grave… it must be so bitterly cold outside there in the winter. But he has to take it all, he cannot complain, he cannot ask for a warm winter mantel. Same when the sun beats down on him in the summer. He cannot decide to move away to the shade; he cannot take refuge under an umbrella.  Like the trees, he too, cannot run away. But unlike the trees, he cannot even try. It is already too late for him. It breaks my heart.

But are we not all turning into trees? Like the trees, soon we shall no longer be able to run away from the big disaster that is upon us. Soon there will be no place left for us to shelter in, there will be no place left for us to hide; looking at it differently, no matter where we hide, we shall be found out, and we shall have to face whatever befalls us. It could be a tiny invisible virus that might just wipe us out in one fell almost did! If not, the furnace that our planet is slowly turning into will surely scorch us; if it doesn’t then the unstoppable waters from the melting glaciers will take us with them… Like the trees, we, or at least some of us, will perhaps try for a while, to find ways to survive, by trying to stay away from the virus, the heat and the floods, but soon our planet will be too small for us; soon there will be no place to seek refuge in, for nowhere else on our planet earth will be better. We shall have to stay on this planet and take what comes our way; we shall try to survive as long as we can like the trees do, before all of us turn into Stephan.


Tuesday, 11 May 2021

Raghunath, wear your clothes!

Translation of a short story titled 'Raghunath, kapur pindha' by Atanu Bhattacharyya, published in Satsori July 2020 issue. I have left some Assamese words marked in red in the text as I am not completely happy with my translation of those words or phrases.

Sunday, 25 April 2021

Assam Elections 2021: Time to regroup

[This might be the wrong moment to be talking about anything else besides the Covid pandemic, but since politics and our politicians are partly responsible for the desperate situation we are in at present, and since May 2 is not too far away when the results will be declared, all the more reason not to postpone this discussion any further.]


Wednesday, 21 April 2021

Lockdown Diary

Excerpts from some of my conversations with Stephan in the last year, which was mostly spent being locked down, put together in random order... the end is not in sight yet... to mark my second wedding anniversary alone in lockdown...


Saturday, 27 March 2021

Death of my Tangsa friend

The news, when it first came, was shocking. One moment, he was sitting at the dining table having his lunch. The next moment he had collapsed onto the floor, where he died moments later. Of a massive heart attack, the doctors said. But he had never had a heart attack before although it seems he had a problem for which the doctors had recommended getting a pacemaker. But they had not said it was urgent and he had postponed getting one to the next opportune moment. Otherwise he was fine, he had given others no reason to worry about his health; he was not even 60 years old; he would walk more than 10 kms. most evenings and he led a busy and very active life. 

He was widely known and much loved and respected. The news created a storm. How could he just drop down and die like that? Of course for him it was immediate release -- the best possible kind of end. But for his friends and family, the suddenness of it all was just too much to handle. Many of his friends were still in shock. As were his immediate family. I could see that everyone was still struggling. Even if he had been ill for a few days, people around him would have had the time to come to terms with the thought of what could or might happen, but this way, there was just no warning whatsoever.

People tried to find various possible explanations for his sudden death.  True he liked to eat well, was very generous with his drinks and was rather heavy for his age and height. For the more rationally inclined all these factors and the weak heart was enough of an explanation for his death. Others spoke of destiny, of karma, of dreams and premonitions... it was clear that they were clutching onto every little straw...

All the children were far away in Guwahati when disaster had struck that afternoon; they had to travel through the night to be back home in time for the burial. All of them were still studying -- their father had not prepared them for the duties and responsibilities that lay ahead of them. For my friend had single-handedly managed an entire empire -- rice fields, tea gardens, logging and  timber, road construction, and what not... he had not taken anyone into confidence... and now he was not there to guide them to show them the way...

'He appears in my dreams every night,' his eldest son, told me, 'and he guides me about how to proceed with the problems I have. He gives me specific instructions, even tells me names of people who I should contact, tells me the names of timber factories where I should sell the logs, he is there with me all the time. He has not gone away.'

That sounded almost too good to be true. But strange things happen. And if the father was helping the eldest son to get the hang of the job that had so suddenly been thrust on him, it was all good. The elder son had the same nature as his father. Both were happy, caring and patient individuals who carried their own burden silently. The elder one had had no time to grieve or to recover. He simply had to jump in at the deep end and start doing what was expected of him. The younger son was different. It was clear he was still under shock, it seemed as if there was some grief bottled up deep inside that needed to come out before he could start getting back to normal. The daughter had already gone back to Guwahati to resume her training -- she needed to keep herself diverted and busy to be able to cope. 

People tackled their grief in different ways. The widow was still very unstable and would break into tears and start blaming herself for everything, every few minutes. She just could not accept what had happened. She was miserable and unforgiving.  'Why did I have to get up and go before him from the table that day? I feel so guilty.' She just couldn't forgive herself for what had happened, even though she knew that she would probably not have been able to prevent it, simply by her presence. After all she was educated enough to understand and appreciate the scientific reasons for what had happened.

I tried my best to help her to cope. And not keep blaming herself for everything.  But with very little success. 'I feel so angry with myself,' she continued. She was angry because all her various illnesses, the treatment for which had kept her away from him for weeks and months together, had completely vanished, or were at least under control, since he left. 'I should have been with him, and taken care of him, instead of being away getting treated for my illnesses. He was the one who needed care, not me. But I will not get a chance to do that any more...' she told me breaking into sobs yet again.

I asked about the old father who was still alive. How did he cope with the news? The old man came to Nampong on hearing the news, stayed till a couple of days after the burial and then went back to his village. He was sad but apparently all right. But the newly bereaved widow thought otherwise. 'He was not in his right mind,' she informed me. 'He kept saying that someone had shot him with a gun or with an arrow through the ears. He kept asking me look at the neck and the ears and see if I could find any marks, or if it had got blackened. He was talking nonsense. Who could shoot him in his own dining room in broad daylight like that? There were so many people around him. Would they not have seen anything? That old man seems to have lost his head after losing his eldest son.'

But something told me that there was more to the story than just that. That old man was very special. If he was asking such a specific question, there was some reason for it. It was not madness. And since my dear dead friend had married an Assamese girl, there was also a chance that she might have misunderstood something. After all, she was not a born Tangsa, although she had become more Tangsa than Assamese in those many years of living with her Tangsa husband in Nampong. 

We went to visit him in his basti a couple of days later.  He was in bed when we arrived but not because he was ill. He was close to a 100, so he did not sleep too well at night. Therefore he took short naps every now and then. But he was fit as a fiddle. And still actively caring for his own goats and chicken, besides his fields and besides doing his job as Gaonbura of his village. He was overjoyed to see me.

'Why did your son have to die so young?' I couldn't help asking. He was so wise.  But he did not take it as a rhetorical question. He replied immediately.

'Someone shot his tiger through the ears and killed it. So he had to die too.' It was all crystal clear to him. He did not sound too excited or upset. He was just stating facts, for what they were.

Suddenly I understood -- his tiger? 'Do you mean the animal that his soul resides in? How do you know that it was a tiger?' 

'I don't know for sure, but think that it must have been a tiger. He lived like a king -- and the tiger is the king of the forest.'

That was true. 'That is why I asked my daughter-in-law to check for marks on his body. If someone shoots his tiger and kills it, then he will also have to die. But there will be the wound marks on his body at the same place as where the shot or arrow entered the animal's body. But she could not find anything.'

Suddenly it all seemed to make sense. For the Tangsa believed that the soul of each person resides in an animal with which it is paired -- a snake, a chicken, a tiger, a kite,... their destinies are bound together, if one of them falls ill, so does the other, if one dies, so does the other, there are many stories of people being brought back to life by transferring the soul from a dead animal or bird to that of a live one.

Your daughter-in-law was too upset to understand what you meant, I wanted to tell him, but stopped myself. There was no point in creating this needless tension between them.  After all, they would all need to rally around one another even more closely now that the king tiger was gone and had left them to their own defenses. It seemed to me that each one had found his or her way of explaining my friend's death to himself/herself. That they did not necessarily agree on the cause was besides the point. They only needed to believe in the explanation they had found for themselves...


Thursday, 4 March 2021

You can never be too prepared

A slightly fictionalised account of how we prepared for the last award presentation ceremony, the many worries, and how everything fell in place eventually.


Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Reorienting the current education system in Assam

This text should be read as a comprehensive proposal for revising the structure and content of the existing education system; can also be used as a basis document to start a discussion on the subject; please do not cite out of context and without due permission.




Monday, 21 December 2020

Πeter Neumann is no more...

Peter M. Neumann liked to spell his name with a Π (the Greek letter Pi). He preferred to call himself a plain Mr. and not Dr.  He was a proud recipient of the OBE in 2008 for his contributions to Mathematics. I had started writing this piece on the 16th Dec. 2020 while trying to order by thoughts to send him a birthday greeting for his 80th birthday on the 28th December; but his death on the 18th Dec. from Covid has forced me to turn it into an obit, my homage to the man who I considered to be my father, in the years after the death of my real father. 


Sunday, 29 November 2020

Through central India in the midst of Covid

Sick and tired of sitting at home and doing nothing most of this year, in September, my friend Hema and I made plans to go on a road trip through central India in November 2020 if the Covid situation would allow us.  'Road trip' because Hema and her husband had recently bought a new Kia Seltos which she wanted to drive and take on a long drive. 'November' because we thought it would get colder and the Covid scene could get worse in December after the festival season, and 'Central India' because the Covid numbers were relatively smaller in Madhya Pradesh than in the other states that we could reach easily from Gurgaon where Hema had a home, and which would be our starting and ending point. We were aware that it was not the best time to travel (without big reason) and that many things could go awfully wrong. But we decided to take a calculated risk and go. And we were lucky. We have just got back to Gurgaon yesterday after a 24 day long trip through central India, covering more than 2600 kms and with halts at nine places.