“I can only note that the past is beautiful because one never realises an emotion at the time. It expands later, and thus we don’t have complete emotions about the present, only about the past.”
Our present selves are both a reflection of and a gateway to the past. The gateway that opens up to memory lane provides an avenue for a union of the two selves – the past and the present, the living and the lived. One may categorise certain memories owing to the emotions they generate in the present self. Certain incidents generate happy thoughts – the heart dances to the tunes of the times lived, making the present lose its charm to the gleam of nostalgia. There is sad nostalgia too. Memories which made it seem as though time had ceased to exists; memories which still evoke grief to this day.
However, there are certain memories which take you through the tunnels of both the pleasant and the unpleasant – evoking joy and sorrow, all at once. I have one such memory, one which lies burrowed deep in my heart.
April 15 in each Gregorian calendar year is an auspicious day for Bengalis as it marks the new year. It is a day of beginnings. As Rabindranath Tagore wrote, the day marks a new dawn and the genesis of a new self after the destruction of the old. April 15 also marks the start of the festivities that are queued for the entire year.
The night of April 14, 2005, was spent preparing everything for the cousins and relatives meant to be coming over the next day. My mother helped me select the new clothes I would wear. I was excited for the exchange of gifts that would take place, and the gala time I would have playing with my cousins.
The next day, I woke up to sounds of Rabindra Sangeet, and some indistinct chatter and laughter. The relatives had arrived, my cousins were here. The day of getting to wear new clothes and eating only delicious food was here!
After a quick bath, I got dressed. Now, my only job was to go downstairs and have a wonderful day. And so I did. The family gathering, my little sibling and cousins, the decked up table with colourful gifts – it was a sight to behold. There was a sweet smell all around – a mix of the fragrances of the guests, kitchen smells and nature’s springtime perfume.
It was the smell of happiness.
I was waiting for a particular sound – the sound of the landline ringing. And there it was. I picked it up with great enthusiasm, assured in my knowledge as to who would be at the other end.
It was maternal grandmother, my Dida. She would call us almost everyday to talk to my sibling and me. But today was different – I had to hold a very important discussion with her about our plans for the second half of the day, which I intended to spend at her place.
Though my mother had already informed me that Dida was a little unwell – “nothing serious. Just some stomach issues” – I put forth my demands about what I wanted to eat, the gifts I wanted and which bedtime stories should be read that night. Eight-year-old me had planned my day and so far, everything was running smoothly.
Also read: An Inheritance of Memories
It was evening. The guests were still there and I started to get worried about whether I would be forced to cancel my date with Dida. I did not want to – I had to meet her. I knew she would be waiting, and that she would have put her heart into making my intricate plan materialise. I knew she would not want the day to end without spending some time with her daughter and her grandchildren.
Some chatter in the room pulled my attention. First, my father was on the phone, followed by my mother and then it was him again. There was a change in the air – something about the tone of it all was nothing like the pleasant sounds that had woken me up from my sleep earlier.
A short while later, I was told that my parents had to urgently go somewhere and that we might have to cancel the trip to Dida’s; that my day might end without my preferred epilogue.
After a while, my father called the landline and asked my uncle and aunt to bring my brother and me to my Dida’s place. I was relieved that they had realised how important it was for me to visit her before the day ended.
We reached only to find a lot of people already present.
“Did Dida invite them?”
“Why would she do that?”
“It was supposed to be just us.”
These thoughts crossed my mind as I saw a many pairs shoes at the entrance. There were a lot of faces I didn’t recognise in the living room, and the smell of agarbatti (incense sticks) enveloped the crowded room. There was a heavy silence, though indistinct conversations hummed in the background. However, none of it was like the pleasant morning that I had spent at home. It was neither the smell, sound, nor the sight of joy.
One of those new faces took me to Dida’s room.
Today, my 23-year-old self can finally express in words what my eight-year-old self felt standing in Dida’s room that night. All my senses failed me that day, barring one. There was a weird taste in my mouth – like some acid from my stomach was trying to push itself back up my throat. I felt nauseous.
I did not dare to touch her. I could not dare to live with the memory of her warmth being replaced by the intensely cold body that she had left behind.
Dida lay on the bed, as pristine and pale as the discoloured sari she wore, her eyes closed, and to never open again. Maybe Dida had taken Tagore’s metaphorical imagination of the Bengali New Year literally. She had left, leaving behind an eight-year-old left searching for the epilogue which could never be realised.
Now, the 23-year-old still searches for that epilogue each April 15. Today, I realise the complete emotion of the past and that it is in no way beautiful. This is not a memory where I close my eyes and reminisce in grief. It is a living reality which does not let me sleep. Maybe it is my eight-year-old self – who stood there motionless, without fully understanding the emotion which had stopped her heart from beating that night – that does not let me sleep.
She has given birth to an anxious version of me, who thinks constantly about losing her loved ones. What if I never wake up to them, or they never wake up to me – as my Dida did not?
What if time decides to ruthlessly cease again?
Aindrila Chakraborty is a student of Ambedkar University, Delhi, pursuing masters in global studies.