The Bond


“Om bhu Om sah. Om bhurva bhavah swaha. Om triyambakamyajamahae Sugandhimpushtivardhanam. Urvarukamivbandhan mrityurmukhshiya mamratat.”

I hear this verse in Sanskrit, an ancient Indian language, on a gloomy November morning in the city of New Delhi. It has suddenly got cold, overnight. As I stand amid the noise of traffic from a nearby road, I’m staring at large simmering fire with no expressions, holding my brother’s hand firmly. Being wrapped in a thin white cloth, my father brushes his fingers through my messed grey hair as I lean in the warmth of his shoulder. As I squeeze my moist eyes to see the fire clearly through rising smoke, an old man rushes towards me, taps on my back and says “Hold this, and look here…” he points his finger towards the fire as he hands me a wooden spear. “Do you see that? Strike it here, with force!” I stop breathing instantly and skip countless beats in that moment of terror. Surrounded by hundreds of people waiting for my response, little does anyone know what he is pointing at. Or everyone does?

With a long deep gulp, I focus on the crater in the firewood, the old man was pointing at. Sandwiched between the heavy logs of wood in base and sandalwood on the top, lies my mother in the fire. Three nights ago, she was walking with me – hanging on to my arm in Porch – when she said in heavy voice and moist eyes “I don’t want to leave you all. Please save me. I want to live. And I know, you can save me. Don’t let me go.” Without paying much attention to her words, I joked “You’re too heavy for me” She had lost quite a bit of weight, recently. We walked for hours that night in circles, as we talked about the times I ran away from home. The times I never used to carry my phone and was always late for dinner, she would always wait. The times I made tea for her. The times she taught me how to use a spoon. The times she happily kept the last bowl of carrot pudding she worked on for hours and didn’t even taste once. The times I used to go for a run late in the night, and she would not sleep until the time I return, sometimes after midnight. And today, I have a spear in my hand, about a foot taller than me, I look around in search of one familiar eye that could say “Drop it. This is not real” But, I seem to have no luck today. The old man, the priest, is telling me to rip through her skull with that spear.

While my knees are knocking in cold and my sweating palm shivers, I look down laughing and ask myself – Did I kill her? When I close my eyes, I see teenage myself arguing with her in anger, screaming in rage how I would kill her. “You’re already half dead, barely survived a surgery. I would kill you and no one would know. Either you will live in this house or I’d” I had a tough relation with my mother. I was a living garbage truck, and somehow in that unconditional love of a mother, I found my dumping yard.

I was short, fragile, not so strong as my friends, who along with my extended family never failed to make me realize how weak and useless I was. Growing up in a joint family, with twenty more members living under the same roof in a big restless city as Delhi, yet I craved for support nearly all of my childhood. Maybe it’s easy to get lost in dynamics of complex social lives when your inner voice is your only support. And that voice is nothing but a reflection of what you listen to – throughout your life, consciously or sub-consciously. All the garbage of self-doubt, humiliation, body-shaming collected from various dimensions of teenage life, would transform into anger, self-denial and brain-fade while I throw all possible crap on my mother. I’d feel terrible later, but, would be too scared to apologize. I had no one, who would listen to the time I was bullied in school when I started to fake illness to stay home instead. I tried to explain, multiple times, but, my cousins laughed. I was expected to deal with concerns on my own – something never taught at school. I didn’t know when my father’s friend at his workplace removed my pants once when I was thirteen – was sexual abuse. All I remember is that incident pushed me back several steps in shame and apprehension, that I could never be myself again.

Years passed, the shells I built around me kept getting thicker, and self-doubt even stronger. I was living in fear. Fear of being rejected, shamed again and bullied. I could never ask someone out for a coffee. I still can’t. Amid the chaos, my mother’s illness took away the last exile from me. I never visited her when she was hospitalized for nearly two months. Three nights ago, she was reciting a horrifying tale of spending days in ICU – awake – waiting for me, and I would never show up. She began to see a black-robed man at the door, who followed her till last night when she left room to relieve herself in the restroom but never returned. I tried to wake her up the whole of last night, even when doctors said, “She was..” Holding this spear, I’m still shouting to her “Wake up! Wake up once! I won’t push you away this time when you sleep in my lap”

She gave me birth, nourished me all her life with immense love and affection. And I never said “How much I love her. How I wish to hug her once”. I open my eyes, look up in the fire. I shuffle the spear in my hand, pull back its length and rip her skull open with a forceful strike to allow a safe passage of her soul to the abodes of gods, where she could rest in peace. Embers erupt in the air with smoke and I collapse on the ground in silence.

How powerful this one moment of silence is; how resilient is the thought to trigger the awakening of conscience. I pause and look at my reflection in the water. If the virtual world is real, I am looking at my clone. “Will I accept him?” I ask myself. I am going everywhere in that moment. Self-doubt is as self-centred as self-inflation. I might have controlled a mad elephant; might have shut the mouth of the crocodile; rode the lion and played with the cobra; I might’ve wandered through the universe incognito and might’ve walked in water and lived in the Amazonian wild. But, what matter is control of the mind.

To want to see clearly is a true act of fearlessness. To open heart, to open mind, to be open to what life is offering in this moment, requires tremendous courage. In the openness, I encounter the information I pushed away, the messages I wouldn’t hear, the ideas I rejected, the people I made invisible. My openness helped me touch emotions—grief, sorrow, love, compassion. Fear does an incredible job of keeping us from being present. Whenever given an opportunity, it fills us with thoughts about what might happen in the future, or what seems have happened in the past. But in this present moment, fear is nowhere to be found. As I stand in Burdock Music Hall, I am free from fear. I am present in this present moment. I am fearless. I am awake and I can see you. Can you see, what I see?

The Storytellers: From Top left in anticlockwise – Paul Aflalo, Zebulon Pike, Gaurav Madan, Marilla Wex, Emily Poulin and Alexandra Côté


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