So anyway, like I was saying, mom is dead and after I light this cigarette and put it out, I’m supposed to do the same with her. I know, I know. Trust me: cremation is not that bad when you think about it; especially in India. In Delhi, you have to reserve your six feet under years before the event calls for it and I have actually seen offices for grave dealers who get you space in any yard of your choice, no matter how posh or Bollywood laden, considering you pay the price demanded of this competitive property market (1 billion people = 1 billion dead people). The problem is that with the number of recent cases in body-snatching and grave-diggery, there is a chance that the home you choose to snuggle in may not be your last. Cremation is also better, in my view, than the Zoroastrian method of leaving the dead raised upon the Towers of Silence where they can be dined upon by vultures. Yes, in comparison, I have to say, I do prefer the pyre because it is the full stop and leaves little chance for unnerving resurrections. Plus, I want mom to have the full Hindu treatment which would release all the elements: earth – wind – water – fire – ether and their composite: her Soul, from her earthly body into the greater beyond, into the great gig in the sky, where the vast age of the universe can calculate her Being and the many, many Gods can undertake a survey or trial till she is re-incarnated as whatever they deem her fit for. And all that jazz.
Gods be goddamned, I have more immediate concerns at hand. You see, everyone is weeping and crying and wailing and thrashing and screaming and shouting; everyone but me. I don’t know how they do it, this whole silly lacrimation. Being handicapped in this group exercise, with an apparent poker face, I must appear a Wolf in human clothing. I just needed to come here and have a smoke and talk to you because all those faces, faces not seen for years, faces that with the passage of time have become places, looked me square in the eye with such gravity that for a second I seemed to be nothing but an endless, nameless…idea.
They want me to cry; they want me to join them in this parade of emotional distortion and somehow I can’t do it. I could never do it. Jesus wept but me, well, I just kept. Not ‘kept’ in the sense of an Emotional Ketchup Burst where I’m required to shoot everyone in sight and blame it on suppressed feelings, all I mean is that a lachrymal gland is located superiortemporally to each eye, behind the upper eyelid and that these lachrymal glands secrete lachrymal fluid which flows through the main excretory ducts into the space between the eyeball and lids. When the eyes blink, the lachrymal fluid is spread across the surface of the eye. Lachrymal fluid gathers in the lachrymal lake, and is drawn into the puncta by capillary action, then flows through the lachrymal canaliculi at the inner corner of the eyelids through the nasolacrimal duct, and finally into the nasal cavity. It’s not rocket science. I think I’m emotionally hilarious because in the hurry of India, most emotions evaporate before they have the time to strike chords. If I had a penny for every time I’ve had a near-death experience or seen scattered children or dead bodies, well, I would have a lot of fucking pennies. Some say crying shows a great capacity for feeling. No it doesn’t; it just shows a great capacity for crying.
And can’t you see this ass-hole personified… this tea guzzling, tofu eating, Friends watching, 9-to-5 working, golf playing, Madonna listening, SUV driving, golf playing, Congress voting, 101-things-to-do-before-you-die reading, God fearing, handkerchief carrying, Doberman petting, Mastercard swiping, wine sipping, Dolce&Gabbana fashioning, CK One smelling, spawn reproducing, non-smoking, ‘a penny saved is a penny earned’ quoting, yo-mama-is-so-fat joking, GTA playing, memo writing, PowerPoint peddling, corporate gossiping, organic shopping…Virus in shoes appear right before your very eyes and tap me on the shoulder?
‘Beautiful day isn’t it? I mean the sun,’ he is saying.
I’m thinking: the things I could do to you with an axe. A coat hanger, even.
I’m saying, ‘yes it is,’ pulling on my cigarette’s last.
‘You know, every time you smoke a ciggie, somewhere a kitten dies.’
I’m thinking: I hate you so much it gives me energy.
I’m saying, ‘that’s one of the many reasons why I smoke,’ and pull out another.
‘So where have you been all these years, yaar, no one has seen you till now. This must be awkward for you, seeing everyone after so long. Miss me?’
I’m thinking: Hitler had the right idea but chose the wrong people.
I’m saying: ‘Sure,’ but try as I may, a dry laugh escapes.
‘This must be hard for you. I mean what are you and Nav going to do?’
I’m thinking: Guns are so cheap. How come I don’t have one?
I’m saying: ‘Leave me alone,’
‘Got a job? I have. I’m working at Singh mills; textile manager. Good pay but–’
I’m thinking: Fuck. Off.
I’m saying: ‘Fuck. Off,’
And fuck off he goes, looking for another victim to bore. No rest for the wicked, as they say.
Soon the rituals are going to be over and after the chants and the sprinkling of holy waters over the pyre, yours truly is to provide the blaze that will send his mother out in a blaze of glory. All I want is to get some tears out before I perform this task; I mean really bring out the waterworks. This is turning out to be difficult because the bottles of whisky I had last night in my personal style of mourning, have left me dehydrated. Besides, crying when there is no pain is like being expected to laugh at Jimmy Carr; quite impossible; but look at Aunt Sheila there, god, someone throw that woman a fucking bucket. Similarly, there are other women who have taken it upon themselves to express every tangible human pain by huddling together and cawing like a murder of crows. Women; they can cry on cue. Fuck knows. My brother Nav, he’s just hopping around in grief, his entire face suspended in spasms that are the consequence of heart-felt sobbing. I mean I loved mom (Freud must be turning in his grave like kebabs on grill) like any son does his mother. I mean, I didn’t even let movies like Psycho ruin our relationship so why is it that I can’t cry?
The absence of my own tears makes me feel like Meursault from The Outsider by Camus; like some alienated fool. The thing is, I have some practice in this field (no pun intended) when father passed away about ten years ago. It was back then when I saw the finality of death and how we are not so much as alive as we are ticking. Ticking away like clocks, just waiting for the batteries to run out. How depressing, you may say, but the truth is that elephant in the room that none of us wants to bump into. Not even me. And after dad’s death, there was a certain leap I took away from this ticking and employed a new zeal to make the most of every ticking second.
For an entire decade, my main duties have been to transport huge amounts of alcohol from the bars to the urinals. In the day I would work like an oompa-loompa where I could find work and in the night I would curl in a warm duvet in Pluto with whoever I could pass as a soul-mate. Come to think of it, half of them didn’t even have souls but for a wandering Mr-Fuck-All, it takes one very special woman or a bunch of average ones to get by. Men are funny like that; we spend nine months getting out of a woman and the rest of our life trying to get into one. When I didn’t find romance, chance would invite me in dark alleys and hand me souvenirs from Columbia. This was where I drew the line and many more lines followed to the extent that I could have got a Dyson sponsorship for my nose. That was a strange period of my life, times when a distorted reality was a necessity to be free. Several evenings when the cocaine would go ra-ta-ta-ta-ta up my nose, I would feel man-made bliss fertilize the Eden within and share an artificial intelligence that in the end got too much to take and made me feel a stranger in my own head. I would awake from grassy, kaleidoscopic nightmares in which I would see armies of Jacks and Jills tumbling down hills and Humpty-Dumpty fall off skyscrapers. It simply had to stop. A new beginning was required, a redemption out of a Dostoevsky novel because me a Raskolnikov of sorts; I didn’t even know any old moneylenders. So I cleaned up my act and was sure the Heavens would finally oblige and rain banknotes, love and margaritas upon me…
Yet, here I am.
So I step into my memory, adamant that I can find some signs of intense feeling here; some sort of oasis in the desert of my retina. Something that will make me weep. In the washing-machine of my head, I see whirling memories and images that have registered and have been classified by my hippocampus as being slightly gloomy:
I see baby seals being clubbed to death – orphans without PSPs – species without opposable thumbs – my friend Vijay who left no suicide note as he hung from the ceiling…just a post-it note saying FUCK IT – postgraduates driving auto-rickshaws in Bangalore – men madly stapled to the cross for my sins – a naked girl running on Vietnamese roads, fleeing from the terrible anger of Napalm which must be like a trillion oven doors left open to your face – sons pulling the plug on parents to keep up the mortgage – junkies sticking needles into themselves like they were voodoo dolls – Mexican farmers picking strawberries in endless fields and looking up at alien skies through plastic shantytown roofs and wondering where it all went wrong – souls kept in cages – madness, madness, madness – tasteless assassins shooting Gandhi, King, JFK, Lennon while Paris Hilton makes a fucking record and Tom Cruise jumps on couches – Titanic, sad; sad because this thick woman wastes everyone’s time telling her goddamn life-story and then throws that diamond necklace into the ocean – MTV pimping everyone’s ride but mine – Chinese children pumping their fragile breaths into my Nike Air shoes – Valentine’s Day, 2004 when I asked Her to lend me a quid so I could buy her a rose but she wanted to buy cigarettes instead – the same night this poor, old Chinese woman selling roses to troops of drunks and I wondered if she’d ever gotten a rose – Calcutta urchins polishing shoes with a smile and sniffing glue in dark corners – girls hopping on laps on the internet and look close, that is not love in their eyes but dollar signs – a brave man taking the stand at Tiananmen square with groceries in hand – KKK say it’s OK – Mother Nature going mad and vomiting lava, spewing tsunamis and farting cyclones – Father Society going madder voting Bush – shootouts in Brazil – genocides in Africa – never ending Middle-east wars – debris in Afghanistan – tyranny in Korea – paedophile priests – Michael Jackson’s face – the girl in red from Schindler’s list – OIL, OIL, OIL – Daddy’s little bastards flushing thousands for sour super sweet 16 parties –– Hamlet and his shenanigans – Socrates the idiot drinking his hemlock like it were Absinthe – Hendrix, Cobain, Slick, Morrison, Tupac, Bonham, Moon…all dead; Peter Andre…in good shape – The Old Testament’s bullying God taking the piss – Mariah Carey – super-sized Americans and minimized Somalians – how come MTV Cribs doesn’t visit the homeless? – Evil lobbyists sipping champagne at our expense –1+1 = 6, 577, 388, 100 – £££ - 666 – www – $$$ - iPod but no iGod – (us) & [them] – % + % = 0 – ®®® - ™©©© - !!!!!!!!!!!!!????????????
And all of this is sad but not sad enough. All of this is like those heartless montages you see on BBC, the ones sound-tracked by Coldplay or U2 or some other let’s-save-the-world-but-first-buy-our-album band, where the sum of starving Africans and shocked tsunami victims is conveniently slotted between insurance and yoghurt adverts because ugliness, too, lies in the eyes of the beholder and most of the time it overtakes beauty. It is against this very ugliness that we are all born protesting and raving and screaming against. Once you break the world down economically, statistically, culturally and racially, this is what you get. The Man upstairs wasn’t kidding when he said greed, sloth, lust, gluttony, wrath, envy, pride were sins. Ho hum. Now we pay the price. More importantly, this priest is handing me the torch and yet there is no sign of a tear. Everyone is watching. If I don’t cry know they’ll probably think I’m a serial-killer or a madman and that I have dead bodies under my bed or something. Just look at what happened to poor Meursault, they send him to the bloody gallows for not shedding a tear. Fuck that.
Suddenly while I walk to the pyre, I remember this one picture of mom’s, one of those crinkly snapshots that people take and then just shove in a shoebox for decades till what is unearthed is a yellowed scrap with the stamp of time all over it. When I see such photos, I always remember that thing said about African tribes refusing to be photographed because they believe the camera captures their soul. I remember this one black and white picture of mom’s that she showed me, it was taken in the 60s when she was about ten or something and the camera captures her atop her father’s shoulder at this village fair, a little girl and all, hypnotized by the cloud of candy floss before her little face and you can tell it is summer even though there is no colour in the photo because the pair of them have these smiles that only the sun can bring out, and in the background there is a not-so-big Big Ferris Wheel that seems to have stricken a pose for the camera as well, pausing to show its stock of dangling feet and inane flags, and in my head I hear the photographer urging them with a ‘Cheese!’ or what the hell ever they said in those days and suddenly I feel so…so…something. I can’t help but wonder how innocent and sweet and sad all moments of life are turned into by the simple stutter of a camera’s shutter, for at that captured second, at that Kodak moment, all of the abyss of the future is still unknown and unimaginable and far out and yet to hurt us and fix us and break us and age us and for that one moment even God must look at the marvellous poses of each one of His creations and understand the honesty of flesh and blood and realize what He has put us through, for the camera never lies – even when it is lying, and that even His angels could never compete with the honesty of being alive. And I’m no God but with the right kind of eyes it was easy to see that for years to come, for eternity perhaps, this little girl wanted nothing but candy and that she meant no one any harm. When I remembered this 6x9” world so far away from my own times, so far away from modems and mobile phones ringing cancer and Jade Goody, I feel so glad for my mom, for that little girl and her unreeled youth, far away from a time where film captures not the presence of people but only their absence, highlighting cellulite and blotches and fucking useless celebrity items – the handbags and the gladrags. So the lachrymal fluid out of my eyes is not essentially for my mother, they are not for the woman who drank too much and worked it off in yoga, they are not for the woman who came to PTA meetings and argued that I had too much homework, they are not for the woman who married my father…these ‘tears’ are for that careless and carefree girl of 1969 who held yours truly only as a far away thought or an eventual dream or a glitter in the eye, maybe not even that, who was a little girl all her life and who now lays before me waiting for light. And I will provide that light because I want to release her completely and who cares if there is a heaven or a hell and where we end up after the job is done? There is enough heaven on earth if you can find it and enough of hell if don't mind it. The important thing, I think, is to not care.
People around me, their faces are fucking elated by finally seeing tears slide down my face but little do they know that these are tears of joy. With the flame in my hand roaring like an Olympic torch, I make the much awaited connection and as the wood starts rattling with heat, I hear a far-away voice whisper to me:
Like a straying baby lamb,
With no Mammy and no Pappy,
I’m so unhappy,
But oh, so glad…