Change is inevitable; some changes you embrace, some you are resigned to.
When your son grows up and fits into your shoes, you embrace the change even though you realise that you are no longer as young as you used to be. Most often you don't even have the time for the realisation because you are so busy being proud that your child is now your height.
But when you lose a parent, you have no choice but to resign to change. Suddenly, you find the road behind you having disappeared. Suddenly, you are bereft of the biggest luxury of life -- the protection provided by parental love. Once you lose the luxury, no other luxury matters or can compensate for it. Of what use the luxuries if the person you want to share them with the most, or who would have felt extremely smug at the thought that her son has earned those luxuries, is not there anymore?
What will always rankle me is that my mother died very young -- she was only 58 -- that too at a time when I badly wanted her to be alive for a few more years. But destiny rarely lets you have your cake and eat it too.
In two months I will turn 40, and in these 40 years, I have never, ever, been away from Kanpur during Diwali, except twice -- last year and this year.
The Diwali of 2009 could have easily been the grandest of my life: the debut book of an aspiring writer had just hit the stands -- what timing! I could have savoured the fruits of my labour in the form of Tiwariji's samosas and sweets, burst a few crackers and lit a few anaars in celebration of Diwali as well as the publication of Chai, Chai, had some chai with the family (no sugar in my mother's tea as usual) in the verandah while watching sparklers light up the sky, and then retiring to the room upstairs as usual with my brother to drink, then, smelling of alcohol, going to Kali Bari -- Kali temple -- late in the night to mark the passage of time. The neighbourhood Bengali uncle who was once dashing is now old and balding, and this wife, the aunty, walking with a limp. But their daughter, once a snotty little girl in the class, has now flowered into a stunning Bong beauty: fuck, why didn't I ever think of marrying her! Finally, we return home, that would be lit up all night by the countless chains of tiny lights. Ah, my home!
But look at the timing: my mother died just a month and a half before Diwali. She even missed the book by just eight days -- after all the painstaking effort she had taken during my childhood to teach me how to write a story. So the Diwali of 2009 was spent in Chennai, in mourning, though there was a pleasant distraction: a formal launch of Chai, Chai took place at Taj Connemara just two days before Diwali. My father had come to attend the launch, and on Diwali night, we went around the city, first to the Ramakrishna Mutt, then to Citi Centre and finally to Kali Bari in Chennai. We missed Kanpur, but we didn't mention it.
The Diwali of 2010 -- that is today -- could have easily been the second-grandest of my life. Today also happens to be my brother's birthday. Since he is November-born, Diwali always threatens to coincide with his birthday but the last time it actually did so was perhaps 25 or 30 years ago. What an occasion it would have been this evening! -- celebration of Diwali, celebration of the younger son's birthday, celebration of the minor success of the elder's son first book and the fact that he had signed contracts for a few more, celebration of a nuclear family.
Alas, I could not be in Kanpur this year. I just took a long leave to go to Kanpur to perform rituals related to her first death anniversary and to spend time with my father and brother. I have no more leave to avail of this year. Even if I did, it would have been no fun being there without mother. She would have been very conspicuous by her absence. So that is why I am here, in Chennai, putting up with the ear-splitting sounds of crackers being burst since early morning.
Mother isn't around to serve the bitter-gourd juice, father isn't around to serve the morning tea, brother isn't around to share the evening drink with. Till recently, it used to be just the four of us, and we were quite smug about that. During Dhanteras, which falls two days before Diwali, it is considered auspicious in north India to buy either utensils or jewellery on that day. One Dhanteras evening, a few years ago, when I went out drinking with friends in Kanpur, my mother, who wasn't feeling too well to step out of home, had entrusted me with buying something -- as a token -- for the occasion. On the way back home, I picked up just two spoons from a very crowded utensil shop -- in any case, they were just supposed to be symbolic of a new purchase. When I reached home, my mother told me, "Whenever you pick up something like this, always buy four. Because we are four. Tomorrow, though, when you both are married, you may need to pick up six."
Dhanteras does not make sense anymore. Though this Dhanteras, I unwittingly treated myself to a Vality fountain pen. It is a chunky pen with a transparent ink-tank -- sheer pleasure to hold. You instantly feel scholarly and writerly. Many illustrious men in Tamil Nadu, starting with chief minister Karunanidhi, are loyal users of this pen. What's more, mine turned out to be fitted with a Sheaffer nib and therefore cost more: Rs 250, compared to the usual Rs 90. With this pen, I intend to write my onward journey, now that the road behind me has disappeared.