Many years ago, on this day, I came home from school to find a crowd in front of my house. As I got out of my friend’s Ambassador car, my stomach churned. Surely, this gathering could not be a friendly family get-together. It wasn’t. As I was about to open the gate, my sister’s sister-in-law pulled me aside. She put her arm around my shoulders, my school bag still on my back, as she told me that my brother had died. “From today, you have to be the son they have lost,” she said, imprinting a responsibility on me I didn’t know at that time to shoulder.
I didn’t think to ask how my brother died. I was 13, old enough to know what death was. I had seen other deaths. But not like this. Never like this of someone I deeply loved. I entered the house to find my parents sobbing. For the first time ever, I was seeing my Dad cry. Tears were streaming down his face as he sobbed his guilt. I didn’t speak to my parents or my sister. I couldn’t. I could not cope with the grief. I walked out in a daze. I stood on the patio as my brother was brought home, wrapped in a white bedsheet. I didn’t cry. “Go and see,” a cousin standing next to me, said. I didn’t. I watched as my Mom threw herself over my brother’s inert body. I couldn’t cry. For many years, I didn’t cry. I carried that guilt with me, searching for pieces of my brother everywhere I went.
“Why, Sunil, why? Why did you kill yourself?”
That’ s a question I have tried hard to find the answer to. I slept in the same room he had hung himself. I pushed nightmares aside. I sought his presence in my life when his absence was most felt. I knew him more after his death than during his life. Bit by bit, I have felt in me the pieces of him that he left.
This is not a eulogy. This is my memory, not wrapped in candy-tinted nostalgia but the agony of regret, the haunting vestiges of grief.
My brother was not an easy person.
Prone to irrational bursts of anger, one of my most vivid memories of him has always been of him flailing at the wall, at the windows, the sheer force of his anger requiring at least 3 or 4 people to hold him down. I would watch scared. There were times I was terrified of him. He could and would bully me. When people die, we somehow think we ought to preserve only the best of them. But I would do him a grave injustice if I do so. I know that he was one of the most complete people I have ever met – in his madness he was most authentic.
This year, I have missed him more than ever. I have wished for him to wrap his arms around me. I have wished I could lie down and rest my head on his shoulders. Once, my Mom had made a sweet that he particularly loved. Unfortunately, I had ended up eating all or most of it by the time Sunil came home. He flew into a rage, and my Mom tried to hit me for eating the sweets. In a flash, Sunil was there, pulling me away from her, his arms around me, my head only reaching his stomach. But he cradled me. “You will not hurt her,” he said. And I knew then that no one would dare hurt me while he was around.
I miss that protectiveness. I miss his bullying when he threw me into the swimming pool to learn swimming. I miss his playing when he would dangle me from the terrace. I miss his mock-fighting with me, wrestling my pathetic arms with his glorious biceps. I miss him calling me ‘Kutti.’ I regret all the times I never got to tell him that I love him. I regret the tears I didn’t shed then. I cry my heart into a million pieces today.
They are wrong, you know. Grief has no end. It ebbs and wanes, maybe, but grief has no end.