The Smiles Of Grief

Musings / Tuesday, February 2nd, 2021

It is a typically mild Bangalore morning when I step out for my run. I have been dawdling a bit since I woke up, and I am impatient to ‘get on’ with the day. What this getting on means, I really don’t know. But there’s always somewhere else that I want to be. Something else that needs to be done apart from what I am doing right now. 

The irony is that I have a guided running meditation today.

The irony is that I have just finished my morning meditation.

Yet, I am restless. Too much time already. I want to leave the word unsaid. Wasted. 

I climb down the stairs and change into the running shoes that I keep in my car. My car needs cleaning, I muse. Switch the Bluetooth headset on. Check the Nike App. Turn Location mode on. Switch from Wifi to mobile net. Tighten my shoelaces. Finally, I walk out. The basketball court that adjoins my apartment is quiet right now. The sun isn’t out, but the moon is fading into the brightening blue.  

That’s when I notice him. A small, frail figure with an orange microfiber towel wiping the bonnet of the white Hyundai sedan. “Do you wash cars?” I ask in Kannada. He looks up, and I realize my mistake immediately. He is not one of the ‘car cleaners’ who roam around my apartment complex. I try to cover up.

“Erm, do you know anyone who cleans cars here?” I gesture in an airy manner. He comes over to me, shaking his head and speaking in rapid-fire Hindi. I stand there, bemused as he explains that the ‘boys’ who clean the cars may drop by any moment. Perhaps he will inform them? he asks. I nod. 

I turn to go, but he isn’t done. “You speak Hindi very well,” he says. I smile. I speak Hindi atrociously, I know. He is being polite. I turn back to him. He seems to want to talk, and what do I have to do but run? Ramchandra Dubey then tells me the story of his life. 

How he was the Principal in a college in Chhattisgarh. Of his small village where he grew up, where everyone knows everyone. About his son, who is a doctor. “He doesn’t sleep at all,” he mutters. “Always in the ICU. This is the first time in a week he is sleeping.” I make sympathetic noises. And then he tells me of his other son. Slowly. Suddenly. Fading into the blue. “He died in an accident. In April, two years ago,” he says. I don’t know what to say to this. The blues swirl around my own memories. “I am sorry” is too trite a phrase. I don’t have the words in Hindi for this. Or in any language. So I wait. 

His wife, Dubey continues, has almost given up on life after this. She spends the whole day in the puja room, emerging only to cook the meals for the day. Her solace is in faith, Dubey says. “What’s yours?” I ask. He wavers. He doesn’t answer. “I must find a wife for my son,” he says instead. They have been scouring potential brides on all the matrimonial websites, but his son isn’t approving any of them. But he keeps coming back to that other son. That other son who was a medical student too.

“You can never get over grief.”

Dubey looks into the distance as he says this, somewhere where the security guards prowl. I glance over my shoulder. I see what he is seeing. That prism of grief. That unending pain of knowing that which was will never be. 

I see the sun rising too, the light glistening on the cold pavement. I turn back to Dubey. “Yes,” I say.

“Grief you never get over. Just through.”

I don’t know if I say it well enough in Hindi. I don’t know if he understands. But those words are what I needed to hear myself. I don’t understand them either, but I know they will make sense. Eventually. 

Dubey is back to wondering about his only son. He left his job after the other son’s death. “I have lived a full and rich life,” he says. I know there is a ‘but’ that should come. Not here. Dubey leaves the but unsaid. That’s what grief does.

There’s still more to be done. His son’s life is to be lived. His other son’s life is to be celebrated. A wife to be found.

“Are you a Brahmin?” he asks suddenly. I nod. That answer pleases him. He smiles then – a radiant smile that masks the colors of grief. “We Brahmins have our own culture, no? It’s very important.” I disagree, but I can hardly manage such an argument in my rudimentary Hindi.

I smile my disagreement instead and glance at my phone. Time is back at my shoulder, cawing at me to go back to my run. “You be well,” I say, rather inanely. “Peace…it will come,” I add.

Dubey nods and smiles. He smiles his disagreement too. 

Wordlessly, we part ways. 

12 Replies to “The Smiles Of Grief”

  1. Grief – how do you quantify it? Big, small, not worth mentioning, comparative – yet, they are there to own and hold and feel and live through. I don’t know if one ever gets “over” it. I don’t know what it means.

    1. I agree, Sudha. I don’t know what “getting over” anything means. Like we are all vaulting hurdles all the time. And welcome, my friend.

  2. How beautiful this is . The ethereal beauty of grief. Yes, grief is beautiful because it never fades. It is permanent. It comes to stay and teach and fill the emptiness with compassion. Only if we let it. It is a hard teacher, even harsh but it is a good one. There’s a glass wall that separates those who live with grief from those who look on. The glass wall will shatter. There will be peace.

    1. There’s a glass wall that separates those who live with grief from those who look on. The glass wall will shatter. There will be peace. – This. This is why I love your writing, Anukrti. The poetry in your soul.

  3. These vignettes. The magic magnet that you are, drawing people towards you, pulling out their stories. I can never get tired of them. This was one of the most moving of all.

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