If you know me really well, you already know this – I hate goodbyes. This whole separation business - I easily go bankrupt! My mind goes so numb that you would think that I am anesthetized. My heart sinks so deeply, even the Titanic would watch me go past her! This effect gets amplified further with time and distance. I was in Chennai recently for a short trip. The primary purpose of my visit was to spend time with my ailing grandma, who was recovering from a cardiac arrest. I was also able to spend time with quite a few of my extended family and close friends, spanning the age spectrum from my 13-year old cousin to my grandma’s 93 year-old cousin!
These warm, emotionally munificent people have all enriched my life in ways that I have lost count of. But from this trip, I have distinct memories of three types of people - the octa / nonagenarians, my parents’ generation and finally, some genuinely kind people who were relative strangers till my first meeting with them (which happened this trip).
My grandma, her sisters and sisters in law are not getting any younger. I took a picture with them and sent it to my family members with the note, “Gold doesn’t get old!” Makes for a nice caption, I guess. But really, I was just thankful that I could see them and spend quality time with them. They may have lost the vim and vigor of their younger years. But they seem to make up for lost verve with nerves of steel that help them face the inevitability of infirmity. Some of them, such as my grandma and her older sister, have had to bear the loss of one of their children in recent years. But in their long lives, they have faced many a crucible that has hardened their resolve. It was rather touching to see how they cared for each other, knowing when and how to offer support in an unquestioning, unconditional manner. As my wife mentioned in her write-up, it is through support, prayers and wishes that we, in a younger generation, can do our bit for the people who have spent the majority of their lives caring for their families, spending very little time focusing on themselves.
It was not only the people my grandma’s age but also thoughts about folks in my parents’ generation that made me feel heavy as I left the shores of Chennai. Especially moving was the way my guru asked me to capture the year-and-a-half that had passed by since our last meeting, through anecdotes, in the 90 minutes that I spent at her place. (She happens to be an Aunt of mine; technically, the Aunt part should come first but she is my teacher in so many ways that 'guru', to me, comes first!) I later remarked to my wife that visits such as this felt so, for the lack of a better term, pure. In this competitive, cut-throat world, I find it increasingly rare to come across people that feel such unbridled joy at just your mere presence, that any success that you share with them seems to be received as their own. Incidentally, during this trip, a friend quoted a lovely line that lyricist Vaali had written – ...pirar uyarviniley unakirukkum inbam, ivai anaithilumey irupadhuthaan deivam. (There is divinity in the true pleasure that you derive out of someone else's success/progress.) Now you know why I seem to deify my guru – there is no other way to see her and people like her! In my eyes, they stand so majestically tall that, in their presence, I feel like I am standing at the bottom of a waterfall, their purity of thought and emotion washing over my own flaws and foibles, at least momentarily.
Thanks to one of my other Aunts, I was able to meet her friends, a few of whom are in the film industry. At an evening gathering that my Aunt had arranged, I was again, a lucky recipient of immense kindness. While in the car, my Aunt heaved a sigh of relief as she told me, “You know, Ram. Ever since I got to know your arrival date in Chennai, I have been praying every day at the temple that your grandma should remain healthy. I knew that you would have been devastated if something untoward had happened.” If that was generosity of one kind, what moved me equally was the generosity of emotion on display by her friends, all of whom I had been meeting for the first time. The concern that they showed towards my grandma, wishing her well and offering to pray on her behalf, was deeply poignant. Similarly, I was able to spend time with both a close friend and confidant of 25 years as well as a friend from this blog (cartoonist Ravishanker) whom I was meeting for the first time. The vibes of warmth and friendship assumed equally meaningful proportions despite the vast difference in the length of the relationship.
As I reflect on my trip, I only have all these people to blame (!) for how I felt at the end of my trip. But I know that I must be thankful that they are all part of a larger journey of mine, one where they show me how to live well, love unconditionally and achieve the truest form of happiness. Vaali is probably grinning ear to ear from up above at his lines being immortalized by all these folks.
On that happy note, till we meet again, goodbye Chennai. And thanks for all the memories.