Photo Story: Death In Family

I was sixteen years old when I lost my grandfather after he met an accident.
This was the first death in my family, and it hit me like real bad.
I made no eye contacts with any of my family members for weeks that followed. After his death, I never talked of him to my family members or any friends of mine, like he never existed. It disturbed me.
The feelings were immured in my heart and two years after his death, I decided to type off my feelings.
I created this photo story titled “Death In Family”.
I voiced a story on the behalf of all the people, who like me, find it uneasy to talk about their deceased family members.

I tried to recall chachu’s number. I failed. I searched for it in the call list and made a call. “Hello. You wanted me to call? What’s up with Daddy (my grandfather)? What’s happening?” “He is in the OT. He had a minor head injury, surgery’s afoot.” His voice shivered. He passed the phone to his elder brother, my dad. “Minor injury? And surgery? What do you mean!?”, I yelled. From the other side, Dad’s voice. Troubled. Uneasy. He mumbled something that I to comprehend.

I held the phone tight to my ear and waited for him to speak again. “Go tell your grandmother about it.” , he said. “How am I supposed to do that!? You tell her!” , I cried. “Tell her daddy fell down and hurt his head. Do it. Aa’ye saan. Hisaab saan.” (Tell her in a way that she gets a minimal shock.) *Call drops* I wanted to hide somewhere, wanted this to be a nightmare. I didn’t want to face my gran. I descended the stairs. Stairway seemed endless. I was tired. I looked *for* her. She was in the kitchen, cooking something. I don’t look *at* her…

~The phone call~

I made her sit.
I struggled with words, sentences, tenses.
All in one breath, I told her- “Daddy met an accident, he will be fine.” That’s all I said. I wanted to look at her face. I failed to lift my eyes. My eyelids were heavy. I gazed at her hands, instead. They got weaker. Paler. Older.
I cursed myself. Why I had to tell her, the worst phrases, she had e’er heard!
What I didn’t tell her: Your consort is resting in a hospital bed. Unconscious. In a state of coma, with his parietal bone in a refrigerator, his skull is being operated upon.  The ice cold kitchen marble burnt my heels. I felt a shiver down my spine. Stared into nothingness. I wanted to cry. Tears didn’t come. Tears never come easy…

~Failing eye contact~

The next day.
There’s a knock.
Mama came in. “Your dad was here. He took a shower and went back to the hospital.” “Oh! I didn’t know!” – I pretended.
I knew. I knew, he was here.
Encounters with self-started-
The inner voice: You should have seen him! Paid Salaams, at least? Enquired about Daddy’s health?
Rebuttal: How do we even look at people in the hard times? Teach me? I am unexpressive.
I am like like my dad, incommunicable.
“A certain darkness has clouded the heart,
Neither brings a bloom nor calls the rain.”

Two more days passed. I waited for Daddy to return home healthy. He was still in the hospital.
I waited, for the tears to come…
I was sitting in the living room with my family.
None of us talked.
The lights were dim. I was glad, didn’t have the courage to look into their eyes. Or see their faces.
I heard something.
Someone’s choked up.
I lifted my eyes.
I saw my dad cry.
He buried his head in his hands, and bursts into tears. Cried like a child!
I left the room and cried my eyes out.
I swallowed a scream…

~In tears~

The next day: Daddy survives on the highest dose of a life-saving drug.
He survived.
“How one survives and doesn’t live.
He is alive. Not living.
We don’t die the same day we stop living.”
Like it’s said:
“We don’t start living life the same day we are born.” Later that day, I heard someone talk about life and death.
They talked about moving on in life.
They talked about learning to live WITHOUT the loved ones.
All they meant: “Your grandfather’s survival chances are coming down”
I unfurled the prayer rug.
“Bowing my head to the ground, I recited half-forgotten verses from the Quran. I asked for kindness from a God I wasn’t sure existed.”

The only escape from this pain was to pray. I prayed more than I had ever prayed.
I tried to understand the religion I had otherwise, “inherited” from my parents.
I missed him.
There was a sudden recall.
Diary! Daddy’s diary. Where is the diary?

~Prayers, more prayers~

There is a sudden recall.
Diary! Daddy’s diary. Where is the diary?… His so-called personal diary, that everyone was allowed to read. He warned us not to, but we did. And he didn’t mind his grandchildren sneak peeking into his daily write-up.
What was the latest diary entry?
What did he write the night before he lost the sense to feel the touch?
I entered his room. The brown leather cover diary lay there on the shelf with a black pen next to it. Unwritten, since past seven days. I turned the pages agility, paused at 27th April- “It was a sad day today- because of overnight rains and the uninterrupted rains till 1 PM. We could not start the construction work ( some construction project). Although, I went there with Sabih (son) but had to return (home) at 9:30 AM.
The rains dropped me in the back, and the legs and the rains were torrential, giving no respite while (I was) walking. I felt cold, and even colder, after meals. Had to confine myself to bed, warmed by an electric blanket.”

The next day was sunny, and the construction work was resumed. He was happy.

A little while after the sunset, he was out with my father to buy some medicines. While leaving the chemist’s shop, he fell down from three stairs, hurt his head. And there and then, he lost his consciousness and slipped into a coma. “Would this latest diary entry be his last diary entry?”
I shrugged my shoulders and put that thought away…

In pic: The same page of my grandfather’s diary. It’s his handwriting, and I love it! 🙂

~Latest diary entry~

At school.
Uneasy. I had a ghastly intuition, nothing’s good back home. Before I would give up on overthinking, school secretary (Ramees sir) entered the classroom and called out my name in his piping voice,
“Zainab Mufti, come to the school office, along with your bag.”
My heart skipped a beat. Chocked.
I whispered the word “shit”, bit my lip, and took Iram ma’am’s leave. “Zainab, all good!?” , she asked, looking more terrified than me. “I don’t know.” – I said and left.
I walked towards the school office.
My uncle’s friend, BK had come to pick us (me and my cousin, Nehl- a third grader) from school.
Sr. Phyllis, the school principal, waited alongside.
She gave an awful look, put her hand on my shoulder and gave quite a sympathising look. I smiled back. Why did I smile?
BK, Nehl, and I walked towards the driveway.
Jalil sir emerged from nowhere. (He always emerges from nowhere.) “Zainab! What happened!?” Knowing my grandfather wasn’t unwell for a few days, he panicked. I saw his face lose its colour! “Sir, I don’t know.”
He shook hands with BK, threw his arm around his shoulder, and took him a little ahead of me. They talked.
Can’t recall what happened later.
Next thing I recall from that day:
We were driving home and Nehl kept on asking why we left school early. “I don’t know, Nehl.  I don’t know!” I knew. I knew there was an end to a friendship- of a  grandfather and granddaughter.
I knew, there was the first death in my family.
“I did know.” I lacked the courage to bring it to my lips, to tell people-  I lost the dearest of my family members.
As we drove close to home,
I could hear voices from the Masjid.
They were announcing the burial time.
They had prefixed “marhoom” to my grandfather’s name. “To God we belong, and to Him, we return.” Can I just skip the lawns, the lobby, the crowd, and hide in my room…?

~I don’t know~

I can’t. I have to face them. All of them.
As I got out from the car, the white road marking powder (indicating nothing positive) showed me the way home.
The Masjid announcements that informed me about my grandfather’s death by prefixing “marhoom” to his name reverberated in my head. Reverberated in my head for months.
As I crossed the lawn, I saw people. Too many people. Grievers. Mourners.
Their faces were a blur.
Faces weren’t blur. Perhaps, my eyes were fogged with tears that failed to make their way down the cheeks.

~The blur faces~

My grandfather left this world on 5th May, 10:05 AM after remaining in the surgical ICU for eight days on ventilatory support.
That was exactly two years ago.
Death is unavoidable. It takes away your loved ones.
But you teach yourself to live without them being physically around.
They are always in your heart. They are with you. They live in the memories!



Fighting over tv remote… Cheering with him for “India’s opponent team”… Never ending talks about Kashmir…
Discussing mountains and valleys… Listening to his life history every month!
Assisting him in gardening…
Learning multiplication tricks… “When I was your age…” taunts… Sharing the camp stories… Asking him a billion times, “Aapne Gandhi ji ko dekha tha?” “I am not that old. But your daadi might have seen him,” he replied.
Dadu-dadi fights… The fights that were only meant to entertain their grandchildren…
The fights that reflected apogee of love…
His smile… And a lot more memories!
Memories remain in us, like residue.
” Residue is that which remains in us, and allows us to regrow…”