Tuesday, November 1, 2011

All Souls

This day is dedicated to all those who have gone before us. Today, our graveyards will see throngs that gather once a year outside of funerals and personal anniversaries. Gravestones will be decorated, candles will be lighted, prayers will be said. There is an air, almost, of festivity. And after sunset the gates will close, leaving the stones to their watchful vigil.

When it comes to graves, gravestones and graveyards, I am an iconoclast. I prefer living memorials to those cast in marble or granite. I prefer to dwell daily with the memories rather than the once a year visit to stand at a stone with engraved names and dedications. The passing of years makes no difference, nor does the picture ever fade.

Every day, as I enter the kitchen, my husband’s Mother is with me. As I chop, mix, stir, fry and check, I hear her guiding voice reminding me of those special ingredients that she never failed to add to every meal she prepared – patience and love. She also taught me how to retrieve from disaster those absentminded errors to which I am still prone. How could I forget her? She loved life and lived it to the fullest. A grave could never contain her.

I remember my husband’s sister who, in happier times, displayed a sometimes startling penchant for the adventurous. Outwardly staid, strict and reserved, she had unexpected reserves of humour which transformed her. She was also unswerving in her loyalties. She could drive me demented, but she also taught me how to be resourceful. I remember crossing railway tracks and jumping platforms, a shared load of mangoes between us, and catching the train in the nick of time. I am still gasping from that experience.

I remember my husband’s brother who called everyone ‘sweetheart’ – his wife, his daughter, me and our dog! If we were all in the vicinity, all of us answered!! He was generous to a fault and hospitable with a capital H. Virtues his children follow till this day. A living memorial of the best kind.

I remember my grandmothers (both grandfathers passed away within a year of my birth and so I never met them, but I do know them through anecdotes passed down by their children). My Father’s Mother used to babysit me through holidays spent with her. She stitched and knitted clothes for my dolls and even threw a tea party for them complete with cake and chocolate pudding. Friends were invited and we had a blast. She made sure that childhood holidays were happy ones. My Mother’s Mother was built so small, it was hard to believe that she had produced ten strapping children. By the time I caught up with her, she was quite frail but still retained her sense of humour. She must have needed it while managing a family of twelve humans, two cats, a parrot, ducks, geese, pigeons and a monkey. We used to correspond by proxy – I would write to her and my cousin would reply on her behalf. I am told that she was an expert crocheter and I like to think that her talent has been passed down to me. I love my daily sessions with hook and yarn.

I remember my Father as being always resourceful. He was insatiably curious and this had its drawbacks. If I took up something that he had no knowledge of, he would ask questions and he wanted answers, whether it was dressmaking or microbiology! I had to make sure I knew my stuff. I, too, by virtue of his genes carry an abundance of curiosity and a love of learning. Punctuality and thoroughness were instilled at an early age and, today, if I ever skimp on either I experience an uncomfortable tweak of conscience. He was an engineer and his one indulgence was his love of reading. He had a personal technical library that could rival the best. Whenever we transferred residence, our books – his and mine – were the heaviest load. His books have been passed on to others. But the load on my bookshelves grows incrementally every year.

I remember indulgent aunts and uncles, other relatives and friends, not just today but in every moment, occasion, incident and memory that brings them back to me. They are and always will be a part of my life.

And I remember my husband, his quirky sense of humour, his unfailing friendliness, his practical nature which kept the dreamer in me grounded. He dreamed dreams too and together we made them reality. Marriage joins and death can never really part.

This why ‘Memories’ is my favourite eulogy of all time, one that I would like to hear when I too am gone from this world:

We do not stand at your grave and weep.

You are not there; you do not sleep.

You are the thousand winds that blow.

You are the diamond glint on snow.

You are the sunlight on ripened grain.

You are the gentle autumn rain.

When we awake in the morning’s hush,

You are the swift uplifting rush

Of quiet birds in circled flight.

You are the bright star that shines at night.

We do not stand at your grave and cry

You are not there, you are alive!