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richasmukherjee.com

love, laughter, pain, joy, life and its lessons, one word at a time

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Family

Queen of hearts

Ma

An ethereal beauty beyond words
Why must you conform to worldly standards of which we have become slaves
Vanity can come from a place of pride 
Beyond a face, beyond skin, beyond the usual trappings
Let the hair fall away, your brilliance is enough
Let the skin peel away, what lies beneath is even better
Let amorphous shapes that your body takes become continents of discovery and wonder
Let not your beauty be eclipsed 
For when you are bare, you are beautiful beyond compare…
These are words I wrote for my mother when she was propped up in her hospital bed with a wan smile on her face. A smile that never left her. Through the rigour of years, through the hardships of sustaining a large family, through vicissitudes of life and economics, there was always a smile to spare. Writing for this piece made me reminisce about the true beauty of my own mother. Its easy to write about your mother most would think. But this decision is not based on mere anthropology. It is because she is most definitely one of the most inspirational, resilient, positive and beautiful people that I’ve had the good fortune to encounter so closely in my life.
For a person who had such affluent beginnings, she never grudged being married into a humble family. A kathak performer, a sangeet visharad, a science and maths gold medalist was assigned to the kitchen and brickbats from her new family but she never complained. When my sisters and I were much older, we learnt of what all she had endured with silence. Again, none of this information was volunteered by her. She never played the victim card. Not once. Through tragedies, ill health and suffering. Her entire life was dedicated to her family, not just the army of four children and the beloved husband but anyone who ever came to her door. Whether it was long lost relatives, beggars, house help, donation seekers, it didn’t matter. No one left with empty hands or  hearts. I often wonder how she managed to be a mother, the coolest granny, a wife, a best friend and confidant when she was navigating through various roles of an electrician, plumber, handyman, world class chef and finance wizard, identities that her keen and scientific mind had sought out to keep her interests alive.
But for someone with such immense zest for life, life had other plans. Unbeknownst to us, there were silent killers eating away at her insides. While her angelic face continued to glow with love and compassion, her diseased body was rotting on the inside. Despite our best efforts, the hospital became her second home for many years. But through it all, the smile stayed, a shaking hand always ready to stick a thumb up in the air, to fool us into thinking she wasn’t suffering. I’ve never in my life seen anyone with a bald head, shrivelled skin and fractured limbs look so radiant and peaceful. For it came from a place of immense strength and real beauty, from deep within. For she refused to give in and smiled till the time she closed her eyes forever. When I held her hand for the last time, I still remember my sister had painted her nails in the ICU. An odd, bright red, to cheer her up. Frankly speaking she didn’t need the varnish. For in that shrivelled body lay the strongest and most beautiful woman, the saviour of a thousand lives, a soul that gave more than it ever took, a beauty beyond compare.

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silver hair Valentines

The biggest and most genuine love stories can sometimes be found in one’s own backyard. I have found one tucked away in a corner of my home and heart. No, I have no salacious details or a scandalous story. This simple heartwarming tale is about a 75 year old man and a 70 year old woman, who could not be separated by distance, grief, needles, pain, suffering or wrinkles. Their bond, much like the heavily advertised Fevicol one on TV, has stood the test of time and troubles to emerge unbreakable.

For as long as I can remember, they have been inseparable. There were many ‘typicals’ in their past. A typical arranged marriage, a typical dramatic and torturous mother in law, a typical life full of four children. But while growing up, we never felt like we had an average life, nothing typical about it. We always felt special and well taken care of, primarily because we saw the love and bonding between our parents which cemented our foundations with comfort, confidence and trust. And mind you, this was never the expressive or overtly evident kind of love. there was no hugging or kissing or hand holding or date nights, which the current generation views as obvious hallmarks of a healthy marriage or relationship. But it was clear to all of us. Everytime their eyes were searching for each other when troubles came knocking, the way our mother used to hang off the balcony every evening at 6:30 pm, waiting for him to appear around the corner, how she carefully ironed all his handkerchiefs and rolled up all he would need the next morning, the way they stayed up nights, together, for years, trying to ease away our pain and suffering, remembering how lost they looked whenever either one was traveling alone, how she would wake up at 4am to pack fresh parathas when he was leaving for a tour. It might seem that she was busy making all the valuable contributions while he was just wafting around. But despite being in a full time and very important government job, our father managed to fulfill all his duties and shower us with all the love we needed.

Years have passed. We all are married and grown up with our own children. But in the last few years, I have seen a more evident and feverish sort of love emerge between our very own Romeo and Juliet, bordering on reverential. And the tables have turned. After years of silently working and slogging away as the core of this family, my mother’s wheels are now a bit rusted, her pace has slackened and she has almost come to a standstill by the side of the road, literally run over by an onslaught of diseases. And the unsuspecting, unassuming Romeo has emerged as the hero. The setting of this love story has changed as well. Even the props are different. There are multicolored medicine boxes, tubes, wires, injections, walkers, sticks and everything that could unhinge the strongest hearts. But his trembling hands are firm when she needs to hold on. His false teeth are always ready to widen into a cheery smile everytime her tears start flowing. There are cobwebs in both their minds but he fights much harder so he can be clear and steer her through her everyday challenges. This humbling and debilitating ‘new normal’ rips our hearts out on days when we are feeling weak in our resolve but every other time, it makes us proud and melancholy. For we secretly pray for a similar love story in our own lives. Hoping that when the world chugs on around us and we slow down, there will always be one set of feet, slowing down with us, with a silent promise that we will never walk alone.

the art of being fine

I guess I’m fine

I’m always fine

When your warm hand slipped out of mine after an entire life of holding on and became cold, when I didn’t want to live anymore, they told me, don’t be like this

You’ll be fine soon they said, so I was fine

I think it’s been so long since you’ve gone that I should feel fine all the time. But to be honest, everything feels lacking, a bit sub-par

I eat all the same things we used to but all of it tastes a little bit different you know, like its missing some salt

When I look up at the sky, I sometimes see your face in an odd shaped cloud floating by. That does make me feel better for a while

No matter how many times I make your side of the bed, it never seems right. I think I mess it up myself, just so that it can look like you’ve slept in it

I try to keep myself busy but ever so often, silly things, little things flood my head with you,

A smile I see yours in, someone slurping tea like you did, a nervous hand tapping a table that used to drive me insane

Once I had to berate myself quite severely, when I saw your rusted razor and I cried for days

Don’t worry I’m better now

I have to feel better don’t I? There’s no choice

I try and go for long walks but lately I’ve been forgetting the way back home so I try not going too far

I go to parties but I feel even lonelier sitting all by myself in a corner of the room

I can understand. I don’t blame them. I don’t hear too well and have nothing much to talk about either

So you see? I’m living my life. It’s not much of a life without you, but I live it.

I always lay out an extra plate for you, every-day. It looks empty, just as I feel inside, but I know that one day we will hold hands again

And then I shall truly, truly be fine

Thread by thread


Tricks, emotions, tears, joy and trepidation.

Relationships are like that unpredictable blanket, sometimes too territorial and snug, making you sweat, sometimes not as indulgent, leaving your toes peeping out in the unwelcome cold.

Every fibre woven with memories, music, melancholy.

Infused with a familiar smell of warmth and familiarity,some parts soaked in helpless tears.

Sprinkled with stains of cozy coffees, tinkling laughter and aimless conversations.

Strong and unyielding in portions, threadbare in others.

Tug a string too far and line upon line will unravel.

Tangled, twisted, knotted, but they will still make sense to you.

A wrap too strong and you feel suffocated.

With the rigours and vicissitudes of life, the patterns fade, the lines blur.

But on the most directionless of days, and the darkest of nights, they will land softly on your weathered shoulders.

To lift your chin, to wipe a tear, to kiss a lip, to tell you that tomorrow is another day.

To tell you, stay warm, I’m here with you tonight.

Release me..


I could always tell when you were unwell, even when I was in another city.

I always knew when your heart was broken, you didn’t say much but I heard the tiny cracking sound it made.

I felt your nervousness, every time you were preparing for an exam, whether inside the classroom or outside.

Every time you stumbled, every time you picked yourself up, I danced with delight.

Will you forsake me now, only because you can’t see me?

Can you not feel my misery every time you push that plate of food away?

Don’t you feel my tears mixing with yours as you cry into the night?

Haven’t you heard my silent scream every time you say you cannot go on?

Can’t you hear me struggling to breathe when you shut the world out?

What pains me more than my empty lap is seeing you fight life everyday.

I am gone, but why do want to join me now, is there no other way?

Live my dreams, live my life, live my happiness and sorrows.

If you can’t find happiness inside, learn to steal, learn to borrow.

They say I can’t feel much but I die a thousand deaths seeing you suffer.

Release me my little one, tomorrow is a new day, and then there will be another..

A grand love


She ran to you and nuzzled her nose in between your knees, shutting the world out.

You caressed the fluffy tuft of hair on her head. She looked up and gave you that smile.

The smile that’s reserved only for you.

You smiled back and shut out the world that existed beyond the both of you.

I wanted to lock this moment in my head and throw the keys away.

So far away, into the depths of the ocean,

Where no one could touch this memory, nothing could change this moment.

Not age, not distance, not the cruel talons of time.

I’ve looked deep into those small twinkling starry eyes many times.

When they open, they search for you till they can find that old familiar figure extending an unwavering hand that is always searching for hers.

When they become heavy with sleep, they push and fight to just drink in one last smile , one last picture of you.

When they dream, it’s always a sunny day where a head full of silver and a tiny black one, Bob up and down along the beach, holding hands and exchanging fantastical tales and silly jokes with equal fervour.

The dreams have travelled a lifetime now, from my eyes to hers.

But the common and the constant is you.

I will never know your secret games, your endless conversations, your special communication even when no words are spoken.

But there is one corner of my heart which will forever be lit up with the memories that I have locked away.

Of an old man and a little girl and their little world.

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