Elton John got it all wrong, I tell you. 'Sorry' is nowhere near 'the hardest word'. I put to you that 'thank-you' (hyphenated, two technically, but one yet) is. There are some debts you incur by the fact of living that seem near impossible to settle. The ones I owe my flower-power mother and father, for example. Or the ones I owe Hazel and Melody.
Then there are others which defy explanation by the unbearable lightness of (their) being; by insinuating the ones bestowing these goodnesses into my life in ways even I scarce understand. Shiv, Bini, Tridip, Aditi; I mean you, and the world of your making which I will forever cherish and treasure.
How often does one get to meet the most gargantuan intellect of their age? How much less likely yet is it that when aforesaid intellect personified and ossified in the form of one Shiv Visvanathan (who wears his erudition and learning as lightly as if it were woven of that muslin so fine, it got that poor Mughal princess of years gone into all kinds of trouble) breezes into your life, he introduces you to others of his ilk - the inimitable civilising force known in short-hand as Binita Desai, and the Auditor-General of the universe-at-large, Tridip Suhrud? Of course, Space-Oddity-Nut Sarkar, who doesn't even remember if he saw Janis Joplin ("some woman was on stage alright, but I can't be sure it was her") live completes this, my unholy trini - wait. Quartet.
If Shiv's is the elemental beat, setting this bossa groove a-going, Bini plays Brubeck, conducting and leading with her searing sense of aesthetic [to which we all secede, concede, and defer diligently]. Add to this the stand-up bass playing, backbone-providing walking jazz lines of Dr Suhrud, and we have something of a winner on our hands, my increasingly puzzled readers - stay with me, because this metaphor; laboured as it is, is about to bear fruit! (teeheehee) Oddity Sarkar is the sax-playing, melody providing layer that makes this mix pop, sizzle and crackle. They play bizarre time-signatures even I fain understand, these people do, but when you *get* where they're going? *sigh. It sounds as intricate, beautiful and life-affirming as this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kc34Uj8wlmE
Can you blame me for being enchantedbedazzledinaweandmorethanalittlebitinlove?
What brought on this slightly illiterate (but very heartfelt) paean to the wonder that is my DA-tribe?
Something that is less bright, light and for those very reasons probably the most important thing I've ever seen them involved with. You see, Shiv, Bini and Tridip, alongside another woman I admire as much as life itself, Teesta Setalvad and her Citizens for Justice and Peace (http://www.cjponline.org/) were the 'brains' behind the Gulberg Society Memorial on the 27th of February. This was to commemorate the massacre which occurred there during the Gujarat riots (and that's putting it very mildly) of 2002.
When I learnt that these people were working with the CJP on this 'Memorial to a Genocide', my first reaction was that I wanted to help; in any way, shape or form that I possibly could. Shiv co-opted me into writing for this issue of Communalism Combat (which saw the most devastatingly poignant of his writings yet, to my mind. These have been beautifully translated into Gujarati by Tridip and Saroop Dhruv). Bini came up with ideas for the other 'installations' at the society, and they were meant to sensitise anyone who showed up - no questions asked about who or why - about all that happened, conditions in euphemistically named rehabilitation-camps to this day, and allow them to engage with Gulberg society; a place which saw loss in senses of the word most of us cannot imagine possible. She came up with the idea of a 'Wailing Wall' along one side of the mosque which stands as quiet witness at the entrance of the society. On it we hung up almost 800 photographs of those dead or missing post-riots. Needless to say, the victims of the Godhra tragedy were equally a part of this space for mourning.
As the victims-survivors-witnesses to these riots started coming in on that day, from all across the riot-affected areas of Gujarat, this wall took on the afterlife of a sacred symbol - testament to lives lost; stories which weren't ordained to narrate themselves through, in the form of lives lived. Clusters of people stood in front of it throughout the day, for hours on end. Someone moved some of the pictures around, so that the members of one family could rest alongside each other at least in this commemoration of absence; someone else prayed in front of the photographs of their relatives. With every passing moment, as the day wore on and one finally sat down and let the enormity of the situation sink in when Shubha Mudgal joined her voice - earthy, organic, as attuned to the loss of those she sang for as any human being could be - to the ones of those asking for cognizance of devastating wrongs done, and justice, before conciliation can become a reality, my heart broke into a million pieces.
I started obsessing over the photograph of a child lost in the Pandherwada massacre. This little guy couldn't have been over three years old, and behind his intense Lennon-inspired dark-glasses, I'm sure he was looking out at (but also beyond) the photographer, with a brazenness that was so endearing, I was shaken to the core.
I was all of 19 when the riots 'happened', and left India a few months after the last of the fires had been put out. I've never really engaged with loss on this scale; I haven't had to. This might also have been because, as I've said in an earlier post, Ahmedabad is bloody conducive to the building around oneself of towers. Of the ivory variety. I didn't know what happened in 2002 any more than what was common knowledge owing to media coverage. It imposed upon my consciousness years later, when 'writing the city' for DNA made me grapple with it in ways I'd dismissed in the past. In allowing me to see, hear, but also touch, feel and smell Gulberg, Teesta, Shiv, Bini and Tridip allowed me - more accurately, forced me - to own up to silence as culpability; to inaction as disaster, and reminded me (as if this ever needed doing) why they fight the good fight every day of their lives.
You, each and every last one of you, are responsible for whoever and whatever I am 'becoming'. I absolve my selves (many. plural. yes. I know what I mean) and future selves from any and all responsibility in this regard.
Shelley says the word love has been too often profaned, so it won't mind my abusing it once more yet.
So love, then. Always.