Indian Grief And Our Compartmentalised Lives
I’m now officially one of those people you don’t invite to a party. Just as the drinks are loosening up the invitees and everyone’s oohing and aahing over the cheese bombs that are artistically encrusted with pomegranates, I’m likely to start discussing how Hindu groups lined an empty plot of land with cow dung cakes because they didn’t want their fellow Muslim citizens to pray in government-designated Friday namaz spots. I’m not making this up.
I’m now the type nobody responds to on a WhatsApp group, even one which is made up of like-minded people. My regular Sunday updates on the two journalists in their twenties who were reporting on the violence in Tripura and who were detained without any warrant or notice are met with total radio silence. Few people acknowledge my Instagram stories highlighting the day’s horrors, preferring instead to closely monitor a friend’s latest yoga moves and the bourguignon in her oven.
I scroll blankly through social media posts discussing the Shacket—an oversized shirt and jacket hybrid that’s apparently making waves on the Fall Fashion scene—and my friends’ pictures of boat races, snow-capped mountains, and festive celebrations. I feel nothing.
I’m the wet blanket, the prophet of doom, the bad-news magnet, the person for whom the only Diwali greeting that made sense was from historian Audrey Trushke, “May knowledge triumph over ignorance.” I register every petty move, right down to the failure of the government of the day to commemorate the birth anniversary of our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in Parliament.
To the fact that the Supreme Court is hearing two petitions to curb hate speech.
“The petitioners are personally affected by the stigmatising and the push towards social and political exclusion that is the result of a concerted and organized series of events aimed at targeting Muslims and their sympathisers,” the first group of petitioners Syeda Hameed and academic Alok Rai have said, referring to an Aug. 8 event at Jantar Mantar.
Since we live in an India where political satire is no match for reality, the court will also hear another petition on framing a law on ‘hate speech’ and ‘rumour-mongering’. This one is filed by Ashwani Upadhyay, a Supreme Court lawyer and former spokesperson of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party – and one of the main organisers of the hate-filled Aug. 8 event mentioned above.
Nobody discusses the family members who spew rabid thoughts or spread fake news on WhatsApp groups anymore. Most people who used to be more vocal about the cesspool of hatred we live in, have mastered the art of compartmentalising, and separating their inner lives from the various other boxes titled Work, Social, Vacation, etc. I know I compartmentalise too, otherwise I wouldn't be able to parent my 11-year-old.
“If we want to end the violence of the far-right, then we have to intervene before groups can get to the point of mass radicalization,” writes author Shane Burley, weighing in on the current discourse on mainstreaming of hate in American politics. In India, that ship has sailed.
Two years ago, I wrote that I had all the classic symptoms of heartbreak. “I am angry, sad, and lonely; I feel antisocial and sluggish, reluctant to go anywhere or do anything. I know a part of me has been lost forever.” Now I wonder if could be something deeper, like prolonged grief. In the Mayo Clinic explanation of ‘Complicated Grief’, I think I’m at the stage of, “allowing yourself to experience the pain of your loss”.
I turn to my grief expert, a 23-year-old who has been in mourning since she lost her father a few years ago, to help me understand what I’m feeling. Among other things, she sends me a poem by Akhil Katyal.
“is the least biodegradable of objects.
Do not bury it.
Stash it between your fingers
and in those inconsolable hours
let it run.
There will be nights
when even steel
dissolves within your touch.”
That is exactly what I’ve been doing, I realise.
My young friend sends me something by American writer Megan O’ Rourke that helps explain why I still feel occasional hope. “The idea that the dead might not be utterly gone has an irresistible magnetism. I’d read something that described what I had been experiencing,” writes Rourke. “Many people go through what psychologists call a period of “animism,” in which you see the dead person in objects and animals around you, and you construct your false reality, the reality where she is just hiding, or absent. This was the mourner’s secret position, it seemed to me: I have to say this person is dead, but I don’t have to believe it.”
My former home sometimes revives in the faces of interfaith couples and random acts of kindness that transcend religious differences. Like the Hindu Gurgaon resident who offered his private property for namaz.
But my country and the people who inhabit it are unrecognisable. Mostly, home is a faraway, forgotten place.
The only saving grace? I’m married to a man who is equally grief-stricken and who is nobody’s idea of a fun invitee to a party. Our favourite hangout is the balcony where we discuss our work in which we find meaning, share our sadness, talk about things that really matter, and agree on the importance of feeling differently.
Priya Ramani is a Bengaluru-based journalist and is on the editorial board of Article-14.com.
The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of BloombergQuint or its editorial team.