Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Of Lessons Learnt and Memories Made

The mere mention of Iraq brings to mind all kinds of things to us. Bush and his stance, troops abroad, talk of taxes and heated discussions about WMD. But to me, it brings to mind some of my sweetest and earliest childhood memories. Memories of each member of my family, of shared meals made with substitute ingredients, of masoon the best tasting bread in the whole world and of shopping trips to the local bazaar with ice-cream treats at the end, to be eaten later while watching Tom & Jerry or the 100th telecast of Robinson Crusoe. Each little event filled with shared emotions that have stayed put with surprising alacrity in my mind. Over there, in the city of Basra, my mother and father had common friends. They did not dash off on their own commitments, my brother did not disappear as often as he used to in India, to hang with his friends, my sister did not exclude me from her little crowd and when we made new friends, it was this whole other family we ALL made friends with. A new place and that too a foreign country can be instrumental in bringing a family closer than it has ever been before, when looking out for fellow members becomes more pronounced. Iraq also brings to mind memories of the kind of confidence only the very young can have. I had that at the time, in abundance. A confidence that was compounded by the fact that I went to a very small international school where it was very easy to be among the smartest in the class. I had that strut, and it wasn’t just in school but back at home too. See, we lived in a building that housed another 5 Indian families. Two of these families had little girls of their own who went where I went. And though they were my closest friends there, I remember being quite a pushy leader of that pack. It went without saying that I would decide all the important stuff as I was way better at Math and Science anyway, right? They were sweet and very compliant girls and I was a little bitch. *Pallavi if you are reading this, I hope that bullying did not scar you for life, I really think you a darling to have taken all that. Let’s just let bygones be bygones huh?*. Our neighbor was a Kashmiri spinster doctor who I adored. I would sit on her knee which was always covered in colored, polyester burkhas and play with her fine muslin dupatta lace late into the evenings, while my Mom caught up with her about this and that. She would tell us about her work and the people she had operated on and who was getting better and who was ready to go home. It was lovely, I loved the stories and the way they all ended with health and healing. She was like a real Aunt, more Auntie-like than any of my own sari-clad ones. She adored my Mom’s South Indian pickles and I adored her fresh smelling perfumes in their exotic bottles and her foul smelling refrigerator stocked with meat. So different from ours, but yet, so like ours it could be opened as and when we pleased to pick up a can of Pepsi or juice. And she was by far the most generous of all in that building; especially with the sweets she got from Kuwait every time she went visiting her folks.

Things would have been perfect if it weren’t for that smart new kid in my school. He was my classmate and he had these gray eyes and he knew ALL the answers to ALL the questions. And of course the mid-yearly exams that he was in time for (but which people predicted he could have NO WAY been fully prepared for), he aced without any apparent effort. I had my claws out for this guy. Bulbul my friend who was the only other one to get a 100 in Math besides me even asked to sit next to him during lunch, signifying impending loyalty-shifts. My wonderful sunny days started to get a little cloudy. How I hoped fate would kick in and set things right again! We couldn’t let the whole world and its gray-eyed brother join the 100-in-Math club at any rate. My energies were concentrated more on him not making that 100, than on me making it again. I clung on to Bulbul hoping she would realize that gray-eyes was a passing phase....

My Mom and Doctor Aunty were talking in unusually low voices and I scampered up to them to listen in. She let me climb on to her knee but I could sense things were not right with the world. And that they were not talking about what they had been talking about. “Do you know Naveen in your class?” asked Doctor Aunty. “Yes” I said with a scrunching of the nose. What...gray-eyes now was turning into Doctor Auntie’s favorite too? What else would be invaded of my world? “He won’t be coming to school any more sweetie” my Mom explained. It took me a long while, even after our teacher in school explained it in painstaking slowness, to grasp what had happened. My sister explained it with much needed conciseness. “His parents drank too much in a party. His Dad tried to jump a ditch, Naveen was thrown out of the van window, and he died on the spot.” My first brush with death. Fate had kicked in alright but not as I had imagined, I missed gray-eyes more than I expected. I felt guilty for weeks. I thought of him a lot and Bulbul and I held his Math book and kissed it too.

With Iraq in the news so much, I often think about those days. I think of Bulbul and Pallavi and Doctor Aunty. But never are those memories unaccompanied by those of Naveen and I wonder how his father ever lived with himself after that loss. How that 100-scoring gray-eyed boy would have made a fine young man now in his twenties and how that drunk driver taught himself the lesson of his lifetime by the loss of another....Dying seems less sad than having lived too little. Naveen, he did not even make it to the finals of his 2nd standard. If that’s not too little, then what is?

So, yes, Iraq brings a lot to mind, parts of which are common to many, as Rhyncus very correctly pointed out. Nestled in my childhood memories, are thoughts of death. Unnecessary and untimely deaths.


Blogger phatichar said...

You know, this might sound funny, and I've never had a wet-eye reading a blog, however mushy...but...this post without my knowledge had my eyes welling up. Beautiful post, gabby. It's amazing how you can take your writing skills to a new level, blending humorous and touching-straight-from-the-heart posts effortlessly. But mostly, I feel you are a good human being. I've yet to come across a post like this. *bowing down*

I hope naveen is reborn as the same 'gray-eyed' guy and very very successful in his career somewhere in this world.

11:52 PM  
Blogger sanguine said...

**stunned **
i mean wow, the post was going the usual funny way .. and bang .. was so taken aback.
n sure naveen lived a little..
but he is still remembered , by you and now us ,who read this post.
he lived way more than a lot others.
bless him , n bless you gabby .

12:34 AM  
Blogger visithra said...

Yeah stunned too

There I was smiling at your memories - and swish you hit us as sudden as his death.

Life is precious, wished everyone understood that.

12:44 AM  
Blogger Rhyncus said...

So you connect Iraq with death, like so many other people. I somehow believe that our 'first brush with death' is way more deeply etched in our memories than stuff like first love, blahblah.
Death and Kuwaiti sweets. Nice combo. :)

1:38 AM  
Blogger The Reporter said...

What a beautiful post! How guilt-wracked abu naveen must have been! So scary. Would he have ever been able to forgive himself? Poor iraqis now ..

2:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shocking! Death is cruel and comes most unexpected. I can almost see little grey-eyed Naveen before me...

3:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oops! That was me.
- Anumita

3:25 AM  
Blogger Primalsoup said...

Somehow it sounds both contrived and inadequate to say this was a beautiful piece.
Death is something which one hopes and assumes is what will 'eventually' happen...

7:11 AM  
Blogger Peg said...

WOW!! Your post took me to a world where those who are so small are pushed one step closer to adulthood by the striping of innocence.
I felt a tear as I too recalled my "first brush with death" and you have captured the life and emotions and feelings that spring forth from children as they travel from day to day in their world.

That is an extraordinary post you have written and the impact on the human soul has truly been engraved for a lifetime...
You need to share this in a publication, don't hide it here; set it free for more eyes and hearts to see!!

all my love,

7:13 AM  
Blogger Twilight Fairy said...

sad :(.. and such incidents have a greater impact in childhood..

7:15 AM  
Blogger anantha said...

*speechless without anything to say in the horizon!"

7:16 AM  
Blogger Peeyush said...

the sign of real good writing is that it can evoke emotions on two extremes in real short time... just like this..

came back to your blog after a long time, and it was worth it.

7:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

U ve a knack to mk people both jovial and melancholy wid ur writing.

Md me go back in history

Keep writing


7:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Holy Cow! Where did you learn to write like this?

No seriously, did you go to writing school or something?


8:10 AM  
Anonymous alpha said...

Great post Gabby. Poor you, I can only feel what you must have felt when you heard the news.

8:34 AM  
Blogger thennavan said...

Gabby, I did not know that you had an Iraq story in your life. If the country you had lived in (even for a while) is in turmoil, I can understand how you must be feeling. I have read reports that the Iraqis had the highest respect for Indians (explains how our men in captivity got out last year).

9:02 AM  
Anonymous observer said...

Apart from the obvious turn in your tale, I like the subtle ones too, like "more Auntie-like than any of my own sari-clad ones"

Good post.

9:05 AM  
Anonymous Angel said...

Wow...I feel foolish to even praise you coz I don't think I'm equipped to pass any comments...Iraq reminds me of the war...the first one that Bush Sr waged against it...

9:12 AM  
Blogger Patrix said...

Never thought you might have an Iraqi connection. Nicely written, as usual.

9:51 AM  
Anonymous HiredGun said...

It is always those incidents that forever touch our lives. As you point out, I wonder how the parent ever lived with the fact.

My own brush with death as a child was a sister of a classmate. It was viral meningitis, but I knew the cause only years later.

Good post.

11:43 AM  
Anonymous karan said...

Amazing post. Very touching. Your blog is so like reading RD of the old...there's humor, experiences, life, reader's opinions, and all ofcourse in excellent writing style!
Ditto on Peggy's question!

I loved the line "Dying seems less sad than having lived too little". That's deep. I guess its true for 'lived too little' being either in time or quality.

btw, missed the connection about Rhyncus pointing out something. when, where ?

11:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I did not know about this Iraq connection either. (I think there's a lot we still don't know about you Gabby.) The post suddenly brought this lump in my throat. You switch between the 2nd standard perspective and the present one all the time. But it flows. Another great one as usual.


12:17 PM  
Blogger Rhyncus said...

And now what did I say to deserve that mention??? Tell me tell me, before I go crazy (but then there's a theory that this has already happened) trying to figure it out.

12:48 PM  
Blogger GratisGab said...

Thanks everyone. And a warm welcome to the new names I see here. Your questions mostly fell under the same category, so I'll give this collective response this one time.

Yes, I have an Iraq connection. Now that did not come out sounding as it should've at all :). But you know what I mean. It was for a few years only, but my earliest memories are of Basra and also of boarding Air India in Delhi, Iraq-bound.

No, I did not go to any kind of writing school. Though offlate I toy with the idea....but if a couple of you think I did go, maybe I can just work on fooling more of ya'll? ;)...If you see the stuff the Microsoft spell-check/grammer-check brings up on my posts, all such questions will be history! LOL!

Observer and Karan - Ya'll picked out my 2 favorite lines!!
Peg - I'm honoured! When I do muster the courage to think about professional writing, I will come knocking on your door.
Peeyush - Ah, finally. How many more times are you gonna pull this disappearance act? Good to see ya.

12:48 PM  
Blogger GratisGab said...

Karan & Rhyncus - I started my post with sweet memories and before I knew it I was writing about this troubling piece that was there in the back of my head all the time...Rhyncus's first comment about how I was no different is some senses (I thought of death too, like everyone else), made me add that mention...

12:51 PM  
Blogger Rhyncus said...

Hmm..then I have a small issue with your italicised words. The word 'unnecessary' is not justified, IMHO. Every person's memory is different and hence cherished by that person. Whether it is of death arriving uncalled for, or of lazy afternoons filled with stories of hope.

1:02 PM  
Blogger GratisGab said...

Yes, I realised while typing out my response to you that you had nothing to do with the decision of necessary or not. You only reminded me of the "common" factor. It will be revised or removed. Soon.

1:10 PM  
Blogger anantha said...

The first half made me feel that we are hearing about your first crush and then the mood changed :(
And this line - Dying seems less sad than having lived too little sure gave me a lump in my throat....

Halfway thro undergrad, I lost a friend. I will not claim we were very close, but we were well on that road. And I am in a way glad that I refused to look at his face before they closed the shroud forever, cos now I remember him the way he was when I saw him last, a couple of days before the accident :(

I dunno what it is in your case, but in mine, the absence of a good friend caused by his untimely death sure hurts more than the actual death.

1:23 PM  
Blogger HB Pencil said...

Humorous as always. But touching too.

1:37 PM  
Blogger GratisGab said...

Anti - I wasn't old enough to grasp the significance of what had happened at that time...I definitely wasn't prepared for dealing with the complexities of permanent loss. But then, when is one ever?

On a happier note, you mistaking this to be a crush-post is giving me a wicked-cool idea :)

Hmm...so it didn't render you that speechless huh? :)

1:39 PM  
Blogger GratisGab said...

hb - As always? So I take it you've only just stopped being a ghost-reader? Thank you.

1:42 PM  
Blogger Rhyncus said...

:) don't remove it. Cuz the title, you see, tells you exactly what the post is about. And the post fits. Revise it if you deem fit. Prerogatives. :) We've discussed this elsewhere. And the body of comments, they kinda justify its existence. Again, IMHO.

1:44 PM  
Blogger GratisGab said...

Rhyncus - Er.., what is IMHO?

-Gabby (not one to hesitate in advertising her ignorance, as you can see)

1:47 PM  
Blogger Rhyncus said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

2:07 PM  
Blogger Rhyncus said...

In My Humble Opinion....the operative word is humble. I think.

2:10 PM  
Blogger anantha said...

Ummm the start of the post almost made my start typing, but I am glad i waited till the end of the post before commenting, cos I might have made an ass of myself. The end is what made me speechless!
But then, when is one ever? I certainly am not, yet. I had to make this call this past weekend and did not know what to say, till my uncle cut my uncomfortable sentences with a kind "Don't worry da. You are still a child".
I definitely have grown in this past 8 or 9 years out of home, but in some ways, I haven't. Coming to terms with loss is certainly one of those spheres where I am still confused about how I shld feel!
To put it trivially, in some ways, my condition reminds me of Chandler who cannot get himself to shed a tear in spite of how poignant Monica sounds. Friends is a sitcom, but then you can't help but draw parallels...sometimes...
To end on a happier note, would love to hear about all those lucky "would-have-been-Mr.Gabby's" who are thanking their stars now that they haven't been affixed with the "Mr. Gabby" pseudonym ;)

3:15 PM  
Blogger GratisGab said...

Anti - I like your idea of reading my entire post before commenting. Thank you :)

Ah! Sometimes you grow up faster than you ever wish to, because you have to. I sincerely hope you never are forced into those circumstances. But actually isn't it all so relative? I consider myself pretty grown up now, but who knows, time and situations in the future might force me to think of my current state as child-like and sheltered...

The would-have-beens...:) The usual dilemma strikes! How personal should a personal but anonymous blog be? Risky business this. :)

3:26 PM  
Blogger Khushee said...


5:15 PM  
Blogger anantha said...

Gabby, Hmmm... Quite a out place comment this is gonna be, but I have to reply to your post. My blog not exactly anonymous, as my now famous "face-among-the-tulips" post would indicate. Though I take care not to be bitchy (hmm, i think i can remember one particular post which was intentionally bitchy), I also make sure that if I refer to someone I know personally, it is by the first letter of their name or if they have a non-anonymous blog, they get linked.

So in your case, your "would-have-been Mr.Gabby's" can be refered to, as TC (for Tom Cruise), SRK (for Shah Rukh Khan), SAK (for Saif Ali Khan), TH (for Tom Hanks), AK (for Amjad Khan) and AP (for Amrish Puri). So there you go. You can follow this naming convention for your next post! Go Gabby Go! Let's show Mr.Gabby, who the other contestants for the ultimate prize were! ;)

6:41 PM  
Anonymous Zoheb said...

Reminds me of a girl in my class, Pinky, when I was in 3rd std, I think. She passed away too, because of a bad reaction to a Penicillin injection. But I had never spoken to her, so it wasn't so bad. But I did see a servant girl, Julie, in my neighbours house commit suicide by burning herself. I was a kid and she must have been in her early teens. It was surreal to see her burn. She died a few days later in hospital.

8:06 PM  
Blogger AmitL said...

Gabby,u're an ex-Iraq resident? well,that's news.Reading about what happened to Naveen was quite touching...I guess,as I always say,life has it's ways of teaching us little lessons,but,in this case,it taught his family a big,albeit sad one..sigh.

8:30 PM  
Blogger KJ said...

beautifully put.......

leaves me at loss of words.

10:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1 thng z 4 sure after reading ths post I wont drive after drinking. @least4 da sake f people on the road.

U shud try professional writing



10:49 PM  
Blogger The Man Who Wasnt There said...

First time here and to trod the familiar path as of others let me first commend you on your awesome writing skills!
Needless tosay your writing is indeed poignant if that's the word I am looking for. I guess most of us would have an occassion or two where we will be confronted with the harsh reality of life and "untimely death". Incidentally the phrase "untimely death" perse is interesting...what would you say is the "right time to die"?

11:06 PM  
Blogger GratisGab said...

zoheb,amit,kj,HoliDevil - thanks very much...HoliDevil, yes, in fact I toyed with the idea of making the post about that in itself, but decided getting that out needed more than what I could afford to put in here.

girish - thanks and i appreciate your point. i guess there's nothing timely about death. But what I was trying to say there is that this little kid did not even KNOW life in my opinion. These are my earliest memories and that's ALL he got! Even today, young men and women are losing their lives out there as we type...kids younger than us! & here we are planning for our futures and what-not and they are there risking it all...too early I feel...

When people leave us, the ONLY thing that helps you deal is the stuff they GOT to do. You grasp whatever they accomplished, what they enjoyed doing and the things they could have and did have and that helps you heal...I wonder what Naveen's parents have? I'm sure they have memories but it's almost like nothing...! Too damn early.

7:33 AM  
Anonymous Ashok said...

Somebody already mentioned this but this ability you displayed of being able to take your readers from one extreme emotion to another totally different one is a true indication of good writing.

Keep it up.

8:36 AM  
Blogger Sudipta Chatterjee said...

Gratisgab, much said and done about your post already. I think the best way to describe your post would be the word "quietus". It really is amazing to think that the same person who posts this one is the one who posts "Shaadi Woes". Seriously, please please puhleez consider publishing your posts (and our comments as well :) on a hard copy. I promise that I'll buy that one!

8:40 AM  
Anonymous you-know-me said...

Moving piece Ms.Gabby. But I think that "untimely" line is spoiling a good piece. I would suggest removing it.

12:56 PM  
Blogger FunnyCide said...

Hey Girl,
Thats a beautiful and refreshing piece.
What I liked the most are: [I figured that in this day and age of ADHD a bullet list of comments will be appreciated.. :P]

* the beginning where you mentioned about how the memories were more about time well spent with family. That is a very childlike thought-process. Rings true and helps the reader bond with the narrator.
* the vanity in little kids that is so sweetly brought forth [I was way better at Math and Science anyway].
* of course, the very last punch line about death and living too little.

Some suggestions, if you care:
the last set of lines in italics are kinda jarring towards the end. I would rather leave the reader with a melancholic and nostalgic feeling of the past, rather than bring them back to the present with a thud. Like those open-ended movies that make you think a whole lot, much after the movie is over.. the italics piece was like bloopers at the end of the movie. It is only for badly done movies, so people forget the bad parts, not for pieces like this. IMHO :)

I know people have already mentioned and you said you will take it off, but I had to mention.. :)

Dying seems less sad than having lived too little. Naveen, he did not even make it to the finals of his 2nd standard. If that’s not too little, then what is?

In these three lines, I would say, for more affect, you can completely remove the last line [the one with the question], move the second sentence before the Dying punch line. More like:

Naveen did not even make it to the finals of his 2nd standard. Dying seems less sad than having lived too little.

Just my thoughts, but again, everyone has their preferences. I am looking at it like a piece of work for some critiquing rather than at the emotion behind the post. Sorry if that came out a bit cold.

My two cents ran rather long. :)

3:46 PM  
Blogger MD said...

Iraq, eh? full of surprises, but then aren't most people once you scratch the surface.

I liked the Kashmiri spinster doctor bit.

What a sad memory, but as others have pointed out, you keep a person alive by remembering them, if only for a little while.

6:45 PM  
Blogger gvenum said...

This post ought to be shown to people who complain about bloggers wasting time and how its not worth it. I am glad I got to read it. This is one beautiful piece , how I wish this is just a story.

9:34 PM  
Blogger manuscrypts said...

but what abt a disabled life instead of death... very old world, but i still feel that there is a reason for everything, whether we see it or not...

6:40 AM  
Blogger GratisGab said...

Ashok -Thanks a lot.

Sudipta - Nice to know I have a buyer. Actually, WE have a buyer. If I published a book of comments, we would all be authors! Ah, maybe then the Anons would come out :)

You-know-me - I see the last couple of lines are bugging a lot of people. But it's kinda late to be changing the piece now. So I'll let it stay. Thanks for your input though.

Funnycide - Thanks for the thoughts. I like your ending-suggestion. That would have been nice and clean. As I said to you-know-me I don't want to touch the piece anymore but be assured I'm soaking all the advice in...thanks for coming by babe!

md - She (the Kashmiri doc) was a sweetheart. Bless her heart, wherever she is.

gvenum - thanks so much. I wish it was too...It would have been spooky if I made it up though, don't ya think!!

manuscrypts - The old debate. I'm sorry, but I really don't want to go there. I can't.

Thanks for coming by!

4:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very sad to hear what happened to Naveen. A big price to pay for a foolish mistake made by the father.

By the way, really interesting to know that you lived in Iraq! Beautiful post.


6:10 PM  
Blogger GratisGab said...

Thanks Ashwin...

7:20 PM  
Blogger thennavan said...

Gabby, to lighten you up from this post, I have something at my site. But, sorry no Telugu version of the song available :-)

7:57 PM  
Blogger Suhail said...

(*Speechless...with few blurry drops*)

8:16 PM  
Blogger GratisGab said...

thennavan - thanks...will come by...btw who told you I was Telugu?

suhail - In a good way? :)

8:44 PM  
Blogger Pallavi said...

OH but it never mattered to me.. LOL.. it was my friend who was all hot and bothered... LOLOL.. but heck,.. those are good memories.. its always nice to walk down memory lane.. :) I am tempted to come up with so many more stories..

5:21 AM  
Blogger GratisGab said...

Err...Pallavi, you're talking about this post?..what exactly?

6:54 AM  
Blogger Suhail said...

I meant drops in my eyes. And this post wasn't funny, so you know what that means. Whatever self-doubts you might have had about pro-writing, comments in this post would've remove them. Coz you don't just write well, you cover the full range and scale. Like hitting the lowest and highest notes back to back. Awesome.

9:31 PM  
Blogger thennavan said...

Gabby, you could say some deductive power based on previous reads, comments at other blogs, coversation flow etc. but I could be wrong :-)

10:18 PM  
Blogger GratisGab said...

Suhail - Thanks man! Your encouragment means a LOT.

thennvan - Hmm..why do I get the feeling you're lying?

8:38 AM  
Blogger thennavan said...

Gabby, this is the problem with the world. Give them your most honest answer (even if inaccurate) and it starts doubting you :-)

9:53 PM  
Blogger Manish said...

It was very sad and I was reading this post in office and was not able to hold my emotions..

1:43 PM  
Blogger GratisGab said...

manismani - thanks for the comments and for visiting.

9:30 PM  
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10:37 PM  

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