Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Funeral

My house is dead and we had its funeral yesterday; it burned a few weeks ago and no one quite knows why, though I am sure I was responsible, somehow, for this devastation. On Diwali, my life irrevocably changed. I remember the morning with a forced clarity, since I've had to retrace it endlessly, both in my tortured solitude and verbally for various authorities who have tried to analyze and square this away neatly.

Like all deaths, however, this one defies all logic or sense of fairness, and really, it matters little how it happened: the fact remains that I came home from work one day to find a ruin, almost as though I'd wandered into an alternate multi-verse, in which I am less fortunate than in the one I inhabit, or that I'd wandered into a wrong fairytale (this was ME! This wasn't supposed to happen to ME!!). I usually don't sleep much any longer, and when I do, my vivid dream life tries to convince me that it was all a horrible nightmare, that of course my home is safe, exactly how I'd left it to go for work that Diwali morning, waiting for me to come and light the ritual lamps. But then I know exactly what that is: it's a defense mechanism construed by my shattered, shocked sense of self, and I confess to have wondered about the means by which I could lose myself in that dream and not wake up. With equal shame, I have chosen to wake up and tried to gather myself around me, like a shawl of ashes.

It amazes me how much of myself I'd stored within those charred walls. It is a strange feeling to realise that I own nothing: not a spoon, not a safety pin, not a needle or threader, not chairs or door knobs. A lot of my books, like my poor cat, did not make it either. On the other hand, I am sure I own some sheets, some photos, more clothes than the ones in that box next to me, but I couldn't say where they are. No matter how many times I try to remember what the Sufis, Saints and Poets have said, this realizing does not liberate me in any way. In fact, I am a lost soul whose horizon has either abandoned her or been erased. I have no compasses to steer my reality by!

Yesterday, my friends helped me remove, salvage, and discard the remains of my house. It felt like a funeral, and had it not been for so many kind hands holding me up, I would have been lost in yesterday, unable to find my way to today. As I considered the detritus of all that had made sane sense to me and recognized myself in each familiar arch, cadence, texture, and hue in that heap, the immensity, the impossibilities of my circumstance, my situation, stood out clearly, in relief, forcing me to meet their eyes with the same recognition I had saved for the Odyssey a student had given me, for the ceramic bowl my daughter had made for me.

Time behaves strangely for me now, and the very ground feels malicious, like quicksand, waiting to swallow me down. I think of Odysseus on his way home from Troy, never dreaming how much must be endured, conquered, travelled before reaching Ithaca and being recognized. I think of my Sita in this story under the Father Tree, slowly understanding the full implications of her impossible position. I think of the Ancient Mariner, who is left with only a harrowing tale that he must repeat endlessly.

I do not wish to seem ungrateful, of course; there have been many mercies: the worst, hopefully, is behind us, we have realized how many wonderful, generous, kind people we have always been surrounded by but had failed to realize it, and we have been lucky to have survived this with our fingers and toes intact. We shall, of course, build ourselves up from these fragments because, really, there is no other choice.

Kind Reader, please enjoy a glass of water in your own homes, in your own glass, and be grateful on my behalf for being able to do so. I, too, shall think of you, and take heart that Odysseus does find his way to Ithaca, after all, even if it takes decades. Please pray that the stars who have extinguished themselves from my skies have not gone out, but just changed their orbit, and shall be back soon to light my ship to familiar landscapes.

9 comments:

  1. Shefali, I'm so deeply sorry and I wish I can have a magic marker that would erase this terrible dream.
    However you are left with the reality of this devastating experience and I can just send you my love, support and wish for a time when you again can gather your tea cup and a book and sit in your living room with ease.
    Love,

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  2. THank you so much for your kind wishes, Ofelia!

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  3. Reading this passage has moved me deeply to your and Isha's plight. It makes very real the starkness, the concreteness of losing your home. I am so sorry and feel helpless in the face of such adversity. And, that it was at Diwali twists the knife. You both are in my thought and in my prayers.

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  4. Some great stuff here, albeit painful. Glad to stumble upon this blog.

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  5. Shef,
    I loved this tragic piece. Its right from your heart. Your brain expresses your heart so effectively! I am sooooo sorry for your misfortune and the torture that you and isha had to endure. Like phynix you will rise from the ashes of your home. Hope your new house will be as loveable as the one you lost.

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  6. shef, sorry for the slip in pheonix. i didnt proofread it.

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