“…….no noise nor silence, but one equal music;
no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession;
no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity….”
– John Donne, English Poet and Preacher, 17th Century
My earliest memories of Shanti kaku is of him slowly limping back home with a bag carrying some basic groceries.
Since the time I could remember Shanti kaku had always been around, doing odd errands for all and sundry. He was the youngest of seven surviving children of my paternal grand parents. It was rumoured that his birth had been complicated because of a forceps delivery process gone horribly wrong. It led to him coming into the world challenged, both mentally and physically.
Shanti kaku survived. Only to suffer the ignominy and arrows of being unequal, different, even retarded. I have sometimes wondered how this unfortunate uncle of mine made peace with these demons. Or did he really need to? Could it just be that what he saw of the world and people around him was normal to him, what he had experienced from the time he could remember? Without the consciousness of ‘what could have been’, he had nothing to compare his experience with, nothing to feel bad about.
All the other aunts and uncles went to school, some then to college. My grand parents tried to send Shanti kaku to school but faced rejection. Not having the benefit of psychiatric support nor any special needs school in those days, there remained no other option but for Shanti kaku to continue his frugal education at home. Sitting, lying beside his mother, listening to her relating the grand tales of Ramayana and Mahabharata.
Slowly but surely, Shanti kaku started to fathom what my grandmother really wanted. In his own special way, in a way quite different from his siblings who were growing up with their own dreams and destinies. He instinctively knew that what his mother desired, beyond most things, was to see him happy. Was this a primal connection driven back to the womb?
Time passed and brought change, as it inevitably does. Change in the situation of my father and the “normal” aunts and uncles who settled down into their own lives and families. Change in the feelings and attitude towards their youngest sibling which shifted from being “different” to being a “burden.” Come to think of it, burden is such an interesting word. A word loaded with different meanings allowing the user to at once demean the other person and highlight one’s own inability towards taking responsibility. What remained changeless was Shanti kaku’s situation and his connection to my grandmother. Shanti kaku remained what he was, where he was. As he continued to do the menial chores which he was asked to.
It was my final school leaving year. In fact, it was during my Board examinations when my Grandmother, then in her eighties and staying with us, became seriously ill, destined not to recover. For sometime her health had been failing, that time honoured twinkle in her eyes fading. But as she lay dying, one could but hardly avoid noticing how she held on and lingered as her last remaining purpose in life, that “different” child, sat beside her.
After all these decades, I can still recall that early morning when my grandmother passed away. Amongst all the sound of preparations to take the body for cremation and folks coming to pay their last respects, there remained that low pitched moan from the room of the deceased. It emanated from Shanti kaku as he alone held onto his mother’s hand.
It seemed disturbingly like music of a past trying to equal and come to terms with that of an uncertain future. Full of sadness, tiredness and the irrelevance of it all To my teenage mind however, obsessed as it was with success in examinations and the promise of a hopeful tomorrow, it evoked intolerance and impatience.
Today, decades later, as I stand in that tomorrow I have created, and look back, what do I see? What I see are moments of happiness I have enjoyed, moments of energy as I followed my passion, moments of the relevance I have had in the world. Why then does the music of my actions and words search for its equal in a future that continues to be elusive? I wonder.
In Learning……………………… Shakti Ghosal