Sit down and make yourself comfortable. Help yourself to coffee. Or tea. Or hot chocolate; whatever you prefer. Tell me when you’re settled. I need you to listen. It’ll help me more than coffee right now.
Last morning, before she started her lesson, our class teacher announced that the father of S, one of the toppers of our class, had expired. He had had some problem in his liver. She requested the class to get up and pay him a silent tribute and as I clutched my hands in front of me, I prayed for S’ father, but more than that, I prayed that she have the strength to be able to deal with this loss. It was so unexpected. I’d been talking to S about going to the World Book Fair in January. She’d said she might not make it because her father was ill. I didn’t know things were this bad.
When I opened my eyes and wondered how it would’ve been if I were her. If it was my father instead of hers. The thought was too overwhelming and I discarded it immediately.
After the class had settled down, there was an odd feeling floating around. Outside, we could see the second fog of the season. I’d joked that Dementors had taken over our school when I’d arrived in the class, but at that moment, I’d had no idea what was to come next.
We were five minutes into the lesson when four rows behind me, someone broke down. I whipped back to see A, another of the class toppers, crying uncontrollably into her hands, and Ma’am rushed to calm her down. The class watched in silence as Ma’am murmured to her, patting her shoulder. It was disturbing to see the craziest person in the class, the person always merry-making, to lose her strength like this.
When a couple of hours later, A broke down again, it was impossible to calm her down and we took her to the School Counselor. During lunchtime another of S’ friend was in the same condition, talking to our Class Teacher, wondering how it could’ve all happened. No one seemed in the mood to lighten up the atmosphere, and I was bothered that A was crying and I couldn’t help her. Even her best friend was clueless about what to do. I confessed I didn’t know how to console a person. I’d had to do so before, but it was mostly my sister. Consoling kids was easy. This, however, was something different. A’s best friend told me A had nothing to do with S’s father; it was more about the sorrow it triggered in her, the fear. Finally it was my bench-mate who managed to make her stop crying, and I made a note that I needed to learn how to help people in such situations, that somehow it was important.
I thought about how I had been close to death before once. It had been hovering over my mother during those nine hours when the doctors were removing the bubble that had formed in her brain. She got lucky, but I only saw the severity of it all when I went to visit her two days later in the ICU. I’d told Papa I’d wanted to see her and take her blessings; it was my birthday. I knew I had to be strong in front of her so that she would be too, but I could contain myself no longer than a minute after I’d seen her. She was unrecognizable. Her right eye was bandaged, above which they’d opened up her skull to operate on her. A saline had been attached to the back of her hand, and two nurses had been working on either side of her bed.
It was that day I realized that being strong isn’t easy. I remember how when I spoke to my mother, my voice was quivering; my hands were shaking as I poured her some soup, spilling a little on the bed. I remember how my mother couldn’t manage to even lift her hand properly when the nurse told her, in a voice one uses while talking to a baby, to shake my hand and wish me when I told her it was my birthday. I remember how I’d taken her hand in mine, and broken down, feeling her frail flesh against mine. The nurse informed her and even in her highly-medicated, half-asleep state, she scolded me to keep quiet. I remember how I could take it no more and how for the rest of the hour, I cried, all the way out of the ICU down through the lift to where my father and uncle were waiting.
The crying resurfaced in my mind a couple of times throughout the day, especially when me and some of my classmates were discussing S at the end of the day, deciding to act normal when she came back to school so that she won’t be reminded of her loss. G, with whom I walked to the main road from the school, was worried about her father, who, too, had a liver problem. We assured her that nothing would happen to him, and as we left the school she told me all about it, and I told her about my mother. We both only wished, as we parted, that no one has to go through what S’s dealing with.
On my way home, I thought about the day’s events and the things I learned about my friends, which were most unexpected. It was hard to imagine they had a life outside the school, but it was all ignorance on my part; I was too much focused upon my own life to think that people have their lives and families too; that they’ve all suffered pain, sorrow, loss; that we’re not alone.
I’d been reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows at school, so half of the time I was unaware of the noise in the class, and in the afternoon, as the Gramin Seva hurtled homewards, it seemed as if the gloom from the book had seeped into the real world. I noticed how there formed two worlds; one that contained you and the sorrow you’re occupied with, and the other the world, oblivious and going about with its business. No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t think about anything else. Even when I stopped and deliberately brought happy thoughts into my mind, they suddenly turned around and transformed into events I did not wish to happen. I gave up trying. It seemed that the only way to push them out of my mind was to write them down.
But as I quickened my step so that I could get the words on paper as soon as possible, thinking of how I could turn this sorrow into a story, borrowing inspiration from life, I asked myself if I had the liberty to do so. I did not have the right, I thought, to steal someone else’s sorrow and make art. Someone just lost their father. I wondered if I could get any more insensitive, thinking about it, while S was probably trying to gather up strength and build herself up.
I didn’t know if I was unnecessarily thinking about stealing her sorrow; if my worry even made sense; but it felt like I was intruding in something personal and that I ought not to do so.
I still don’t understand it. Sorrow is a confusing thing.