An Autobiography – narrative of a life lived in the duality of sorrows & joys, faithfulness and betrayals, honesty & corruption and everything in between
This is what Life does. It lures you into existence with promises of Eros. Eros, that enables love and attachment, creation and creativity, survival and fulfilment. Eros, the harbinger of a magical life. But to keep you humble, Life infuses an equal measure of Thanatos, the instinct of death and destruction, of obstructions, of strife, and discontent. Thanatos will not let you live, and Eros won’t let you die. And you watch your life play out like a soccer ball being tossed between the mighty opponents, neither of which can be vanquished.
So you are born with the capability to love, and be loved, with dreams of life like a Disney Movie – majestic castles, princes and princesses, happy endings that overcome the wicked witch. In a nutshell – happiness ever after. Life of an exquisite glass chandelier. As valuable. And as vulnerable. But Thanatos has other plans. Plans to obstruct; throw hurdles, to demolish the dreams of happiness ever after. Thanatos propels the destruction of the Exquisite Chandelier which comes crashing down, each shard scattered, broken, lost forever. You hide in terror, devastated in this clash of the Titans. The chandelier, your life, seems unsalvageable. It can never be put together again, you say. But the creative drive then orders you to sweep those pieces up and glue them back together to recreate the chandelier. It will never be the same, nor as perfect, but there will eventually be light illuminating the scars, Eros whisper hope. And you must heed that voice. You have to. What else would you do? Sworovsky may do hi-end replacement Chandeliers, but no one offers replacements to life.
If, like me, you are stubborn, and refuse to take orders from Eros, you may spend eons in status quo, in mourning, in procrastination, stalling, refusing to rebuild, but remember this my friend, life is infinite, it veers into infinity, over lifetimes and in afterlives. It has all the time to outwait your stagnation.
If, like me you eventually give up the obstinacy and begin rebuilding, piece by piece, this shattered chandelier of Life, remember, my good friend, not to dream of forever happiness. Do not fly too close to the sun. The Disney castles incite Thanatos. For as soon as soon as you have pieced it all together, and just when you begin enjoying the flight, when your dreams open up the portal to forever happiness, the destruction will strike again, and you, my dear Icarus, will fall back to the ground – wings, chandelier and all. You may be disheartened and crushed. Why me? You may say, I will be unable to survive this, you may think. I want to die, you may tell yourself. But like a wonderful, nurturing mother, Eros will hold you and nurse you back into love of life, steering you into rebuilding, recreating. And you will, trust me, rebuild and recreate.
There is no escape from this eternal cycle. And just when you rebuild and begin to believe that it will never happen to you again, you will again become aware of the transient nature of happiness, and of the frivolity inherent in the dreams of forever happiness. By then, you would have hopefully acquired a little more wisdom, a little more strength, and a little more acceptance of the rhythm of Life.
Life forces you into this circle, the circle of creation and destruction. Into impossibilities. Into corners and crevices that cramp you, where you lift loads that you never believed you were capable of. Where you slay the dragons that make you pee in your pants. With each cycle, the circle grows smaller. You become less stubborn, submitting to the will of the universe. You recover quicker, you create quicker and destroy even quicker all that you have created.
This is what life does. It repeatedly tears you into inconsolable shreds of hopelessness, and you learn to cover all tears with scar tissues, developing muscles of patience. It buries you in the quagmire of helplessness so deep, for so long, that the only option you’re left with, is to become an enduring diamond that will not shatter. Life forges you into furnaces of trauma which you can only survive by transcending into resilience. Each time, you die. Over and over again. And are resurrected as someone else. A stronger, richer, wiser version of you. Stranger to the one that had died before you were birthed in the new moment. And if you agree to die often enough, and if you are reborn often enough, someday, you hope, creation and destruction would lose meaning because you would have transformed to something beyond pleasure and pain. You would have individuated.
Very early in life, Fates cheated me out of sharing with you, dear Ma, the moment of your passing. Being present and witnessing the person’s transition to the other side of the veil, the close proximity to the body of the dying that lies before you in the tender moments of their new journey, is an incredible gift, like gatherings at the railway station, or the airport terminal, to wave goodbye to a loved one embarking on a long, uncertain travel, when the body and spirit, partners of a lifetime, waving goodbye to each other and to other partnerships of their lifetime. And when fate cheated me out of sharing that moment with you, a chunk of barren space in my mind remained taken up by your absences, with imaginations of what it would have been like for you in those moments of passing, and with imaginations of what it could have been only if.
My existence has always been bound and weighted by the wonderment about you in other ways too. I have questions that are more concrete and selfish. How you could have been so devoid of any inherent feeling of your responsibility towards me. Why I was not enough. Why it was easy to let go and succumb, without trying more, just a little more. Each question, like a heavy stone, chained my existence because when, forty years later, it was my turn to curl up and die, I had chosen life. I had lived. For my children. The thought of leaving them motherless had been enough to coerce me into enduring the yoke of life. And so I had lived my life in a responsible manner. And so I never understood about you. And although over time, my tiny abandoned body grew in size, galloping through blizzards of chronological disasters, it was weighted down under the collective weight of these stones, and the stones that were thrown at me along the way of life by those that professed to love you, and me. Rocks that weighed down my beautiful mind, wounded my vulnerable soul, crushed my indomitable spirit, till nothing of what I remembered about myself, remained. Perhaps Hercules was merely a finger pointing at the moon, a potentiality within every woman, and man, the knowledge of which the keepers of me had intentionally concealed by keeping me embroiled in Troubles. Perhaps Prometheus simply chose not to be free until Hercules. Perhaps I too had refused to choose until it was too late.
I know very little about you, except that which the land, the winds, the oceans and the mountains informed me. I can count backwards to determine that you were born in 1941, or 1942. I read writings exposing your family tree of landlords and intellectuals, the Bhats of the tiny village of Murran, in the District of Shopian, in Kashmir. Your grandmother, a feminist, she was the head of administrative service of the school district of Pulwama, when most women there had not even known what a school was. Your grandfather was a Principal of a local boys school, and reported to her. The dynamics of such hierarchy repeated in my marriage as well. Few in Kashmir can boast of such a wonderful heritage. I believe that the intelligence of our ancestors was a torch passed on to my children thru me.
I can imagine the night of your birth in that majestic house of my grandfather, in the picturesque village of Murran. I can imagine your mother too was disappointed for birthing a daughter. You were the oldest among three siblings – Ratna Bhat, Inder Krishan (Inderji), and Kuldeep (Deepji). These were turbulent times in history. World War II coming to an end, German forces being pushed back by the Allies in Africa, the years of Pearl Harbor, the fall of Singapore, and the subsequent inception of the Indian National Army by Subhash Chandra Bose. The slice of natural paradise, in the womb of the mighty Himalayas, your Kashmir, was being ruled by Maharaja Hari Singh, the Dogra ruler whose ancestors had purchased it from the British under the Treaty of Amritsar, signed on March 16, 1846, for Rs 7.5m and an annual contribution of one horse, twelve shawl goats, and three pairs of Cashmere shawls. Kashmir’s involvement in the independence struggle had been minimal. For our families, life was not quite as hard as it was for the rest of the world, not at all as difficult as it was for people of India.
A series of political earthquakes rocked Kashmir in 1947, after India and Kashmir, secured their freedom from the British in 1947. Maharaja Hari Singh chose to be independent of India or Pakistan. He dreamt of a sovereign state, rich in culture and heritage, devoid of all crime, and fuelled by tourism. His dream was destroyed in its infancy by an invasion by the Pakistani militia just a few months later, in 1948. History reports that Hari Singh requested assistance from Jawahar Lal Nehru’s India, in return for signing of an Instrument of Accession. Your mother would recount tales of the incursion she had witnessed in Murran, for Shopian was always the hub of Muslim activity. The Pakistani forces had approached the outskirts of Murran, your home town, demanding gold. Your grandmother had given them the copper pots and pans from the kitchen, even the stirring spoons, and those dumb idiots did not know any better. In Srinagar, the Maharaja locked himself up in his bed chambers, instructing his chief of staff to shoot him in his sleep in the early hours of dawn if no help from New Delhi was forthcoming. He did not wish to witness the fall of Kashmir, nor did he wish to be a part of Pakistani Kashmir. Nehru did send help, and Kashmir became part of India under the Article 371 of Indian Constitution, which was meant to be a temporary arrangement until more formal arrangements could be made. But a treacherous and power hungry Muslim fanatic, Sheikh Abdulla, also a close friend of Nehru, dreamt of heading the state of Kashmir. He betrayed Nehru’s trust. By the time the treachery was uncovered, it was too late and the Article 371 had become a limb that could not be amputated without the anaesthesia of public opinion. The public, though had been opinionated by Abdulla’s delusional promises. The rest, as they say, is political history that kept Kashmir’s festering until 2017, when the current Prime Minister Narendra Modi applied the healing balm of state funded development and abrogation of the Article 371, integrating the State as a indivisible part of India. We could call India our permanent home. Now, my children, or I could return to the ancestral lands.
The Instrument of Accession had shaken the demographics in other ways in 1947. To appease the Muslim population, and to reduce the concentration of power that could lead to demands for a separate homeland under the Hindu elite, the Nehru government confiscated the lands from the majority Hindu landlords and redistributed them among the Muslims. If the Muslims of Kashmir could be kept happy, they could be lured into remaining loyal to India. I mean, really? History proved otherwise. The pheasants squandered the free money and the free lands gifted to them. There were constant demands for additional funding. Article 371 had barred any Indian funded development in Kashmir, and therefore no jobs,or industry could be created or sustained. The corrupt politicians used constraints of the 371 as weapons to keep the public mired in poverty. An atrocious annual budget for Kashmir was extorted from the Central Government every single year from 1947-2017. It bled the entire nation, and the proceeds went to the private and overseas accounts of the elite, who incited the poor into terrorism and ethnic cleansing. Until the Abrogation of the Article 371, and splitting the State into Union Territories put the State back on the road to development and job creation.
The loss of land in 1947 had had an irreversible and detrimental effect on the Hindu families of 1947 Kashmir. The younger generation of the time could no longer continue to depend on farming. They had to emigrate to other lands, to find employment they were ill prepared for. There was no manufacturing, or service industry, and most of the Kashmiri population lacked proper education to procure government jobs, except the lower clerical positions. Overnights, the wealthy had been turned into paupers.
The educational background of the Bhat Family saved them from the common fate of other Kashmiri families. Your uncle moved to Srinagar to practice law and later became a Supreme Court Justice. Your parents, Triloki Nath and Indira Bhat, moved to New Delhi, with your youngest sibling, Kuldeep Bhat, (Deepji) and found a job in the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), and shared an apartment with two other families in Billimarra of Old Delhi. Yes, the same Billimarra Lane where Mirza Ghalib had lived a hundred years before him. Perhaps that explains the infusion of Ghalib, and ghazals, in our DNA. Your father’s wages were too low to support a family of five, so Inderji and you were left behind with your uncle and aunt. He eventually transferred to Taj Mahal in Agra, where he continued with the ASI, and retired in 1975 as the Head Clerk.
Although separated in time and space, our stories, dear Ma, are not that different. The barren places created by lack of parental care must have existed in your mind as well. I wonder if your uncle treated you in the same manner as I was treated by mine? Perhaps the financial prosperity of your uncle mitigated some of the issues and you were spared the desperate hunger, and lack of basic necessities. Perhaps you were not forced to steal food and clothing for your survival. Behind the bright and sparkly eyes that stare at me from the old, and discolored photpgraphs of you, there seemed to lurk undiagnosed dysthymia, and depression, fuelled by parental abandonment. I found it in your journals, and the songbook that you penned down as a hobby, listening to Binaca Geetmala from Radio Ceylon. I transmitted that genetic disorder to my own children along with the brilliance of mind. Perhaps all things beautiful, in every generation, are cursed, tainted by shadows of trauma cast by ancestral wrongdoings, shadows that spread onwards across generations like a giant tsunami – silent, unknown, unknowable, unseen – destroying everything in its wake.
And then, at the age of nineteen, you were married to my father, Chaman Lal Bambroo. I can imagine you as a bride, in that yellow saree that I was allowed to see, but never to wear. He was a young prodigy of twenty five, with a brilliant mind, and one of the most eligible bachelors in the neighbourhood, which made the financial differences in the two families disappear in the eyes of your parents. I have heard the stories of his intelligence, about the wonderful career that awaited him in Rourkela with Tata Iron and Steel Company. He was being transferred to Germany, when no one in his entire family had ever seen anything beyond the state confines of Kashmir. A few days after your wedding, you moved to live with him in Rourkela.
Pa came from Akoora, in Anantnag District. He was the youngest of the six siblings. The ravaging effects of land distribution were suffered much more in their family, as they had been academically unprepared. The older two brothers – Nand Lal Bambroo, soldier in the Indian Army, and Hari Krishan Bambroo, a draftsman in a construction company, decided to make short term sacrifices for which my father, and I, and even my children must be grateful. The older siblings ensured that the youngest two, my father and his older brother, received proper education. In turn, after graduation, the youngest would then support the entire extended family. Education was the new mantra in the emerging economy of India after the British. The ones educated by the British, had suddenly become the elite of the free India. There were no Master’s Level education facilities in Kashmir, and students generally travelled to the far reaches of Lucknow to get such education. And so, Nand Lal Bambroo paid for their boarding, lodging and University fee, and all expenses, while the next one, Hari Krishan Bambroo bore the family’s day to day living expenses.
Pa, and his brother graduated with a Masters in Mathematics from Lucknow University. My father went on to enrol in a specialized courses in Kolkatta, West Bengal. By that time, Kashmir had its own university, and his brother, Shamboo Nath Bambroo enrolled in a PhD program at the Kashmir University. And both were married on the same day, in the same ceremony. My father was married to you, Ratna, and his brother was married to Neena.
I am told that although pa and his brother were two years apart, the two were like more like twins. That my father’s maturity overshadowed the development of his older brother. My father became the father figure, and my uncle was a bit…strange. Others say that he had not always been strange, that he became strange after the loss of his twin. I wouldn’t know.
I read in your diaries that I had entered into your life within a month of your marriage, without your permission. You had not wanted a child then. Like your own mother, a daughter you had wanted even less. And you too had been sad to birth a daughter. And I have always known that perhaps you would have been, if only I had not been. The guilt has haunted me over my lifetime. The guilt of imposing, of arriving uninvited, of burdening your heart, your body, and your soul, of disrupting your life, your health. And after your death, I was imposed on my grandparents, and then my uncle and aunt. I have felt uninvited all my life, which makes me run from relationships, for fear of being uninvited. For fear of being imposed. For fear of being a burden. I even ran away from my children because I felt uninvited in their adult lives. Why did you have to leave? Why didn’t you fight to live? Both of us had jaundice at my birth. I did not give up. I fought to live. You could have too. Why did you believe the family fortune-teller who told you that your life would end at 19? Why did you give up the medication that the doctors had prescribed and just curled up to die, leaving the two month old alone in this horrible, horrible world, only to fulfil the prophecy of an imbecile fortuneteller.
You were a bride, just 12 months separated from your wedding, and I was told that Pa was devastated and that he dressed you up as a bribe for your cremation. I was taken to Agra by your parents. Temporarily. And perhaps men lack the ability to remain loyal, or faithful because they lack the ability to remember. And Pa too, did not remember for long. Within a month, his parents began looking for your substitute, and within five months he was engaged to marry someone called Dulari. Someone you and I, and he, had never known. I wonder if you were looking down from heaven and I wondered how you felt. I hear your parents were livid at such desecration of your memories, but he, the love of your life, remained silent, and had been scheduled to marry in October of 1963.
They found him dead in your kitchen, in your home, on that morning of May of 1963. He had been electrocuted by your refrigerator. Agra became my permanent home.
In time, a stipulation was drafted by your uncle, the Justice of Kashmir Supreme Court, and signed by all parties, and ratified by the Court, about the stuff that you and Pa had left behind – your savings, investments, and life insurance payments, even your stuff. Everything was to be invested, and released to me at the age of 21, unless the parties – his brother, and your father – jointly agreed to release it earlier for my welfare. I wish they had donated the funds to a charity. Or the age for release had been set at 16. My life would have been different perhaps – more fulfilling, less hunger, less than incomplete. And Sameer would never have married me in the absence of my inheritance. And all that followed would never have followed.
Do you know what these clauses of the Court Order did to me in the last 60 years? You shouldn’t have died Ma. You left inside me a barren space, in which I can feel your absences every moment of my life. Your memories I have none, for I was just two months old. But I felt you since conception, you must have held me in your arms, against your bosom afterwards. And then, suddenly, there was no you. The memories I don’t have, but the absences are embodied, and I can feel then in the barren spaces created in my soul, my mind, and my spirit. The preverbal spaces, that could have populated themselves with happy memories, except that your parents worked relentlessly to erase you from my life, as if the 21 years of you had never occurred, and the two months, the eleven months, the months of our unity, had never existed. Perhaps they meant well. What I did not know, would not hurt. But there was never that I did not know. And the secret rooms of my knowing, and the barren spaces of deprivation manifested in a string of childhood diseases which turned me scrawny, frail, and weak of body, while the unexpressed grief imploded my psyche, splitting my personality into shards that were barely held together by a tenacious thread of rationality. When stress threatened the fragility of thread, I would summon resilience to mend it back. Like any well mended peace of clothing in a house suffused with the poverty of spirit, the mend, manifested as the unreasonable depths of my empathy, as the ruthlessness of my honesty, as my hunger for love, and as incorruptible loyalty I carried towards my loved ones – all of which contributed to my downfall. If I had been less, if I could be less, if I could have learnt to be less, I would have survived better. But in the absence of you, I couldn’t be less. I did not know how to. Everyone around me wanted more, more, more, like hungry scavengers feeding on my misery – vilifying me forever if I dared to keep a piece of me for myself .
And just so you know, there was never that I never felt these barren spaces, never that they did not manifest in my life. I have no memories of you. But as time goes by, the absences of you, Ma, become more powerful than you would have been, if only you had chosen wisely. The absences of you are a many headed hydras, monsters that I attempt to slay over and over again, but those which refuse to die, and can never be vanquished. Each day of my life over three score years, I have limped my way thru my everyday life, feeling your absences tied to my heart the way two incompatible legs are tied in a three legged race, slowing me down and driving me in the directions willed by other minds, minds that had ulterior motives, goals, and desires. You shouldn’t have left Ma. I grieved for you all of my life. And that grief is not something that I ever managed to complete. I endured the grief and it became an inalienable element of me, an alteration of my being. I saw the world thru the eyes of my grief, and what I saw, defined me irrevocably. Grief defined me. You defined me.
I am the same as you had left me. In the same space, with the same yearnings. And parts of me have not grown beyond the day you left. I am also a little different. Different from what I have been. Different in so many ways. I carry a turmoil in my heart. The turmoil that never left me from you left. That upheaval became me, a cornerstone of my life. I am a child of that upheaval and it follows me everywhere I go. But I also have peace in my heart. I became peace, and I jealously guard my peace, accepting nothing less. And anything that threatens peace has to leave me. Including my children, Ma. But unlike you, I lived for them. I was and am here for them. Even in my isolation. In peace. In a never ending turmoil.
The road from Rourkela to Whangaroa was difficult, Ma. Very difficult. You shouldn’t have left, Ma. You never should have left me.