The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms
My father’s mother is a woman who rules her family with an iron fist. Three sons under her thumb, two younger brothers dependent on her, a husband who left her widowed and moderately well-off at a very young age and a daughter-in-law who said yes to everything she wanted – that was the board setup when I was born.
I was the first female to be born into the family in four generations. My grandmother arranged a helper of sorts in the person of her youngest brother’s wife – Omana aunty, as I still call her. Eight months after I was born, Omana aunty gave birth to a daughter – Rosemol.
Grandmother had been pleased and ordered that young Rosemol would be my playmate. As things turned out, that wasn’t the worst decision Grandma made. Rosemol was everything the child I was wanted in a playmate. She listened to me, she adored me and she was convinced that I could do no wrong. There were other children in the family. I never got along with them. Those older to me loved bullying me. Rose would come and comfort me after the episodes.
I was five years old when she said with that look of absolute wonder in her eyes: Ninakku avarekallumoke budhiya. You are more brilliant than them all.
Then my brother was born and they had their male heir. Things changed. I still saw Rosemol regularly but our lives were diverging. I had my books, which took me to worlds darker and more loved. I had my brother. Then there were my family circumstances and the near-daily fight to make sure that I was not labelled by society as just another girl to be seen, not heard and married off as soon as possible. All of this led to becoming near-isolated from my peer-group and I no longer had much in common with Rose. She was sweet and dutiful, obedient and a hard-worker, the darling of our relatives who admired those qualities. I admit it often irked me to be compared to her and found wanting. Yet rarely did I begrudge her that. I have been called inflexible and possessive by many, and the same was true even back then. She was my friend, and it was not going to change despite comparisons or her own tendency to advise me towards a more docile nature.
One of the difficulties in possessing an uncompromising nature like mine is that it often alienates you from the crowd. Back then, I had no patience for the orthodox, the cowardly or the deceitful. Most people easily fall into one or the other of the three sorts, though they claim otherwise. I became more closed off over the years and Rose was the only person I called friend. It is not to say that she was my only friend. That would be a lie. The saving grace of my life has been the handful or so of strong, intense, intimate friendships that I have been lucky to have from a very young age, and the fact that not one of those friendships has been tarnished by time or distance or doubt. Being the stubborn, sentimental idiot that I was, I did not consider them on the same level as my friendship with Rose because she was my first friend.
Now I cringe when I think of how silly I had been that I used to name a person I saw during the rare vacation as my best friend. We grew up under different circumstances and by the time we were eleven or twelve years old, we had nothing in common, though she still called me brilliant, and I still loved her as I had when I was a child.
In 2000, I met Rosemol during the summer vacation. By this point, we rarely spoke to each other more than twice an year. Then she had a surgery for appendicitis. Medical negligence at the hospital saw an overdose of anaesthetic and she ended up in a coma. She passed away in February 2011. She was in that comatose state for nearly eleven years.
When I first heard of her coma situation, I was shattered. Despite the fact that we had rarely spoken more than two words the last time we met, I still believed that our friendship and her admiration were just as strong as they had been all those years ago when she and I were four and five years old respectively.
What followed was a strange determination to excel, on her behalf. To live for her. To live for both of us. Until that point, I had been an average student who cared more about learning Latin than getting good grades. It changed after that. Everything changed after that. Life, after Rosemol fell into that coma, became fast and driven for me. Squeezing everything out of each moment in life, giving everything to what I pursued, demanding everything from what the world had to give, juggling studies and science and family and dreams of more, reaching points where nothing was enough…
Now she is dead and I have discovered, abruptly, that it changes nothing. Somewhere along the point, my quest to live for both of us has changed into living for myself. I don’t think I can change, or slow down, or want less from life. When I was fifteen, I read of the tale of Jupiter and Ganymede, and I thought of Rosemol. When I was eighteen, I was poised on the verge of making several critical decisions about family and studies, and I thought of Rosemol. When I was twenty, I was sleep-deprived and writing and grasping at the fading connections to my family, and I thought of Rosemol. Now I am twenty-one and Rosemol is dead and I finally realise that I am living for myself, racing against myself and I cannot say anymore that I am doing what I do on a dead girl’s behalf. That would be lying to myself. Whatever my flaws, I don’t like lying to myself because that makes things unnecessarily complicated later on. So everything I do, everything I don’t do, it is for me. Yet, when I think of the first time she called me brilliant, and the first time she comforted me saying that other people were wrong in bullying me, I sigh and thank her for setting me free. Who knows what direction life might have taken me in had I bowed into the bullying and the orthodoxy I am plagued with in my life? My life is often difficult and almost always frenetic, but I am glad for it.
I am still considered an outsider, in the society I came from, in the society that perhaps I must go back to. Most people don’t understand me. I am no longer bullied because nearly everyone who knows me has realised at some point or the other that I don’t care for whatever they say or think about me. So lonely without me, whispers a dead girl now, and I understand that she died long before she drew her last breath. A part of me died with her back then. What survived is stronger, brighter and the core of that makes me what I am. Ganymede has gone, but the sun keeps me warm and anchored.
Rest in peace, Rose. I shall always remember you.
Is it like this
In death’s other kingdom
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone.