In a childish attempt to rectify my previous reticence in matters of sentimentality, I now compose emotional outpourings of appreciation to those who matter to me.
I was brought up to disregard birthdays and anniversaries. These were just random points on a man-made calendar in a bid to cordon off seasons and tie up time to a lamppost, my ever-practical dad said. We flow in a continuum of invisible moments; attempts to grab a fistful are an endearing human habit, but silly.
When new couples celebrated one-month anniversaries or someone invited me for the birthday of their pooch, I freely smirked. Clocks went their way and I went mine, any recording of their tick and tock purely prosaic.
All this changed for me in a mid-life moment. By now aware of the ephemeral nature of life itself, birthdays and anniversaries became magical days, a chance to reflect on the miracle of coincidences. Yes, these are mythical time-stoppers, but these are also occasions to step back and celebrate fate, the story so far. Dates, months, years…. I began to run after them with a net like they were butterflies.
Though I must admit I mostly worked backwards, with pain rather than pleasure. My youngest aunt died on my first day at a new workplace. The date got imprinted on my mind with numerals of fire. Every year I would wake up with the guilt of missing her funeral, helplessly commemorating an internal anniversary; I had no choice, the date remembered itself. It took a while, but gradually the annual reminiscences changed from mea culpa to specific memories of said aunt. And now it is a date I meet armed with my own set of undying mental snapshots. This joke, that advice, this jaunt, that anecdote.
More than anything it is a time to contemplate, to reflect quietly. The dates may be superficial but they are also silent markers on the map of your own life, on your travels. Even if it is to regret the road not taken or The One we turned away from, it is a necessary pause now and then to stand still and just be.
In a childish attempt to rectify my previous reticence in matters of sentimentality, I now compose emotional outpourings of appreciation to those who matter to me. No better day than their birthday to embarrass them, I found. On any other day, your frank weighing of how much they mean to you is just creepy.
The high tide and low tide of feelings sometimes leave us stranded on a wordless island. When my own father passed away, I realised the importance of deeds and words, the presence and support, of all those who reached out. In turn, I began to attempt slowly and clumsily to give back. In time the self-consciousness passed, rendering me a participant rather than the passive bystander status I previously sought. Dates sort us out.
And now this virus. My own worry river runs into the sea of everyone else’s worries for the future. How do I hold on to what is precious? By picking up this date or that from the endless dates out there, and personalising them, owing them. ‘When’ is a good place to start once transience looks you in the eye.Shinie Antony is a writer and editor based in Bangalore. Her books include The Girl Who Couldn't Love, Barefoot and Pregnant, Planet Polygamous, and the anthologies Why We Don’t Talk, An Unsuitable Woman, Boo. Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Asia Prize for her story A Dog’s Death in 2003, she is the co-founder of the Bangalore Literature Festival and director of the Bengaluru Poetry Festival.