After Covid and with the third World War slowly unfolding, casualties have become a daily update. How do we, in this atmosphere of utter ruin and isolation, mourn those gone in meaningful ways? Losses are mounting, but with each loss personal and haunting, odes to the departed get more and more inaudible. Never has it been this challenging to compose obituaries. In a world of constant grief, we worry that our own devastation is a mere statistic, and our words just a stammer.
Are there ways to keep them alive, those who meant everything to us but are no longer here with us? Is there a new way to grieve that may not lessen the pain but will permanently honour relationships? A safe place to treasure memories, to cradle tragedies tenderly.
When 16-year-old Rudrakshi Bhattacharjee passed away in 2017, her mother painstakingly collected all her writings from her computer, phone, class essays. The result was a book of short stories, This Is How It Took Place, two years later that not only showcased a young writer’s talents at fiction but gave readers something concrete to hold, to understand. A different universe, one inhabited by young adults with their tears and triumphs, opened up before us - stars and all.
Writer Alison Boyle lost both her parents recently, which is when she hit upon the idea of exObjects. These are everyday ordinary things used by those who are gone and we remember them by. In her website ArtficialSilk.org, she puts up writings by those celebrating what is left behind. Brendan Cormier, senior curator of Exhibitions and Special Projects at the Victoria and Albert Museum, started the Pandemic Objects project in 2020. This is an online exploration of how the pandemic is changing our relationship to objects, and the role objects can play in mediating a crisis.
RJ Stutee Ghosh, who lost her dad last year, began a podcast called Mera Wala Grief as ‘dealing with grief is messy’, where she talks to the bereaved on coping mechanisms. Uday Vijayan, who lost his only son in the Carlton Towers fire in Bengaluru in 2010, initiated Beyond Carlton, a movement of awareness on fire safety. Writer Nandini Murali wrote Left Behind after her spouse died of suicide, sensitising readers to the varying pitch of condolences when it came to her widowhood.
The recent death of journalist/writer/friend Mita Ghose reminds me of a story she had written long ago called "Red White Yellow" in the anthology First Proof (2005). In the aftermath of her going, it feels like a requiem, the story she wrote so she lives on in the words she once thought and strung together in an eternity her own.
Sorrow is complicated, deeply private, and at times a lonely vigil. It comes with no known manual or key. One meanders, rambles, reaches out to spiritual mediums, is lost for words, talks to photographs, waxes lyrical or stands in inconsolable silence. Still, it is a given that sooner or later we must all learn to speak the language of grief.