My Grandmother Died. 

The day after Christmas is now forever going to be, for me, the day my grandmother died. Christmas celebrations weren’t as lively this time. She had been taken to the nursing home in mid-November due to respiratory issues. The day she was brought back was the same day I came back home. She came back in the morning while I landed at night. Though it was late, she’d told my mother specifically to wake her up when I reached. Her face was swollen and she looked awful. I felt bad for stirring her and told her to go back to sleep. We could talk in the morning.  This was the 23rd. 

When the doctor in the nursing home released her, apparently, she was much better. On the way back, the car fell into many potholes on the road. I guess her health fell with it. At home, she was perpetually on oxygen. She was unable to eat practically anything, both because of restrictions as well as because of desire. And had an entire shop worth of meds. She had lost her will to live. And who wouldn’t when all you’re allowed to have is only one litre of liquid through the day…

I hadn’t even considered the possibility of her getting worse from when I’d last come. But she did get worse. Now she was bedridden. She couldn’t even sit up without support. She couldn’t get up without being hauled up like a sack of potatoes. She kept on needing oxygen. She needed my parent’s for almost everything. The entire night was without sleep. 

On the morning of the 25th, Christmas Day, I had accompanied my mother to church. On the way back, my father called. He had decided that the best possible course of action was to have the dialysis done. We returned home and the ambulance was called. I helped the men put her on the stretcher and watched them carry her away to the nursing home. 

I remember, in the start of December, my brother called me to ask me what date I’m coming home.  I told him I’d be back before Christmas. It was then that I had the feeling. Was she waiting for me to come back? Was she merely holding on for just that? 

The morning of the 26th my mother called me while I was still in bed. It was early by my standards. My 6:30 alarm had just rung and I’d silenced the infernal buzzing and gone back to sleep. Mummas shaking woke me immediately. I knew what she had to say even before she said it. “The hospital called. It’s not good. They’re asking us to go right now.” It didn’t take me long to pull on my jeans and the closest t-shirt I could find and get ready to leave. By the time we left, it was almost 7. 

The hospital was close by, when I used to go to the school there, we would drive past it every morning on the usual bus route. Upon reaching the hospital my father went up to her room. A while later he came down and said that they had been trying to revive her and since the process was still on he should wait downstairs. And so, we waited. In silence. I put my hand in my pocket and found my crushed up boarding pass from my flight two days before. I fiddled with it. In my other pocket, I found the hair tie my roommate had gifted me. I fiddled with that too. I wondered how many people were told about the death of their of their loved ones in the same place that we were sitting. I wondered if it happened like in the movies where a doctor wearing a long white coat comes to greet the family and looks sad for them and they all burst into tears and mourn the death. I looked at my shoes and wondered about if anyone would care as much as I did that they didn’t need laces. 

It wasn’t like the movies. About half an hour later my father was called and he came bearing the bad news. He may have been a doctor but he wasn’t the right doctor. He didn’t have a white coat. My father had called my uncle asking him to come to the hospital. He called him again and told him to come to our home instead. 

We didn’t want him to but Baba insisted on driving back. I think it was because he didn’t know what else to do with himself at that time. We rode back in silence. I looked out the window and saw the people setting up shop. The early morning market place was doing full-fledged business, buying and selling things. I wanted to scream at them. Tell them that my grandmother is dead. I don’t know why. I just wanted to. I wanted them to tell me what to do because I didn’t know what to do myself.  

We reached home without me flinging myself out of the car. Then came the job of calling everyone.  All the relatives. First, family was told. Then neighbours and friends. The same thing. Almost like a record. I didn’t cry. I only sat and watched. I looked at the events unfolding around me. The cat looked at us from the sofa she slept on. Oblivious to the gravity of the situation. People running up and down all on phones. I sat. No one to call. No one to talk to. Ready to be told to do something, but not being summoned for anything. But I sat. If I got up it would be shameful. I don’t know why, but it would. I wanted to do something. I wanted to be useful. I just didn’t know how. 

The hospital called for us to bring some clothes for her body. I remembered then that when my grandfather had died I hadn’t cried till they brought in the body. I wondered if I needed that physical proof that the person is gone to actually feel the death hit me.

As time went by and people got the news, the house slowly started to get filled with people. Either offering their support or coming in to mourn with the family. We were kept busy. Chairs were brought out from dusty corners. Dusted. Cats were moved from their sleeping spots and told to go and sleep elsewhere. Ideally, somewhere where a human wouldn’t be sitting. I sat away from the prying gaze of relatives. Away from the crying and wailing of men and women who had known the woman longer than I. I sat and I thought. My mind felt clear. It was a good time to think. To plan out my work. All the work that I had left for the holidays. All the work I had been postponing. I should get down to doing it. Things were going to change now. 

Usually when I go back home I refrain from telling people. So, when I finally came out of the room I was asked, “Oh, did you come hearing the news?” Sometimes mum came to my rescue and answered for me. At other times, I had to say, “No. I’m on break. I came before…” But the reply to that was always the same. And I hated it. “Oh, so she waited for you to come.” Why did she wait for me to come, to die? How am I supposed to feel about that?

When I had gone with my father to the hospital to give the clothes that they had asked for, on the drive there he told me, “Grief is a very selfish emotion.” I agree with him. It is a selfish emotion. Was Dida also so selfish that she waited for me, only to die? Is that what these people meant. “Oh well at least she got to see you/ you got to see her.”  I mean would she have lived longer had I not come? Is that what you’re trying to say? And I pondered on this for a while when I escaped and went into the veranda. But there were people walking about outside also. I suppose there aren’t enough chairs… The cat jumped in and stopped between the grills when she saw me. I looked at her and her green eyes widened and she jumped back out. I looked out to make sure no dogs would chase her. The inside of the house was now stuffy and hot. In the middle of winter Kolkata still wasn’t feeling the regular chill that would previously make our teeth chatter. “The earth is dying…” I thought to myself as I took out water to drink. “And we are all dying with it…”

The hospital, according to some rule, only releases the body 5 hours after the death of the patient. This meant that the release should have been at around 12 noon since the time of death was registered at around 8 A.M. When the body finally came, it was around 2 PM. My great aunt had travelled all the way over from Barrackpore and arrived as the hearse van arrived. I rushed out to bring her in. She broke down even before entering the house. After I helped her in the body was brought in and put in the centre of the living room. I had helped carry the coffee table out into the back veranda earlier to make space. 

Flowers. So many flowers. So typically Bengali; to have Rajnigandha. Big green stalks with several white buds and some opened petals. The sweetness of the smell hit our noses. But the death still didn’t hit me. I stood behind everyone. Peering in from the gaps. Finally, I gave up. The cat sat perched on top of the fridge staring down from her vantage point. Then she got down and manoeuvred between the sea of legs – both human and furniture – and reached the centre where the body lay. She sniffed it and then retreated to underneath the sofa, watching. I still didn’t cry. I don’t know why I was waiting to cry. I didn’t feel any tears. I don’t show tears so easily. So why was I waiting to cry. As the body was taken out into the community hall I thought. “Maybe I feel like I need to cry because I need to show them I am in mourning. People don’t believe you’re sad until you actually have tears running down your cheeks, do they?” I put on my shoes to go out to see the body leave. The last time I’d ever see my grandmother. “Physical proof is everything to people nowadays. I need to show that I’m sad or they’ll think I’m a heartless bitch.” I walked outside. My cousin sister, whom I had grown very close to a few years ago, was there. Her family had driven over as soon as they got the news. Her eyes were red and puffy. She had glittering streaks running down her cheeks. She came over to hug me. I hugged her tightly. I was so happy to see her. I still did not cry. It funny how a time of mourning can bring together people. I hadn’t seen her in ages and here she was now, crying along with the rest of my extended family. 

The hearse van comes. The white swaddle is lifted and pushed inside. People get into the cars. My brother gives me his copy of the key to the house because this time he will be going to the crematorium. When my grandfather died, it was I who had gone with my father. He stayed behind with my grandmother. My father refused to hug me before he left. I don’t know why. Did he also think that I wasn’t mourning enough? That I needed to be crying. I needed those tears to be falling down my face in order to receive a little comfort. I don’t know. 

As the white van carrying the body drove out, my eyes stung. Hot droplets spilled out, instantly chilled by the air. My chest heaved and I released unattractive hiccupping sounds. I really hated 2016… 

The Art of Smiling

I seem to have mastered the art of smiling. No one can tell anymore that its faked. I’m so good at it that sometimes I even fool myself while doing it. It’s simple to do once you know how. You have to lift one side of your mouth. Flash a little tooth. But not too much. Make sure that you aren’t smiling too much. That looks weird and people catch on. Lift your eyebrows ever so slightly when you do it. This will make your eyes appear wider and bigger. And light source will reflect off your irises easily to make it look like your eyes are sparkling. Everyone knows sparkling eyes are a sign of happiness. 

The next thing to learn is the duration. If it’s a chance meeting on the stairs make sure not to stop smiling until you have passed the person completely. Dropping the smile too quickly is dangerous as the one you are smiling at may see the sudden change and know that the smile wasn’t genuine. However, this isn’t hard at all. Chance staircase meets are short and get over quickly. When you are in a group, that’s when things get hard. You need to hold it for longer then. Sometimes even throw in a laugh here and there. Mostly it’s better to just sit it out. Go home and curl up where people can’t see, sometimes it’s not easy to run away. Oh well. In cases like these it’s better to have a bigger smile than usual. Take the corners of your mouth upwards. Make sure your cheeks rise considerably. Your eyes should become thinner. If you can manage all these things you are doing it right. The next thing that you want to be able to do is shake your shoulders slightly, while doing this you can even laugh gently. That really makes it all come together. 

I’ve mastered faking laughs so well that even I can’t tell the difference sometimes. Laughs are loud and unattractive. They are ugly and gross but they are happy. On occasion, you can try to make them so much better by adding in a snort. For some reason, other people find snorts very funny. Oh well, if they’re laughing at the snort, you won’t have to keep up the laugh for so long. You can also try staring off into the distance. I tend to drop out of conversation so often people have given up talking to me in big groups. I don’t do well in big groups. All my dreams of being popular when I grow up have done a complete 180. I’m not popular. I’m a dork. I’m a nerd. I’m an outcast and a misfit. Even among those whom I call my own I don’t feel one. 

It’s only when I’m alone that I truly feel that I belong. Not with anyone. But with only myself. I find myself able to smile to myself. Laugh at myself. Sing to myself. Dance with myself. I guess I’m just special that way. That the art of smiling, comes naturally to me, and to me only.

“You feel so violated it’s sickening…” 

​Preface: 

When I started writing this I had no idea I would get such a huge response. I went to my WhatsApp and asked many people one question. “If you have had an experience with sexual harassment and would like to share it with me for an article please message me.” There was a tidal wave. So many people sharing their stories. So many women telling me about how helpless they felt about how horrible it was. I didn’t know how to respond even to some. There were people I’d never spoken to before sharing their stories. This was definitely the toughest piece I’ve ever written. I’ve kept all names confidential. I also never want to read this piece again. It was hard enough to write. 


I always thought that if I were ever touched inappropriately I would kick up a fuss. Probably break the perpetrators hand off. I was wrong. The first time it happened I tried to shrug it off telling myself it was just a mistake or it was something. That he didn’t mean to do it. But the second time I knew it was not. It was done purposely and it was real. It was happening. In my state of shock, the feeling of awkwardness that overtook me was something so overwhelming that I, the one who would always encourage people to stand up for themselves and speak out, was unable to say a single word to defend myself. To defend my body which was so subtly and yet disgustingly violated.  
But this is something that as women we face not just everyday but all the time. From dress codes policing our body to the old creepy men on the road who stare at us to the complete stranger trying to get a phone number. We face it all. And it is scary. In a discussion with my friends, I told them how angry I was with myself for not retaliating to what had happened and they told me that they too had gone through the same. It seems that this is something that we have numbed ourselves to! We just simply go along with it as if it’s a regular part of our day! S tells me how a man pinched her breasts when she was in the 8th grade, when she was on her way to church. She was too shocked to understand what had happened. “When they show girls going into a shell after anything like this I always wondered why.” She said. “Then I realised, you feel so violated it’s sickening!” She tells me that every time she thought about what happened she had felt like throwing up. 

When A was in 11th grade, on the bus home from school she was harassed. “He was leaning against me and I didn’t mind so much because the bus was crowded” She later realised he had been rubbing his genitals against her shoulder. When she glared at him he moved away but she said she could feel him staring. “I just got off the bus.” In some cases, retaliating makes us look like crazy emotional monsters. People stare weirdly and no one comes to help. T tells me of how when her butt got smacked in the middle of a busy road, not one person came to help her. When she screamed at the pervert who did it she was laughed at by bystanders and ignored by the policeman standing there. “It was just so embarrassing!” 

It feels like staring has become obsolete. Groping and touching is the new in thing now. And it is spreading like wildfire. Forget what a woman is wearing, forget what she is doing. They are just silly excuses that we hear. Silly excuses to defend the entitlement of patriarchy. “There was this time when I was in 8th. I was walking back home from school. My home was in a posh and calm neighbourhood, so I had my guard down. I kept walking down the road to my house, when this man- a worker from one of the construction sites nearby- stepped in my path. I was taken aback, but merely curious about what he wanted- up and until he pulled his dick out of his pants. That was where I freaked out and ran, all the way back to my home. I couldn’t sleep properly the next couple of days, because it disturbed me that much.” R tells me. She went on to casually point out how there’s always something that happens in crowded buses, shocking me into realisation that this is exactly how much we’ve numbed ourselves to this kind of thing. K and G haven’t though. G says, “Once I was sitting in the bus on the way back home when the guy sitting behind me slipped his hand between my seat and the glass window and groped me. It must have looked like I was sleeping which is probably why he thought he’d get away with it, but I turned around and fired him. He acted like he didn’t know what I was talking about and everyone else looked at me like I was deranged.” K had a similar thing happen to her. However, she smartly took pictures of it happening and the conductor of her bus and the people around made the man get off the bus immediately when they got to know. K also recalls the time she was stopped on the road by a man she’s never met before who offered her a ride back home in his car, telling her he finds her very pretty. She says he told her, “Please don’t think I’m a creep I was just hoping to strike a conversation with you!” it was only when she told him strongly to stop that he actually did and finally left her alone. 

The fact that something like this is becoming so regular and almost common place is ridiculous. So many times women are harassed and molested and nothing is being done. We are told that we should not have been doing things and we should not have done things. It’s like we are punished for having bodies. Instead of telling us to refrain from going out in the dark, and wearing clothes they call ‘inappropriate’ what should be said is not to us but to those who harass, instead. Unfortunately, the punishment for being born anything less than a “man” is such. The worst part is that the artful way in which such disgusting acts are so often carried out are often glossed over by many. The discomfort and awkwardness that is created is never understood. I guess you really don’t understand till it happens to you. 

(All names have been kept confidential in order to protect the identities of the women I have spoken to in order to allow them to speak freely.)