by Ansuya Mansukhani
A eulogy is reminiscent of something lost, so it is perhaps apt that I write this with some ambivalence for Sunday. Mourning my Sundays is like mourning a cruel relative. I never know how to navigate the labyrinth of uncertain emotions that I am thrown into when I am confronted with a goodbye.
I faintly remember what Sundays used to taste like–mornings of kaapi that was a little too sweet with freshly steamed dhoklas and mutton biryani evenings that reminded me of my grandmother. I remember the smell of the mitti from the freshly-watered garded and the staunch smell of way too many cigarettes that my father had smoked by the afternoon. Most days, there were two post-lunch cigarettes that my and four post-dinner cigarettes. But Sundays were special–he’d smoke at least 10, maybe 15, and the dining room went from smeling like coffee and meat to something more herbaceous, yet poisonous. My body is trained to recognise the smell in any room now. My reflexes are trained to avoid the smoke, to my chair further away, to try and clear the air so that my hair doesn’t smell like home. Even if I miss the smell.
I barely remember what Sundays used to sound like–hour-long arguments about where “the bonsais we made together” would look best while Nina Simone defiantly sang through her entire discography in the background. I don’t remember the sound of my own voice complaining about every Kumar Gandharva song that they would play before dinner anymore, but I used to. I used to remember a lot of things. Like how we would spend the days of our collective lives in the dining room.
From waking up and sharing coffee with my father, to reading the newspaper during lunch, throwing ashtrays at dawn and breaking bottles in the morning. I haven’t seen the dining room in nine months, but why should that matter? I remember chocolate-brown and orange-peel walls, curtains with holes in them from the agarbattis my father lit, stained charis from the coffee I spilled, splintered wood on the chairs from when our dog chewed on the table corners, and a single step that my mother fell over every time she got a little too drunk. I remember everything in that room, but I cannot remember what it felt like. How does one negotiate the presence and now absence of memory? Or navigate the emotion-laded echoes of the past? From “Please Maa, I love you and I’m sorry” to “Dad… I don’t want to leave you.”
The thing about feelings is that they suggest the absence of a secure and certain meaning. I have never been able to truly define a feeling. It is in the exact same way that I remain unable to define the pain in my ovaries as I am in defining how I feel about home. I feel sick but nostalgic. I am repulsed and yet stuck in the hallways of memory. I don’t remember the sick feeling in my stomach when my and sister and father kept the dinner table awake with their endless debates and philosophical rants about the state of human existence, the structures that governed us, and how the only certainties in life were uncertainty and death. They would spend hours discussing the answers to these questions, just as they would spend hours deliberating over whether life is pleasurable or whether it is a search for pleasure. Four years ago, I would bang my head against the wall, but four years later, I have realised the importance of dinner table discussions. Now, I struggle to fall asleep as I dwell on what love means to me–this and other questions keep me awake at night. I seem to have inherited the acts of deliberation and rumination, at once enjoyable and unstable.
I can barely recall my mother’s curt responses to both of them as she asserted her opinions every Sunday. Not with grace, as you would expect a woman to. We would all watch as she used her hand movements and the passion and grit in her voice to assert both her presence and her stance. That was the woman my mother locked up before her first drink. You see, my mother was a different woman before her drink and after. The first woman would offer you poetry, but the second woman would offer you insults. The alcohol brought out the hysteria of a woman who was torn at the very centre. The hysteria prompted a certain violence that was directed at us, but mostly at herself–the way she would slam the bedroom doors, throw diyas at our walls, smash old photographs, and break the kitchen crockery. This was the hypsteria of a woman locked in her body, desperate to get out. She had every reason to be angry, like most women do, after years of being subject to disrespect and insult. Even then, the direction and veracity of her anger were misplaced. I can love the woman she was before drink number two and regret it after her third, wishing I’d never left my room at night.
The years went by, and as I grew up, everything coalesced together. Our ghosts haunt our hallways now. Every Sunday smells like the ashtray filled with cigarette butts my father forgot to throw away and the same coffee I made for him every day, but on Sundays, he forgot to drink it because he was too busy hiding on the roof, a cigarette in one hand and newspaper in the other. Every Sunday comes with memories of “I should have never had you! Where the fuck is your father?” and “I never want to see your fucking face again. Fuck off. Fuck. Off.” Every Sunday brings me my third lonely meal of the day. Every Sunday reads like the text messages my promises to respond to, but never does. Every Sunday morning sounds like my light footsteps at 5AM wishing to wake up the beasts my parents transformed into after four drinks, but never having the guts to.
And Saturday nights? They sound like my mother’s laughter, my father’s chuckle as he narrates the same terribles jokes and the clanking of their whisky glasses. These evenings hum with the smiles on their faces accompanied by “I guess we finally made it. Look at the children.” But for me, Saturday nights are a deadly cocktail of hope and fear. Hope, that maybe this Sunday will not repeat itself. Fear that it will. And hope again that even if it does, it will be the last.
The old Sunday died. I don’t know when it happened or how, but it was murdered and replaced by a lookalike. How can I pretend to know how to mourn this loss? How can I continue to pretend when I do not grant myself access to these memories?