The final voiceover in a movie said twenty one grams is how much weight we lose when we die. But when other people do, how much of those twenty one grams is passed on to the people they leave behind? It happens to so many of us that the people who make us who we are, are not around when we prove ourselves, when the elements they have inculcated in us shine through. There are times when one wonders if everything is worth it, when the person (or people) to whom it would mean the most, to whom it is due, in a manner of speaking, is (or are) not around to see it.
I think very often of four people. Of them, one was the closest friend I've known, my first best friend, the person who taught me how to read, how to write and how to draw. I thank this person everyday, a decade and a half after I saw her for the last time. My sense of panic, as a school child, with a concrete plan in my head for the next fifty years but not having had the chance to execute anything yet, with bundles upon bundles of notes and piles upon piles of ruled notebooks filled with writings I had promised to show her "when I was ready to", partially stemmed from the horror of realisation she would never see them now. Never see the writings and never see the fame, which, every year, was coming closer. Never see the illustrations I was beginning to take more seriously now. Never see the play of light and shade. Never see me perform on stage, never hear the sound of my salangai or my voice scaling the notes.
When I think of the art of storytelling, the art of holding an audience in one's grip, of measuring the nuances of voice and expression and drama, of creating an atmosphere out of thin air, I think of someone else. I think of someone who used to make my cousins' and my skins crawl with horror while telling us stories from another era. The living room of our ancestral home would transform in our heads to dark dungeons, vertiginous halls, jewel-studded thrones, dense jungles, marshes that could come alive and suck one in, parched deserts, cascading waterwalls, islands that could appear and disappear out of oceans... We would look at each other with suspicion, wondering if a ghost had chosen to take root in one of our souls. The idli, bajji and dosai our mothers laid out for us would pale as insignificant indulgences as our minds dwelt on the battles of another time. I dream now, of performing as a storyteller, of captivating audiences in the same way he did.
That, and so much more. This person was the one who told me I could skate alone, without holding on to walls and taking step by step. I remember the feeling of suddenly being asked to let go of the wall, of being made to loosen my grip, of my hand being grasped by another human hand instead of the bumpy cement. To me, that was a lesson in life. A lesson that, while restraint and control and taking care not to fall are all very well, one needs to take the plunge; one can't feel the ecstasy of sailing through the air unless one lets go of the wall. Sometimes, when I fall down the stairs once too often or twist my foot while trying a complicated dance step, I think I might have taken the lesson too literally, but it's worth it all.
I think of someone else, whose culture I am fare more acquainted with now than when he was around. I remember attempts to make conversation, attempts to draw me into something, and the polite interest with which I listened. I remember certain things latching on to the recesses of my mind, and being sure they would find their calling, and become part of my calling, at some point. Now, I think the time has arrived, but the person who would have been thrilled by it is not around. There are times when I wonder what those conversations, which circumstance and incomprehension and the haziness of the future prevented, would have been like.
And there is yet another, someone who was snatched away far too early, but not quite early enough not to have left an impact. Someone whose bright smile first thing in the morning and whose cheery, "good morning!" on the phone was always outside the realm of understanding of someone who is not quite human until she has downed three cups of coffee. I remember her every time I wear a saree, because I remember the look of disgust on her face when she saw me in a saree, and I remember being forced to change the way I wore it. Now, people tell me I wear sarees well, and I smile, thinking of the woman who taught me how.
So, what, then, is the weight of 21 grams? What is the weight of the guilt that one didn't do all these things when the people whom they would have meant the world to, had seen them? What sort of justice is it for the work of an artist to be exhibited when the artist is no more? For a book to be published when the author is no more? What is the weight of the despondence that that person/people to whom you would dedicate it all, is not there with tears in his/her eyes to see you achieve it all? If one were to go by religious beliefs, and I do, the person's soul would know no attachment to his/her previous birth. Those people are strangers to me now, is what the scriptures say.
I think, though, that when someone means so much to one, when someone has made such a lasting impact on one's life, the partitions of life and death can be transcended at times. That something in the universe, somewhere, would be happy, satisfied, would feel a sense of completion for a moment, when I fulfil the promises I made to the people who cannot see them fulfilled. Maybe a little girl in a playground somewhere would feel an inexplicable bliss for a few seconds. Maybe a teenaged junkie would throw his joint away. Maybe a child taking its first steps would giggle. These people, wherever they are and whoever they are, will, somehow, know.