My parents with the tree they've planted in my brother's memory

“Papa, can you drive this car with one hand?”

“Yes, of course. I can even steer it with just my little finger. Here. See.”


“Priya, you’re taking out the candies again.”

“No I am not.”

“Yes you are.”

“No I am not, Mummy! I just came in to keep this comb back.” (Priya thinks: “How could she tell I was stealing them? She’s not even in the room.”)

There were many such instances that deepened my belief that they, my parents, were super-humans. That my father had unexplainable motor abilities and my mother apparently had X-ray vision brought them quite high up on my esteem. Even when I grew up from my child-like fantasies, they continued to be invincible for me. Even when I realised they are, in fact, not super-humans (She came to know of my candy stealing because she could hear the rustling wrappers from the other room. And she knew me well. It dawned upon me much later in life. About the driving, well, you know.), I continued to see them as such. A pity. Because that’s expecting too much from humans without the proverbial ‘super’. But, somehow, they’ve rarely disappointed.

Though the picture above this one is my favourite, if my father sees it, he's going to ask me why I did not use an image that shows the garden greener. The way it is now. This image is all I have right now that shows them, and a greener 'Chaitanya* Upavan' (Chaitanya's (my brother) Garden). And lest I forget to mention the furry friend, let me introduce FooChoo, The Cool Guy. Layla The Cool Gal is out there somewhere in search of bees. *Chaitanya means Consciousness or The One Who is Awake.

Like everyone else’s, most of my childhood experiences have some relation or the other to my parents. Out of those who have either influenced my mould or impressed me enough to remember them, my parents remain the ones with the most remarkable impact. What made it possible is perhaps they’ve been the ones who’ve had tremendous faith in me. Always. Mummy and Papa, as I call them, are people who have given me immense sense of fulfilment, warmth, intense misery and anxiety. That completes the picture of a normal human being, I suppose.

Let’s begin from the now.

After having lost their son when he was just 27, my parents have continued to live. Some things, however, have influences over lives that are simply so decisive, that they change the course of everything. Arun and Neerja, my parents, are people who have bravely faced setbacks and lived on. Relentlessly. Much like the names their parents gave them. Arun means the Redness of the Rising Sun. He, my father is the warmth that engulfs you after a long, dark night. Neerja is a synonym for Lotus, the flower that blossoms in slushy mud. Ever fresh, ever pure.

Grief has a certain strange quality to it. It either makes you walk into a closet and shut the door, or, if you choose to sit in the drawing room and laugh over friendly jokes, it makes your deepest weaknesses surface like never before. Ten years along the path of living as grieving parents, they have succumbed to their weaknesses, which were formerly just an addition to their very normal being. That’s where my misery and anxiety surfaces, just in case you were wondering in one of the paragraphs above. My undying faith in their super-humanness began to wobble a little, when nothing I said or did made them like they used to be.

But, when I think of those countless memories of a child much in awe of her parents, I feel a sense of  wonderment at their immense patience with my failings. How could I feel exasperated with them, then?

I was a flighty child with flighty moods and convictions. While my mother was the firm hand, my father provided me the much-needed warmth. When I faltered and suffered, they held my hand like I could never expect from any other individual. And all this without ever saying ‘I told you so.’

My mother had been regularly warning me about my latest infatuation. Voicing her misgivings. Like I always do, I followed my heart. On the Day My Heart Broke Like It Never Will Again, I came back home and sneaked into my room, sobbing to my pillow. My mother came in, lay down with me and cradled me until I fell asleep. There were no questions asked, none answered. I woke up a few times in the night, and was vaguely aware of her form still hugging me. She must’ve begun her share of crying when she had made sure I was asleep. I don’t think she slept that night.

There have been many Days My Heart Broke Like It Never Will Again. I just had to remember that night to know she, my mother, would never let me suffer alone.

No, it wasn’t all love and hugs between us. I hated my mother deeply when I was an ‘independent individual’ during my teenage years. I hated her. I am glad, in a way, that I did, too. Because when I stumbled through the stones I’d created for myself, everything she had said that I had thought would undermine my independent, free spirit came back to me in a rush. I needed that.

It was different with me and Papa. I always loved him. Always thought of him as my best friend. When I flunked maths, when I wanted to know what ‘fuck’ meant, when I wanted to back-bite my mother. Unlike my mother, he does not question my failures. Like her, he has never made me feel insufficient. But he did and still does demand that extra from me. When my brother’s body had arrived, we decided to cremate him in the clothes he had been wearing. But they needed to be washed. “It’s your brother’s blood, Priya. If you won’t, who else should?”

Papa has made sure that I got everything, but taught me to never demand what is not rightful. He has been trying to teach me the value of being assertive, but has failed miserably. Not a super-human after all, eh?! My loveliest memory (or one of the many) with him is as a six/seven year old. After dinner and some moments of this and that, I’d pretend to sleep on the couch. He’d pick me up to take me to my bed and tuck me in. When he’d picked me up, I’d open my eyes and stick my tongue out at my mother and brother, happy. I suspect he always knew I wasn’t asleep, but played along.

My parents created the mould for me, but deliberately kept it pliable and supple, so that I could make my own choices.

After all, they have always been game for ‘Up, Up, and Away’ towards here the moment they hear an S.O.S. from this end.

And it is only right that I end this post by telling you the meaning of my name as well. Priya means the Loved One. What else does one need?


37 thoughts on “Super-humans.”

  1. a stimulation to go to the childhood. as i knew most of the scenes in bits and pieces it was easy to recall and appreciate. at this stage if we can go back , pause and reflect that is great. lovely photos! down at raipur? now turn it into verse.
    i remember kamala das has written punishment in kindergarten a poem . the same i read in her My Story.
    nice feeling, P.
    at least once i am first

    1. 🙂 Good to see you here again, Mr. J.

      It is indeed a pleasure to reminisce old memories. And to be able to write about them sometime.

      I haven’t read Kamala Das, but I hear good reviews about her work. I’ve read much about her though, and it appears that she was quite a strong woman. I’ll try to look for this poem and read it.

      About writing a verse, hmmm, I really don’t think I am equipped for it.

      Love to Mrs. J.

      I should’ve written Love to Mrs. J.!

  2. I want to say “congratulations” for so many things here. First, for writing this all the way through to completion, because it must have been difficult. Second, for portraying these two people — the first two you ever knew — from so many different perspectives. By showing them as human beings with weaknesses, you made the case for their super-humanness all over again as they endured such overwhelming pain. (The paragraph beginning with “Grief has a certain strange quality to it” was so perfect that I’ve already read it four times.) Third, for having the ability to see and acknowledge all of the facets of you (“…when I stumbled through the stones I’d created for myself…”). And finally, for putting it all together so beautifully. You’ve honored Chaitanya in the highest way, by exemplifying the very meaning of his name: The One Who is Awake. So congratulations, again.

    1. Thank you, Charles. I do not know what was more difficult to write about, the two facets of the same person(s), or the mere fact that they exist. It is not very difficult to see the weaknesses, it is very difficult, though, to acknowledge and live with them; for live with them you must until you find a way beyond them.

  3. I feel privileged that you took us on this journey, Priya. I think it doesn’t matter what culture one grows up in, our relationships with our parents are very similar – the pulling away, the drawing close, the rawness we feel when we discover they’re someone else, and the sometimes reluctant return in later years. This is a beautifully written piece about how transformation happens. Thank you.

    1. Isn’t it amazing, SDS, that almost all languages have similar names for mother and father? Whenever I stop to think about it, my heart never fails to skip a beat at the profundity of this relationship.

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting. I like you, I really do!

      1. You’re a delight. I just blushed. I like you, too! I want to come back often to look at these photos because I love the GREEN! So green and lush! It’s a treat here in the gloom of winter!

  4. First let me comment on your “above” reply. I love that you share my own wonder at how parents & children bond across cultures and languages. Human traits that cross cultures fascinate me. Another one is that no matter what language a group of people use…if a hammer (or stone) lands on a finger…the resulting sound is very nearly the same….OUW!

    But back to your post. I, too, feel honored that you brought us along on this very personal journey into the heart of your family. There is some deep sadness there but the love seems to bridge the grief and pain. I love the image of your mom holding you through the nite on the Day My Heart Broke Like It Never Will Again. That scene really demonstrated a level of caring that is hard to describe in words.

    Like Charles, I fell in love with your phrase, “When I stumbled through the stones I’d created for myself.” Wonderful! I can’t imagine the grief and discomfort of having to wash the clothes your brother died in. I wonder if you will some day write about that in greater depth. It must have been a real turning point in your young life. And I would love to hear more about your relationship with your brother.

    It is clear that you have grown into your name. I look forward to learning more about your life as a child. And by the way, I love the photographs….and “The Cool Guy!”

    1. Linda,

      They say love conquers all. It must be true, wouldn’t you say? (And pain usually elicits the same OW.)

      Thank you for your kind words.

      About washing the clothes: Yes, it was painful. It was just his bandanna that I washed, though. (Just to clarify.) Rest of his clothes just had sand on them. The fatal wound was on his head when his tank toppled (he was in the Army). My pain and discomfort was nothing compared to my father’s though. He rushed to the morgue and spent hours with the doctor, ensuring that the body was ‘safe’ enough to be viewed by my mother and me. I shudder at the thought of what he must have gone through. When Chaitanya was just a little boy, my father refused to nurse his wounds because he ‘couldn’t stand the sight of my boy’s blood’.

      I was very afraid of writing and publishing this post for the fact that it was bound to contain very personal and sometimes disconcerting information. But the way you and the others have received it, I am happy I did it!

      I’ll certainly write more posts about my brother and the rest of our family’s experiences.

      Thank you, again.

      1. It’s disconcerting, yes, but at the same time it’s inspiring. People reach into the well of courage and love and do amazing things. Your poor father. He’s amazing.

  5. Priya, I understand all of this. I’ve not lost a sibling (I have only one, she lives some eighteen miles from me and is older than me) but I have lost both my parents and death is a hard journey to make. It makes you reflect on all sorts of things that would never have entered your consciousness prior to it. The loss of a loved one, the absence that is never fully explanable to ones inner self, and the way that that loss affects those closest. Yes, parents seem superhuman, they probably do to all children (even as we become and remain adults), and yes, upon the death of a blood relative, a close blood relative, the imperfections of being ordinary mortals show through.

    Tell your father that the greens are vivid here, and not to worry about it. On my monitor, they positive glow!

    There is something I want to write in my own blog about my own experiences of losing someone. I hope to do it soon, I think you may have just given me the courage to do so. Thank you for that. Thank you also, Priya, for being you.

    1. When the “imperfections of being ordinary mortals show through”, Val, it is the toughest to handle. At least that is what I have experienced. But I suppose I’ll grow up. I have to!

      Thank you, I’ll certainly tell him. He’ll be delighted and will ask me to post more pictures with the currently blooming flowers. I will do that, too!

      I look forward to your post. I am sure you will do justice as much to the art of writing and expressing deep feelings, as to the feelings themselves. All the very best!

  6. What a wonderful heart-felt post. I can see that little girl sticking her tongue out and the mother hugging a daughter who lost the current love of her life. What a great foundation they have been for you. Love the picture of the tree.

    1. I just visited your virtual world, NFRC (is it ok if I address you thus?), and am delighted that you have “a dog that eats anything…”. How wonderful!

      Thank you very much for stopping by here and appreciating. I look forward to meeting you more!

  7. Priya I also want to congratulate you for writing such an honest heartfelt blog about your brother, and your parents. It’s a beautiful way to honor Chaitanya’s memory, and from the other comments, your post may have helped several people find the courage to write their stories … Good on you!
    I also love the lushness of the garden, and the dog protecting your parents. What kind of tree is it?

  8. Priya, what a loving tribute to your parents. Your relationship with your parents was much like life with mine except my dad was away a lot due to work. But I had boundaries that were flexible to a point, negotiable in some areas and changeable as I matured and established my trustworthiness.

    However, dear woman, you were much more daring than me – I wouldn’t dare stick my tongue out at my mother. Brother, yes!

    And my name means Beloved. Seems I’ve been blessed, too.

    1. Naming people with names that have meanings is such a thoughtful thing to do! Especially if it means Beloved!

      I have been a brat, yes. And thankfully, more often than not, I got away with sticking tongue out at my mother (but only when the said incident was taking place) or leaving rose thorns on her bed just to torment her (or so she thinks, even today!).

      Thank you for your lovely words, Amy.

  9. I’ve just been introduced to your blog today and I’ve spent hours reading your prose.

    You’ve brought me to tears with your stories, your honesty, and your eloquence at least four times so far, I am grateful to have found your blog. You’ve knocked open of few of those musty bumpy closets with the locked doors in my mind. I hope I’m willing to leave the doors open long enough to air them out completely.

    I am so sorry for the loss of your beloved brother but I thank you for being willing to tell the story and sharing the obvious love your parents had for both of you.

    I’d love to buy a book, either autobiography or novel by you, you truly have a gift for writing honestly and directly. May the universe bless you. Thank you, at the very least you’ve given me some momentary relief from my rattling demons by giving me moments where I had to dance with them directly instead of ignoring them.

    1. Thank you, new reader. I’d never have known that my posts deliver my feelings so well if you hadn’t written.

      As for your demons, I hope they’re made of mist. Soon as you open the closets to air them out, the mist should just melt away. Just like that.

  10. My dear Priya, You write with a type of honesty most fail to achieve within their own thoughts. And you not only think this way, you write this way. I was touched by so many of your lines, your scenes, yet when I read, “My mother came in, lay down with me and cradled me until I fell asleep.” I cried.

    It is a tragedy beyond words that you have lost your brother so young. And you astutely pointed out that it is a loss for the whole family; as individuals, and as a working group. Death changes people. It does make them cling to the worst, as you mentioned. I think your back and forth on the super-humanness of your parents is at the core of what we all feel, with our own loved ones, and also, with ourselves.

    For how does one move forward? Forward from a broken heart? Forward from the loss of a loved one? I don’t think we can. I think it is a continuous back and forth.

    Thank you for sharing such a beautifully heart-wrenching story. I could feel your emotions soaring in every line.

    1. It is the alternating highs and lows that make the pain a little less crushing, yes. Just one state of being would be too stagnant to sustain the intensity of the grief.

      Thank you, as always, for your insightful words, Melissa. You never cease to amaze me with your tremendous stock of empathy and sensibility.

  11. Thank you for sharing on such a personal level, revealing the ambivalence we sometimes feel towards our parents, and talking about your great loss. It is true that grief can do strange things. Grief over the loss of a son (or daughter), as I’ve also experienced, can either break us or make us stronger. Yes, I’d rather not have had to learn this tough and unfair lesson even though I think I came out stronger in the end. I learned to go from asking “Why me, God, why David?” to asking myself “Why not me?” I feel these things are random. It can happen to anyone, any time. You are right, the tendency is for our loved ones to want us to “get back to the way we used to be”, But although we can enjoy life again, do great things, laugh again, we will never be “the same.” There will always be a sad place in our hearts.By the wa y, I think your parent’s garden is beautiful and lush, coming from the dry climate here in southern Idaho, and having been born in the beautiful desert state of Arizona! Sorry to ramble.

    1. The garden is now lush with poinsettia and chrysanthemums, Rae Ann. The garden is in a 7-acre land reclaimed by the government to make a memorial ‘forest’. People come and plant trees in the name of their loved ones. This tree my parents tend to is in one corner of that area — though I daresay it is the most colourful and wonderful corner there!

      “Why not me?” is the question I’ve asked myself a number of times. And still do. But it leads me to dismal subsequent questions, so I’ve stopped asking altogether. I do fight with my brother in my imagination, though. Like I would’ve were he alive. That’s what keeps me happy that I still have control over my dear brother to some extent — because in these imaginary fights, I always have the last say!

      A psychologist friend of mine told me that the easiest evidence of a person coming out of grief, loss and mourning is their ability to love again. Keeping that definition in mind, I suppose we’re all doing good, Rae Ann.

      Thank you for your time, and for what you call rambling. I call that essential, honest communication.

      1. Oh yes, I should have recalled it is a memorial garden; very beautiful. My daughter said a similar thing when David died: “Mom, it should have been me.” I said “No! It shouldn’t have been either of you.” She was pregnant at the time with my first grandson, and it definitely shouldn’t have been her either. But there is often “survivors guilt.” She recalled all the times she and David fought growing up, but not since she turned 18 and left our state for college. I told her sibling fighting was normal. That is interesting that you “fight” or argue with your brother in your mind as a way of keeping him alive. Another sign of moving through our grief journey, is things seem to get a little better when we start to think less about their death and how they died, and think more about their life and how they lived.

        1. It must’ve been difficult for your daughter to have lost her brother when she was pregnant. I am happy she had you to provide her some solace. And you’re right. It is about thinking more about their life and how they lived.

          1. This is a reply to the poem y wrote, I’m directionally impaired on this website and couldn’t find a box to comment, directly under that poem. It is beautiful. I like the way each line adds one more word, so it ends up looking like an evergreen-type tree. Do you have an “about me” page? I’m having difficulty navigating Word Press and I haven’t found yours yet. I put a lame one on my site yesterday—it’s not profound— reads morel like a mini-bio. But that’s okay for now.

          2. That’s so very kind of you, Rae Ann! I have disabled comments for that poem mainly because I’d have been, for certain reasons, embarrassed about receiving words of praise for it. But I still posted it here. So I guess I also wanted to know if thoughtful people like you liked it! There’s contradiction for you.

            Thank you for taking time! My About page is called Me and you’ll find a link on the top right of the page in this theme. I must go and visit yours soon, because I’d like to know more about you!

          3. Very nice “about me”.It gives information about yourself in a creative fashion. Mine is so “bland.” Yours gave me an idea, we did a similar style exercise in a social work workshop I attended. After you read my “bio”/about me– I think I’ll put my “I Am” piece in there instead.

  12. Priya, thanks for guiding me to this page on your blog. Its so heartwarming to read about your parents. I have read it six times or more before writing this. It is straight from the heart. No questions about it.So while following the heart may sometimes lead you to what seems like a pit, but such exalted expressions would not come from elsewhere. Keep following your heart!!

    I liked the role your mother played in that ‘ DAY MY HEART BROKE…’ situation – the ‘no questions asked none answered’ part. That is understanding at its best !! And good you observed that .Mothers are mothers after all – the most special creation of Almighty !! Thats what I think.

    And on your part its, so sweet of you to acknowledge the ‘ tumblings through the stones’ .. I can see – and am so happy for it – your indulgence in the process of deep introspection.
    Col Dubey’s description is something I could easily connect with. I have played a similar part in more or less the same manner.

    Priya, I would look forward to more posts like this.

    PS :- Would you believe if I tell you that even before opening the link to this page- the link you gave me – I had a fair idea of what would I find inside. I loved it still – we love familiar things more easily.

    1. We do love familiar things more easily, Col. Sharma. Funny, how rarely we give that a thought. Thank you for visiting, and for appreciating. This post means a lot to me.

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