Fulcrum

My parents's morning tea mugs.

We dreamed big, Shonu and I. Sitting under the shade of a tree similar to the Australian bottle tree, we’d dream of becoming small. We’d pick up one of its pods that looked a lot like a boat and imagine a miracle that would make us tiny enough to fit inside it. We’d plan to rip off a part of his shirt (it was always his shirt, never my frock) to make a sail of it, and sail the nearby watershed. Or, when the monsoon was gone, we would dream of sitting atop the very tree we used to be sitting under. Right where the birds sat. And look at the world from the eyes of a being that Saw It All. It was a big dream.  At least we thought so at the time.

Colouring courtesy, Val Erde of Absurd Old Bird. She had coloured these images a long time back. It took me that much to finish this post.

The three years between us was just the right distance. At every age, he was old enough to save his little sister, and I was young enough to satiate his sense of responsibility. I was a bungling, confused, irritable little girl and he was naturally suave and charming. But we were both incorrigible recluses. Quite a twosome. We laughed at the world, protected each other from it, learnt the tricks to rope in the moon just a little closer. Yes, we were great together. Perhaps that is why, despite having the usual friends at school and around home, we never really did need a special confidant for a tête-à-tête, or a best friend to chide us when we did wrong. When we grew older, we shared common beliefs. If one of us got past the other in overcoming a hurdle, the other was never left in the cold to wonder about the confusing labyrinth, for there was always a hand to chalk out the path. It was beautiful. We were old enough to call each other best friends of a lifetime, when he died.

Writing about a loved one gone is sometimes threatened with the prospect of the words sounding like eulogy. Please remember while we traverse through some of these memories I have of him that this is not a eulogy, it is a love note.

He called himself "Little Papa". That's exactly how he wanted to see himself.

When I was born, my mother tells me, he would stand at her room’s door in the hospital and refuse to come in. He would just keep looking at this tiny bundle from a distance and probably wonder what it had done to his mother. He was in the habit of sleeping only if there was a strand of our mother’s long hair across his lower lip. I had come in between him and that strand. When they brought me home, he kept his distance from both our mother and me. We were with my grandparents at the time. The whole household was worried that he wasn’t accepting me well, and such a delightfully pleasant boy, too. A couple of days later, probably tired of sulking and dying with curiosity, he agreed to come to my crib-side. When he did, I grabbed his fingers, I am told. He grinned for the first time in days. That must have been the beginning of a relationship of mutual delight and support.

Through heartbreaks, failed cycling attempts, Rambo I – First Blood stories, climbing guava and mango trees (only to get stuck at the highest branch) and shoddy academic performance at school, he continued to hold my hand. I slipped and fell often, guided by my rebellious, confused ideas. In such times, he first did what I thought I needed the most. He saved me from my mother’s acerbic remonstrance, in turn saving her and, sometimes my father, from the agony of having to say difficult things to their much loved but annoyingly headstrong daughter. And then, in private, he gave me a piece of his mind. Ever so gently.

The Dal Lake in Kashmir. Shonu taught us the joy of palming the water in a moving boat.

Our father had to be away often for months together on military exercises or deployments. We all missed him, of course. Mummy and I would tell him as much on phone. Shonu acted the man of the house, hiding his frustration when he needed this or that answered, or just wanted the dining chair next to him to be not empty. To keep us a little happy, my mother kept a picture of my father on the television in one of the bedrooms. She began to notice that on some days, the picture was turned down flat on the T.V. Blaming it on her own failing memory, she thought she sometimes forgot to put back the frame after the dusting. One day, she happened to be in the room when Shonu was going to take a bath. The bathroom was right next to the T.V. While going in, he turned down our father’s photograph. Curious, she asked him what he was doing. “Papa’s looking at me. When I come out, there will just be a towel around me,” he said shyly. “I sometimes forget to put it back up.”

But his gentleness was selective. And extremely biased in favour of those that he loved. I was 13 when I began to notice the attention from the older boys at school. I told my brother one day about this guy who’d buzz around my friends and me, exhibiting his newly discovered hormonal surge. He was the school’s newest, much-feared ruffian. The next day, this buzzer came to me and my friends, head bowed down, and said, “Sorry, sister,” and walked away. My brother was standing at the far end of the school quadrangle, watching. When I asked him what he’d done, he said, “Why would I do anything? He must have seen sense.”

My brother could lie too.

A proud gunner with his regiment's catapults

At his interview for joining the Indian Military Academy, the interviewer asked him how he rated honesty. He said he couldn’t possibly think of being honest all the time. “How can you tell a bride on her wedding day that you think the look is not quite right?”

Twenty seven years is a lot of time to leave memories that may last a lifetime, and more. Which ones do I type? What do I tell you to tell you how this absolutely brilliant individual changed my life forever? In his life, and with his death.

This vicissitude in our lives, my parents and mine, after we lost the one strong anchor that had helped us home in to the Goodness, has left us struggling to find a footing somewhere. But he wouldn’t know. He’s probably up there sitting on this tree-top outside my window, grinning his usual grin. Yes, he had a way with his grin.

About the title: Had he become a pilot, as he had wanted to, he’d have wanted his call name to be Fulcrum.

Little Shonu
The helipad was right behind my parents' house in Gangtok. Shonu (in the dark dungarees) used to often run to look at the choppers. I wasn't born then.


Goa. Always the protective big brother. I wish I could have given him more.
With friends and fellow subalterns
At Lieutenant Chaitanya (Shonu) Dubey's Passing Out Parade luncheon (Graduation Day for the cadets); Indian Military Academy
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36 thoughts on “Fulcrum”

  1. There’s a tendency, I think, when we lose a loved one suddenly and prematurely, to freeze them in time, so that we always have to travel back in our minds to find them again. It’s obvious from reading this beautiful love note that Shonu has never left you at all, and that the two of you continue to grow together. However long it took you to write this, it was exactly the right amount of time. I especially like the first paragraph, your grabbing his fingers, the strand of hair, the turned-down photograph, the buzzer’s apology — every word, actually. Your brother must surely be grinning his usual grin, and filled with pride, respect, and love for his wonderful little sister. Thank you, Priya, for sharing him with us. I feel privileged.

    1. Yes, Charles. He hasn’t left us.

      Thank you ever so much for the appreciation. A love note has a special way of drenching with love.

  2. Priya, this was a most beautiful love note to your brother and I am so glad my brother (who has mostly bright ideas 😉 sent me the link to it. Not many have such a loving relationship with their sibling(s) and it warms my heart that you did. You are also a wonderful writer, taking me right where you both were! The photographs are lovely, as well, especially the one with you in the bucket, and the one with your family on the boat. You have a wonderful gift and I’m sure it is because you came from an equally wonderful group of souls!

    1. Old pictures are a treasure, are they not? I love the bucket picture, too. I did not initially realise it would make you think it is me. Perhaps it is Shonu’s long hair. No, it is him delighting inside his bucket-dress. I’ve now added a caption to make it clearer.

      Your brother with mostly bright ideas does really do a good job with them, Jac. I feel happy to see you here again, getting a glimpse of my world; and to be able send a message across that I came from a wonderful group of souls. That’s exactly what I meant to convey here. Thank you.

  3. Priya I cannot imagine how hard it must be to lose someone so young and so tragically, or how hard it must’ve been to write this. I’m glad you did. Its a beautiful tribute to your big brother Shonu. I love the descriptions, especialIy the one of the little boy “who could only sleep if there was a strand of his mother’s long hair across his lower lip”.

    Great photos too. Amazing that your parents still have those old tea mugs, love the one’s that Val colored (what a great idea), and I also like the yellow in the graduation group and that you ended with it.

    1. Thank you, Rosie. I appreciate the feeling.

      I like the POP picture because of the yellows and greens, too. And a lot more. 🙂

  4. You have accomplished the impossible. You have put “love” into words. I have never experienced the type of love you describe, but you have painted a beautiful picture of what it would be like to have such a fine sibling relationship.

    “I was young enough to satiate his sense of responsibility.” I sense that you gave your brother more than you know. As he was your grounding, I suspect that you were his grounding, as well.

    I love everything about this post, but especially the hand-colored photos and the Dal Lake image of your family. A very bittersweet tribute, thanks for sharing with us.

    1. ““I was young enough to satiate his sense of responsibility.” I sense that you gave your brother more than you know. As he was your grounding, I suspect that you were his grounding, as well.” — You leave me too overwhelmed to say anything, Linda. Thank you.

  5. Words fail me as I try to comment on this post, and words hardly ever fail me. Thank you for sharing this with us— I cannot imagine the sort of effort it must have taken. You’re a wonderful sister, person, writer.

    1. Love is a strange emotion, Damyanti. Its presence may leave us exuberant, sad, blissful, and indeed, speechless; just as it pleases. Thank you ever so much for the kind words.

  6. Thank you for sharing your beautiful relationship with your brother. My younger brother and I have a similar bond and of course, I am the protective one. Your post really touched my soul–full of shining and glowing words.

    1. Darla, thank you.

      I am happy to see happy sibling relationships. It’s positive implications are much underrated, I feel.

      Have a beautiful day.

      1. I’ve been thinking about your post all morning and it has inspired me to finally write about my father and the special person he was. I hope I can convey all that he meant to me as eloquently as you did for your brother. Thank you again, Priya.

      2. And you have made my evening, Darla. I feel honoured that you found a springboard in my post to leap from. 🙂 All the very best. I would love to read your very eloquent post, too. It will be just that.

  7. Priya, this is a beautiful post about Shonu and what he meant and means to you. I’m sorry that I didn’t see it when you posted it, I’ve been a bit absent lately.

    Your feelings for Shonu came through clearly to me when you originally sent me the photos to colour… and he personality shone – and continues to shine – through the images.

    Hugs.

  8. Oh, Priya. The missing feeling never goes away. It shouldn’t. But you have woven your dear brother into your heart in a way that celebrates his short life everyday. Thank you for being courageous enough to share this.

  9. What a beautiful tribute. It is not easy to characterize a person, to introduce them to total strangers whom they never knew. But you have done a great job.

    As an older brother who has a younger sister who “satiates his sense of responsibility,” I was touched by your description of the sibling relationship.

    May your memories of him remain strong, vivid and sweet.

    1. Thank you for your very kind words, Kevin. They bring in a much appreciated understanding on this full-of-memories day.

  10. Thoughts similar to those expressed by previous commenters come to mind, Priya. Going just a bit beyond, I marvel at the insights and values Shonu must have given you for designing wonderful relationships with significant males in your life.

  11. Dear Priya, I feel as if I shouldn’t reply to this post. For there is nothing I can say that feels worthy of such a loving tribute to your brother. In one photo’s caption you mentioned you wished you could have given him more. I am certain that you gave him more than you realized.

    Your line, “We laughed at the world, protected each other from it, learnt the tricks to rope in the moon just a little closer.” is poetry.

    Pure poetry.

    In that one line, you encapsulated your entire relationship with Shonu. If you ever turn this into a novel, you could open with that line; it has that much power.

    Your words are yet another gift you give your brother.

  12. Priya,

    When I read your message/comment on my letter, I found it necessary to search your blog for anything about your brother. This note is breathtaking. I am sorry for your loss.

    This doesn’t sound like a eulogy at all. It is simply freezing as much as you can about someone who has meant so much to you in time and space. I’m sure your brother is grinning his usual grin.

    May you, your family, and your parents be well.

    Nel

  13. Priya, I am deeply touched, thank you for sharing your world here with me, for kindly directing me to it. My words are failing me now, they are resting with you. peace.

  14. (Trying again). What a moving story, and I am so sorry for your loss. I especially liked the part where you curled your fingers around your brothers hand when you were a baby. You and your brother had such an amazing sibling closeness, which isn’t always true for some siblings. I’m sure the loss of their son was so difficult for your parents as well. My daughter misses her brother David deeply. Now she is an “only child” and feels she will have no one to talk to about her family of origen when her dad and I are gone. I feel blessed to at least have had David in my life unto his mid twenties. He is still in my life, I just can’t reach out and touch him or talk to him like I so long to do. Take Care.

    1. I can understand your daughter in more depth than I can express. Lately, the feeling that after my parents there’ll be no one to really ‘know’ me and my past and my growth curve has become overwhelmingly strong. Perhaps that’s why I write about my experiences here in this blog so often. I somehow want the world to understand me — an inadequate substitute of how my brother knew me, but some consolation nevertheless. It seems selfish, but that’s just the way it is.

      “I feel blessed to at least have had David in my life unto his mid twenties. He is still in my life, I just can’t reach out and touch him or talk to him like I so long to do.” This could well be a quote from my parents. They feel the same. I so much wish, though, that I could somehow take away at least some of the pain.

      1. You aren’t responsible for taking away their pain, but your wish to do so, shows your love for them. After David died, my missions in life were 1) to have the best relationship with my daughter as possible (I felt guilty for a few years that she would think I was obsessed with David, and didn’t love her as much–not true at all; It’s just that she is here and I can talk to her, hug her, see her, but I can’t with my son) and 2) to keep David’s memory alive (thus I wrote the book) and 3) help other bereaved parents– I am a facilitator here of a parental bereavement group called The Compassionate Friends, which is international– wonder if there is a group in your country/city?

        1. That’s a noble mission, Rae Ann.

          I am not sure there is any such group in the city where my parents live or in my country. But I am certain there must be people in need of help and a helping ear. To lose ones child can sometimes mean to lose ones will to live a productive life. That can be sad. I wish you all the very best with this, and more.

  15. Priya, in our formative years as soldiers-officers, we are taught some maxims firmly held in place by military traditions. Over time these become deep seated beliefs.And one such belief is “soldiers never die, they just fade away”. While going through this missive, I felt like saying – What a soldier gentleman Chaitanya is !! And I discovered the value and truth behind this dictum.Here I call him a soldier not because he donned the uniform – no taking away the pride part from Col Dubey and the family though – but simply because of the traits he displayed as described by you.Humane!!Loving!!Chivalrous !!
    Your write up – the love note – on your brother is a mix of right amount of grief and philosophical wisdom.While the grief compels you to think of the person who meant so much in your life, it is your emotional balance ( wisdom) that makes you see the relationship as you do and weave those words so beautifully.A soldier’s daughter and a soldier’s ‘little sister’ after all !! Sorry I seem to be harping too much on the word ‘soldier’, but that is where I can easily connect for all things good in a person. You would understand. Wouldn’t you ?
    A small suggestion.Quite the opposite of the stereotypes the world would have told you – ‘whatever happened is very sad, but you need to move on….. with passage of time things will be ok …and blaah, blaah, blaah’. Well, if only ‘move on’ was that easy. So, my small suggestion is – keep the memories alive.Do not let the grief leave you. Write more if you can as and when Shonu gives you that ‘ meetha dard’ ( sweet pain). This- what we call in Hindi ‘meetha dard’ -sometimes adds more meaning to life. God bless Priya.

    1. Col. Sharma, I am lost for words.

      I have read this message of yours a number of times and have found myself filling with pride every time. Pride for the fact that I had the opportunity to know a person like Chaitanya, who can make people think of him the way you did even when the introduction is meagre and is expressed through sadly wanting words. I read out the message to my father (who in turn later told it to my mother) and they both feel overwhelmed, too. Thank you.

      A soldier is increasingly becoming just another person in our alarmingly apathetic society, Col. Sharma. I do understand what you mean about the connection of all things good being related to a soldier. The fact that we have some people still remaining who understand and feel this emotion is the saving grace, I’d say.

      I shall try to remember what you said about writing more about my brother as when I feel I am ready for it. I do let the grief guide me into remembering just what I’ve lost, but still not quite. Thank you once again!

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