Autumn and Winter
A proof that
Something as dead as
A wilted leaf
Can celebrate life
With its bright orange and yellow
For, every fallen leaf
Sacrifices his life
So that the tree can live
Only for the leaves to be replaced
As the spring arrives……
Artist: Amena Malik
Simple yet profound. Has all answers, yet puts forth so many questions. This poem continues to intrigue me. And the questions it puts into my head! Oh! They fatigue me.
Who wrote these lines? Why does my father have this poetry written on the front page of every book he owns? How does he have interest in poetry when all he has studied and done in his life is business management? If he really has interest in poetry, why does he not show it often?
With years questions were just being added up.
Why does he not narrate his childhood stories to me? Why does he not tell me what all he did as a kid? Was it a tough childhood? After all my grandparents were separated and grandma wasn’t as rich as grandpa; he had lost her when he was twenty and Grandpa brought him here, to London.
And now, at the age of 55, when my father decided to announce an early retirement and go back to India after 35 years to live in his childhood home, I had more and more questions.
Why does Mom not have a problem with his going all alone? Why could I never understand their relationship? There was a weird kind of friendship that they shared. I never saw them argue, I never saw them fight. I did not even see some passionate love in their eyes, but I saw immense respect and trust.
It had been six months since Dad had shifted to Darjeeling. I was missing him. He’d always been my friend, philosopher and guide. I needed his advice in anything and everything. But as I reached there, a whole new lot of questions awaited me.
Why did he not seem happy? Why did my father have heavy dark circles and swollen eyes? Who was the sick old woman in the house for whom the entire room had been turned into a hospital? What was written in the old dusty diary that lay in that room? Why did my father read it every night and cry? Why was he not leaving her bedside even for a second? What place did she have in his life?
When I confronted my father, he handed over the diary to me. I did not know those few filled pages could shake me from within
14th October, 1981
He knew I am not a diary person. Yet he gifted me one before going.
He is shifting to London; forever.
Today when he came to bid adieu; all I wanted to do was to stop him.
But how could I be so selfish? How could I stop him when he was having the opportunity of his life? Mashi’s death had already came as a shock. And going with his father was the only way he could go to college.
It was impossible to run Mashi’s tea industry without her. Even at 20, the poet in him would not let him be the entrepreneur his mother was. And his father had a well-established business in London. It was surprising that he had even come for the funeral after their bitter separation. Maybe he had come only for his son.
In spite of everything, he would have waited back for his best friend. He would have waited back for his childhood buddy, he would have waited back for the next door neighbour he had spent 20 years growing up together.
But that is the whole point! I did not want him to wait back for his “best friend”. Because I love him! I love him! I don’t even know since when! Maybe ever since a girl understands these emotions, I have had feelings for him.
And he probably considers me as his best friend only. Had it been any different, he would have showed it, said it, let me know! But he didn’t!
And now, he’s gone! Gone, leaving me here with a heartache!
22nd June, 1982
I don’t know what is more unbelievable; me being able to convince Baba to let me graduate in literature from Calcutta or me graduating in literature in the first place!
Yes, I know it is weird. All my life I’d been making plans with Mashi how I’d get a degree in management and then we’ll expand her tea business.
Mashi’s death really took away a lot from me.
Today, was my first day at college and the professor asked me, “Why did you choose literature?”
“To understand Autumn” I said.
And you know the best part? Nobody was intrigued by this vague answer. No one even questioned me any further.
Maybe this is the best part about writers and poets. They can interpret a thousand things from a single sentence without even needing to know the facts behind it. They have their own version and love their own version way too much to care about the story.
But I really have come to understand Autumn. He called me Autumn. And I could never know why. One October morning he just nicknamed me. He said Autumn also means fall and you’re so clumsy you keep falling here and there. But I knew this had some deep poetic meaning which he would not tell me because I won’t “understand”!
Even I nicknamed him Winter. Because we were using seasons; and he was cold and harsh. And he proved me right. So right! Eight months in London and not even a single letter has arrived. I don’t even have the address to send him one. I had not thought our relationship could die like this…
5th March, 1988
Post graduate in English literature, professor at St. Peter’s, Shimla.
He would be so proud to know! But maybe he doesn’t want to know.
I still couldn’t understand Autumn. Maybe my version confuses me. Maybe I need his version; his vision.
Today, I taught another chapter of Louisa Alcott’s Little Women.
Ted loves Jo and Jo considers him as her best friend. Ted finally moves on and marries Amy. But he could never “unlove” Jo, unlove is not even a word I guess!
Teaching never tested me more..
12th September, 1990
Baba passed away. And his last words were, ‘get married’!
He always wanted me to get married and settle down. Which is why I did not come back to Darjeeling after post-graduation.
He knew why I never agreed upon marriage. He was my father, my only parent. He knew me more than I ever knew myself. This is what made him hide those letters he had sent after going to London. He knew, the letters won’t let me move on. He didn’t know, letters or no letters, I could not give that place to anyone else. The damage was done; there was no cure.
His letters were frequent. The last one was a wedding invitation with two air tickets. After that, letters stopped coming. So he was even married now. There was no point replying after so many years and what justification I can give as to why I did not reply?
15th July, 1991
Bombay, the city of dreams. A city that never sleeps. The pace, the work load, the social life, the circle and the sea, they don’t let you feel lonely.
After Baba’s death; I have no home to go back to. Even though I was not living with him since college, at least there was someone who cared about my well-being, to whom my existence made a difference.
Now that he was gone, I was all alone dealing with battles that I fought every day.
Though Baba wanted me to get married; it was impossible to find a match at 30.
I’d convinced myself with this justification. Little did I know that even if I find someone, I would not chose wedding.
Today, when a colleague proposed to me, I couldn’t really respond. He had been a great friend; yet I couldn’t imagine myself with him. The fact was, I could not imagine myself with anyone other than my childhood love. Not even loneliness or the greed of companionship convinced me to give in. Not even the want of a family and the need of love made me accept him.
I lost a friend though…but what’s new?
Losing people is a habit now…
18th December, 1993
We were on a college trip today. As we stepped out of the lake, my children asked me about the scar on my ankle.
I still cannot forget that day. We were cycling in the hills. And then we started racing. I tried real hard to win but fell downhill luckily into the tea plantations. I was bleeding and screaming and he was panicking and crying. Only we know how we managed to get to the nearest health centre. My ankle was horribly torn, but I did not feel the pain, you know why?
Because he felt it for me.
That wound has healed, but scars are still present on my body…..
29th October, 1999
It’s Autumn here. And I still haven’t understood what it is. Never mind…
These days, I’ve been babysitting a friend’s daughter. She plays with her doll house and I watch her play. She asks me one hundred questions about them and I hardly have answers.
“Aunty, how many dolls did you have?” she asked me.
“I had none.” I said.
She was shocked to no extent. For a girl to not have a doll in her childhood was like a taboo maybe, something that was extraordinarily impossible.
What do I tell her now? That my best friend; rather my only friend was a boy and he got marbles and tops which I loved more. We cycled and climbed trees and did all adventurous activities. Playing with dolls would’ve been the dullest thing for us.
Even our indoor games were intelligent. We played carom and chess, or name-place-animal-thing.
I was not tom boyish, but dolls were never my preferences. When I think about all of this, I realise the amount of influence he has on my childhood, my habits and preferences is so massive that he is reflected in every single thing that I do…
20th August, 2008
AIR conducted my interview today. What a feeling! As if I’d reached the pinnacle of success. Being a part of so many organisations, committees and groups pertaining English literature, designing the syllabus for young children, and now book publications have made me a renowned name in the field of literature. And yet when I turn to my diary, I feel like the same 20 year old girl who started writing it.
Today, the interviewer asked me; what do you regret the most in your life?
I said, I regret not letting people know how much I loved them when they were there.
And I really do.
Every time I find loneliness getting better of me, I start regretting not confessing my love. I do not regret remaining single forever, I do not regret studying literature, I do not regret changing cities every now and then. The only thing I regret is that, I did not stop him that I did not even try once, that I did not take that risk, that chance! The worse would’ve been losing him; I lost him anyway. But I could try and be with him forever……Only if I had said that…..
14th October, 2016
14th October, the day when he went away and gave me this diary. I have hardly written anything in this book, yet I carry it everywhere. Thirty five years have passed and there hasn’t been a single moment when I did not miss him. This book is like a physical connection with him. The only way I can touch him. This book is my survival kit. I have only written in this book when the agony hit its extreme. I have only written when people made me talk about him and I had to portray strength so that I did not break down in front of them. But solitude, it broke me down every single time. That’s when I turned to this book.
Today, however it is different. Missing him has always been constant but today I’ve lost a bet with him and he doesn’t even know.
Our thoughts about spirituality were always contradictory. He was religious and pious, and I was almost an atheist. But today, I’ve finished a pilgrimage. He’d bet that as I’ll grow old, I would start having faith in Almighty. And he was right, as always….
People say that I did not do the right thing, staying alone all my life. Maybe they are right. However I don’t really think so.
Producing children so that they look after you when you grow old isn’t the sole purpose of life. Maybe I’ve missed upon some huge things in life. But look at what I’ve gained!
If I look back, my life has been worth living. I’ve achieved so much in my field. I’ve travelled. I’ve gained so many experiences. I’ve understood life. It’s meaning, it’s purpose. So what if I stayed alone or did not move on or still miss him? In this era where loyalty is a joke and love is just a text and commitment is just a word; I’ve stayed loyal to my unexpressed love. I’ve loved one person and loved him forever, in real sense. I’ve made forever possible! Ever saw something as great as that?
It was the last page.
I was numb. I did not know what to say, how to react? I walked up to her room which mocked an ICU. Dad was by her side, reading a story to her.
I sat beside him. She was completely still. Her limbs not even flickering. She was disoriented. At times, she would understand a certain thing and respond with her eyes. I did not ask anything to Dad. He spoke, however.
“She was coming here when her train derailed. All her luggage was lost, but she was clinging to this diary. It had her address and they called the local post office to enquire about the relatives. Luckily I was here for around two months and people knew about it.”
He paused. She had slept. I did not ask anything. I was still numb. He spoke again.
“I don’t know if it is destiny or idiocy? She loved me but couldn’t say. I loved her but did not realise before losing her. She thought I did not send letters. I thought she did not reply. She studied literature, I studied management. I married because my father needed a business merger. She stayed alone kept me alive in her heart. I realise it now, why did I keep going even at those times when I felt my heart would stop beating; it was because she was the pace maker. If all of this was destiny, then I’d say destiny is a very cruel thing.”
He paused again. Reading my face, he continued.
“Don’t worry, I never betrayed your mother. She knows about her. Our marriage was a business merger. We did not have the courage to go against our parents. Though we exactly never got what we wanted; I am glad that we had each other. I am sure she must’ve tried to stop you from coming here. But the sacred promise-keeper she is, she didn’t spoil your surprise!” he smiled with admiration. Maybe he was Ted, who married Amy, but couldn’t ‘unlove’ Jo, if unlove was even a word!
“Dad, why do you call her Autumn?” I asked.
“Have you not read the poem? I thought you had it by heart!”
“I am not a poet Dad!”
“You’ve read her diary right? Don’t you think she is someone who can sacrifice all she has for the people she loves? Just like the orange bright leaves that fall down in Autumn to save the life of the tree they love. And as the spring arrives, new leaves adorn the tree replacing them yet they choose to die…”
Dad was right, I had the poem by heart. But it made sense now!
That year, as Winter arrived, Autumn died….