There are always songs to sing

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With time, everything is forgotten. Memories and dreams grow alike and interchangeable, and leak beyond the horizon of the heart with the certainty of sunset. They leave a residue of love and longing, that remain in our bodies and become our stories.

My brother was 17 months older than me. When he was 7 years old he won silver in the 50m run at the school sports meet. As he crossed the finish line, the wind raced past my ears and a surge of lightness rumbled through the wooden stadium planks. His joys and fears were mine and my hopes and victories were his. I could never truly accept that he was another person.

My brother spoke with a stutter. His hesitating request for a chance to bat once, was mimicked by some of the older kids. It briefly became a clarion call to choke him on the cricket field. I don’t recall for how long. I learnt to cope with forgetfulness. He did with kindness. That was the way things were.

I heard my mother speak to him about it. It was my earliest dreamlike awareness towards the haunting nature of human vulnerabilities.

My mother came to school once to seek exemption from him making a speech at the assembly. We were unburdened of that when she returned, even as she shared a story about our English teacher who spoke impeccably but practiced talking with stones in his mouth – on the beach and facing the full force of the sea breeze – to overcome a childhood stutter. Not sure if that was true but what persisted was the visual image of our English teacher in an endless conversation with the stormy seas.

We had an unspoken pact between us that my confidence would be his armour. Our code of combat was implicit. If he ever needed to push back I would partner him with a fraternal intensity that far outweighed the power in my limbs.

We fought each other like brothers do – he was the sage and I the savage. I turned on him once during a family vacation in Yercaud. He disappeared from my moment of brutal retaliation with the one rebuke I knew would hurt him the most. We searched for him for a few hours. He finally returned with a forgiving smile even as the anger and disappointment of everyone else around me remained. It no longer mattered then because his forgiveness was complete. His love for me did not need reasons – only the smallest opportunities.

Many years later I would return to Yercaud. Driving through a winding tree lined slope, I would imagine they were the same paths on which my brother walked away from the brief treachery of his only sibling.

The landscape of human memories are filled with familiar territories that have long been deserted. The monsoon winds swept across the Arabian Sea and left a spray of fresh mist on the olive green table in our bedroom. Our LP player infused that breeze with the Calypso sounds of Harry Belafonte singing Jamaican Farewell. That song was our anthem – it rolled into the rainfall and seeped into the aquifers of our childhood.

— x —

My brother died four days after his 25th birthday. I was sitting at a desk in a make-shift office within a warehouse when I got the news.

I drove back to the city in a Jeep, the familiarity of the retreating landscape tinged by the strangeness of my brother’s dissolution. I put an arm around my father to comfort him. It was hard to respond with either faith or fury to the irreversible nature of destiny.

We sat together quietly on the sidewalk waiting for our ride to the airport. Life continued to be relentlessly lived on the street. Their stark sounds floating towards us like a faint echo from another dimension. I could only hear his sadness and love, both overpowering each other into a helpless silence.

Death, unlike life, does not get immediately swallowed by the momentum of time. It remains transfixed, even as the air fills up with a surreal scent that settles on everything around and throttles their animated solidity.

A widening distance between molecules is all it takes, to transform all that we think is real into what we consider as nothing.

I wait for an uplifting way to accept mortality, one that is intimate and kind, like he was. As I dust his ashes into the ocean, they float away like a flock of migratory birds. I embrace the spirit that remains – one that churns everything into itself.

I spent the next year in seclusion with my mother’s younger sister. She was matter of fact in a way that was almost comical and lived her life with a soft discipline that crept onto me. He would tell her that she was like his own mother. So that’s how I accepted her too.

The way people mourn is as typical as how they speak. Both distilled from a variety of combinations drawn from the same pond of social influences. A mourning congregation can resemble a mutiny of voices at a crowded Café.

My aunt was the anti-thesis of a mourner. She had been a widow since her late twenties. Pragmatic acceptance and the avoidance of unnecessary thinking were the two legs on which she lived. Both of which are hurdles to the build-up of a suitably mournful environment. So she left me largely to my own devices, fed me well and ensured that I woke up before the birds began chirping in her bungalow compound and went to bed soon after the sun sank into the suburbs. It kept me close to the smell of the earth.

My sadness began to resemble the borrowed emotions of other people. And yet when I cried, something flowed like the extended emotional variant of a sneeze. A spontaneous wave that concluded with a sense of relief. It is so hard to deceive our own biology.

Confusion and curiosity were what persisted. Imbued with earnest love. Propelled by a longing for reconciliation.

— x —

My daily routine included cycling twice a day to a Mutt that skirted a large Temple water reservoir. The city’s busiest shopping district was at one end, and on the other side was this large meditation hall.

I would sit here each day, enveloped by a familiar and fluid darkness.

That darkness had appeared before my closed eyes a long time ago. Sitting on the floor in my bedroom, on my yoga mat, listening to the halting voice of our old bespectacled yoga teacher. I was six years old. I would watch it then – it had the darkness of a mother’s womb. Safe, warm and filled with a peace delivered with no strings attached.

As a child, I was afraid to be alone in a dark room. They were never empty. Ajar bathroom doors, open dusty loft cabinets, corridors turning into secret niches, window hinges groaning under the strain of the wind. I sensed a constant stranger behind each dark corner. A tingling fear would travel into the pores of my skin and strangulate them. I had to dart towards the door and open it. The light would pour in to displace those dark corners and my pores would breathe again.

But the darkness behind closed eyes was like my own soothing reflection. An imperceptible identity. Independent of my body, my home, my name and my life. Being close to it again felt reassuring.

The grip of my ordinary life gradually weakened. A void would take its place – one that escapes time and all the stories framed within it. When we surrender into its vibrant emptiness, who we are is left behind along with all the confusions that bind us.

It is only then that we can truly see.

My brother had disappeared from the dream of the elements. A tuneful note consumed by the rhythm of its own song. His passage was no longer my story but remained as a pure experience – free of the voice of pain. What began as a singular event frozen in time became a flowing airstream – that could not be held or resisted but only embraced. And that is how he remains within me, even as I remain within him.

In silence, we encounter the world with its essential fluidity intact.

The purpose of the human experience is to understand our own true nature. The idea of loss, hardship and pain are songs of the heart that we accept, befriend and dance with along our journey and not burdens for us to carry. The human spirit is inextinguishable, and it transcends our preoccupation with ourselves through every life situation.

When Lord Krishna sought to take leave of the Pandavas, after helping them win the epic Kurukshetra battle and ensuring that their dark days were behind them, Kunti sought for calamities to rain upon her so that Krishna would always remain by her side. It is a metaphor for the elixir of suffering, which makes the physicality of events fold into the elusiveness of experience, until all that is left is love and surrender.

In life my brother showed me the unconditionality of love and in death he left me with the wisdom of surrender.

Those were his songs that stayed behind. And so, there are always songs to sing.

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57 Replies to “There are always songs to sing”

  1. Buddy – with a tear for the loved ones not with us and a smile for the loved ones who are still with us.
    I am unable to decide if my thoughts about what you have written so well are more intense than the thoughts of pride that you have indeed written/expressed it so well .

    It would certainly help to pick a few songs that would help us along.

    Take care

    Like

  2. It’s beautifully written with a wisdom and poignancy only real sorrow and time can provide… am sure it was cathartic to write it too…

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  3. What a profoundly moving elegy this is; Indeed there are always songs to sing. Reading this made me recall Nevil Shute’s remarkable novel – “Requiem for a Wren”.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Big big big hug. What beautiful karma, even if so short, to share. May you always remember how he made you feel, and the eternal love. So beautiful Anand.

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  5. So touching & beautifully penned….. words have become fluid , dancing and singing to various emotions and reader’s heart carries the same emotions, pains and joys as experienced by you in the journey of life…. my goodness Anand … what a piece … you are so spiritually evolved …
    looking forward to more …👍🏼👍🏼

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  6. Hi Anand,

    Am moved by your last piece. Felt the raw emotion in it.

    Beautifully written as all the others. Your brother sounded like a wonderful person.

    There is a saying my friend uses for his mother who left this world too early – “I mourn for those who never knew you”. I feel like this is fitting for your brother.

    Keep on writing Anand. You have a gift.

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  7. Anand it’s beautiful and very real ,and a resigned sadness for me. My heart and my eyes well up with tears for a soul so gentle and a soul so great.

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  8. Without a word you learnt love and surrender….a blessing Indeed…. you can now surrender and love unconditionally so that you fall in love with yourself for being able to do this………………….
    There are always songs to sing.

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  9. Someone else’s pain becomes your own.. but also the relief, and the quiet joy. It is a peek of you, which you boldly share, so thank you.

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  10. It is very well written I would say it is a masterpiece. As a brother you have expressed your grief of losing Shyam, the philosophical way is very appealing.
    Love

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  11. Hi Anand babu,
    As I read through your poignant inner beingness about Shyambabu’s very close bond , tears just poured out of my eyes which seemed it happened just now. It’s 23 + years since his death, but it’s very very hard to brush aside. As always you have beautifully conveyed your intrinsic thoughts about your beloved Shyam!!

    Like

  12. Hey Anand, This is such a beautifully written piece that brings to light the truth that happiness and sadness, suffering and liberation, sorrow and joy are experientially two sides of one coin and all need to experienced and accepted from time to time. Very poetic and lyrical view of your deepest experiences!

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  13. Anand you write beautifully and I love all your posts but this one is my favourite so far . I have cried while I read it.
    Any form of disability is hard and emotional for the individual and family . What touched my heart was that the strength that came to both of you was the bond you two shared . This reminds me of my boys .

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  14. my dearest anand,

    i started reading this blog as i did your others, as soon as you sent me the link. when i realised what it was about i stopped. i needed to be quite alone to read this … to read about people so dear to me, to go back in time to my own childhood, to reflect once again on … loss!

    this is my favorite blog (so far) … for the sweet memories of the both of you as boys and for the words and way you have written parts of it … it’s lyrical and beautiful and brings tears to my heart and the familiar unraveling.

    thank you for always reminding me of the stillness within …

    “The grip of my ordinary life gradually weakened. A void would take its place – one that escapes time and all the stories framed within it. When we surrender into its vibrant emptiness, who we are is left behind along with all the confusions that bind us.

    It is only then that we can truly see.”

    i will sleep tonight playing lock and key and chor police with my friends in the backyard and ‘boss’ cycling and ringing the bell as he wove through us on yet another circle around the building …. ❤

    m

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  15. A fluid personification of emotions deeply intertwined with a sense of deep melancholic longing. I had the pleasure of knowing Shyam. He was a wonderful soul and wonderful souls are endeared by Him.
    Written in a manner that I know only you can Ranganathan. God bless you bro!

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  16. Hi Anand,

    This post has left a permanent lump in my heart. You are blessed with the rare gift of ‘soulful and sensitive’ writing that reaches out and touches those who have been fortunate enough to read. Each line of yours is a quotable quote infused with spiritual wisdom. I mourn your loss along with you and pray that your spirituality gives you the strength to always find beautiful songs to sing in this unpredictable journey of life. Stay blessed.

    Gayathri

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  17. Frankly, for once I am struck dumb😊 This article is so..so.. beautiful, that any term to describe it seems a bit trite.

    They are fortunate who have relationships which they have a made a part of themselves. Its only matter which separates them, and when this matter disintegrates, the persons merge. We class them with memories. But no, its their very self and their mind, which one has internalized.

    “And that is how he remains within me, even as I remain within him.”

    This happens in so many people’s lives, but unrecognized as such and taken as memory – therefore accompanied by pathos. If understood in the way you have given, the pathos fades assisted by acceptance and gratitude, and what is left is a song, which plays constantly in subliminal layers, and floats up into your consciousness all the time.

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  18. ” And that is how he remains within me, even as I remain within him.”
    A stirring story of life and loss.
    Each emotion expressed and strung together so beautifully. Anand you have the ability to see the diamond in the char !

    Like

  19. This has left me speechless …Was told that the worst trauma a human being can suffer is to lose his/her child. …Sibling loss is equally traumatic ..as you have explained it.
    My father lost his youngest brother who was aged 19 or so ..And he used to at times get into a discussion on the trauma they suffered…But his talk would always revolve around his iron willed father who bravely weathered that storm amongst many others that he faced during his lifetime..But reading ur piece I can understand what the 5 siblings including my father went thru …I always used to sense his voice going soft when the topic came up….Maybe he went thru something similar .

    Fantastic post. U obviously weave magic with ur prose but in this case it’s the feelings and pain which has left me transfixed. I am sure your brother would be proud to see this from the high heavens ..And also would be proud to see you go about life the way you have with your strong values !!!!

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  20. Dear Anand
    I am so moved – all I want to do read and re-read your powerful expression of who Shyam is and how he lives on!
    ” The idea of loss, hardship and pain are songs of the heart that we accept, befriend and dance with along our journey and not burdens for us to carry.”
    – this is the essence I am going to carry in my heart.
    ❤️
    Chitra

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  21. Dearest Anand,

    Like the pure Zen Master, you have cracked open the secrets of life and death, joy and sorrow, song and silence with felicity of expression and simplicity of thought, going beyond into the realms of pure Ananda, that befits your name. One without the other is purple, even sterile for our growth. But to transform an experience into a tool of inner expansion and savour the rich tapestry that emerges is the art of living and loving.

    God bless you Anand, keep it coming, the dance of joy emerging out of suffering can be edifying, be the song and the songster and share the play of words.., it’s enriching, and ennobling to us as much as it is to you..

    Lots of love

    Radhika.

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  22. Hi Anand How poetic are you in your words. You have put the learnings of life (incidents surrounding your brother) in a capsule. You have indeed experienced Sat chit anand. keep your good work of writing to awake the souls of the human race.

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  23. Dear Anand, as a classmate of Shyam I remember him very fondly and always envied his pace in sports. Brought tears to my eyes my friend ! God bless you with Peace.

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  24. Anand, I realised after reading your blog how we tend to block certain memories – your article opened the floodgates of emotions for me. I see Shyam so clearly even today – I realised after reading this that I had not dealt with his loss emotionally. I will now. Its too bad that even today in India we don’t talk about depression. We deal with it so poorly. We all let down Shyam through our ignorance, as friends. He was such an amazing friend – spirited and fun, and always by your side. I really do miss him.

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  25. So beautifully written Anand. I lost my father early , and believe me I have re lived my emotions through your passage… I don’t know how to pen my feelings, but this passage has helped me to read the feelings I would have if I could write. I did not know your brother, but he is the figure that represents so many different relationships for so many of us… Thank you for sharing . Deeply appreciate.

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  26. Dear Anand, a beautiful piece and so well written. Feel blessed to have spent my childhood with you both and for being with Shayam in his final days.

    Lots of love

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  27. Dearest Anand
    I had tears rolling down ,while reading your story.
    I could fathom the raw pain.
    It must have been so difficult to write and yet therapeutic,
    Anand ,this is one of the best pieces I have ever read.
    All your stories touch a raw nerve in my being,but this was something else.
    The bond you both shared is so beautifully expressed.
    It must be still so difficult to accept, but I guess we are so helpless in the face of our Karma.
    God bless your entire family and Sometimes I truly believe that your family is so special that may be God has given these trials and tribulations for ascension in the spiritual realm,
    May all Gods BLESSINGS be showered on all of you and may God give you IMMENSE fortitude and strength.
    Lots of love and prayers
    Mina.
    You are gifted and have the power to take people through your journeys, feeling the same pain and joy that you feel.
    BLESS you

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  28. Very poetic, tranquilising and musical writing on your beloved brother. Memories are immortal. Torch bearers pass them over hands perpetually. Salutes Anand.
    Venugopalan sv

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  29. My Dear Manni and Anand,

    Every time I read your works I miss both My brother and Shyam who was a real
    darling of a kid as he was growing up .My time with both you kids through your infancy ,as toddlers and till you were both 5 +and 6+ years old is unforgettable. Thereafter I left home in 1975 when I got married,

    ofcourse being in the same city my children bonded with you both to a great
    extent and they too basked under yours and Shyams affections..

    Manni , as I write tears are streaming through my eyes thinking of Shyam who was a darling kid to all of us.

    Anand you have so beautifully portrayed your feelings which are in the realm of spirituality ,poetry, that I’m sure both your father and brother would have revelled
    at your immense maturity today from the savage you called yourself then when you were a kid. God is always with you which can be seen through your writings.
    His promptings from your within is what is pouring out.

    God bless your kids and family!!!

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  30. Anand – this is sudarshan (aarthi’s brother). This is beautiful and deep and so enlightening. I love the part about surrender – I have tears in my eyes. Keep writing!

    Suddu

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  31. This is so beautifully written Anand. An elegy that took me back to when we lost Suresh… Yes, there will always be songs to sing. Thank you for sharing .

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  32. You do write beautifully.

    Your piece only corroborated my theory that great art (in a subjective sense) almost always comes from pain and darkness. Be it a painting, a sculpture, a novel, a poem. a film or a song. The sad songs always touch us deeper. Their melodies have layers of love , of surrender , of pain and of light.

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  33. Hi Anand, this is so beautifully written. I choked up as I read this as I remembered Shyam and the ever so mischievous glint in his eyes every time he crinkled up with his infectious smile. It’s a pity that I never went beyond to understand what he was feeling. Some of your words will remain etched – “In life my brother showed me the unconditionality of love and in death he left me with the wisdom of surrender.”

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  34. Hi Anand – this is really beautifully written, thank you for sharing. Shyam and I were such fast friends and this brought back a flood of memories of the time I was fortunate enough to share with him.

    Thank you,
    Gaurav

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  35. Deeply moving and personal, Anand. The beauty of your words made my heart swell with sadness, and a feeling of wanting to protect your brother. I loved your description of your sibling connection … what a blessing to have experienced such love! Thank you for sharing this.

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  36. Graphic, vivid and poignant. Words can make you laugh, words can make you cry but very rarely can words touch your soul. The turmoil may be gut wrenching but the experience is also life changing. God bless you Anand.

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