I know that I write a lot about the time that my father passed away, but I suppose that was the time that our lives changed completely. Of course I’ve always known that it affected me – it’s not until I started writing that I realised how much.
I remember distinctly that the few days following his death, we were inundated with visitors, well-wishers – people we knew well, and those that we didn’t. The neighbours in our street had collected some money for us; same at my father’s workplace. Everyone echoing the same sentiment, ‘Gone too young’; ‘Only the good die young’.
Death is a funny thing. Although it is the only certainty in this world – we humans do not know what to say to others when it happens. We do not know how to console one another. We flounder. What to say? How do we say it? And the people who have been bereaved – well they hear all kinds of stupid shit – if it wasn’t such a godforsaken, awful time, it would be really funny.
Godforsaken – I used that word deliberately, because that’s how I felt at the time. Forsaken by God. A distant well-wisher came to visit a few days later and told me, stuttering and unsure of himself – what do you say to an 11 year old girl who has just lost her father? Anyway, he told me how dad was in a much better place now, he would be in state of bliss. My face must have reflected the confusion that I felt at the time. However, he mistook the confusion for not understanding the word ‘bliss’. I understood the word alright – I just didn’t understand why the stranger thought that my father being away from his wife and children meant that he was in a ‘better place’. What better place was this? Knowing my dad as I did, surely that ‘better place’ wouldn’t have felt like a ‘better place’ to him. As the well-wisher’s voice blended into the background, that’s all I could think about; and when he finished talking, I nodded politely as if I’d been hugely enlightened by the conversation. Of course, I knew that this poor man didn’t know what to say to me. He just didn’t know – and like any other decent human being, he just wanted me to feel better – but that was never going to happen, he knew that, and so did I.
Later on that day, my grandfather told me to pray to God – a ceremony had just taken place for the peace of my father’s soul, which we hadn’t been allowed to attend and in truth I was so relieved. It was exhausting having to be polite, having so many people around, when I hadn’t even processed what had really happened. To be honest – I actually thought that I was dreaming. I thought that I was going to wake up and he was going to be there; I just needed this nightmare to stop and for everything to go back to normal.
That day my Grandfather was leaving my house to go somewhere and before he went, he asked me to pray – and I point-blank refused. The anger and confusion that was bubbling up inside me, just erupted. Why should I pray? Which God would take a father away from his children? What were we going to do now? How would we cope? Why did God do this? Now this rant to my grandfather was a bit risky. He was renowned for having a temper – he let me speak without interrupting; without uttering a single word. When I’d finished, I was fully expecting him to be angry with me; to tell me off for being blasphemous; but I didn’t care. Let him do his worst, I felt, I just didn’t care. To my surprise (and relief), he didn’t shout and wasn’t angry, he simply said, ‘We don’t know why God did this. But God hasn’t just taken your father, he took my son too, and your mum’s husband. We don’t know why he did this, but it’s part of a big plan that we will never know. But God hasn’t left you and neither has your father. So make sure you pray.’
He didn’t stop to check to see if I had prayed; and I didn’t do as I was told immediately either. But his words did ring in my ears. And I watched, I watched my mother pray, I watched him pray – in the end so did I.
The thing was that I felt so alone; mum needed my support – I had to be there for her. The well-wishers eventually petered away; reality set in, and I realised that this was not a bad dream that I was going to wake up from. So praying offered me some comfort and made me feel less alone. After all, nobody else was in control of this situation – only God was.
Non-Hindus often mock hindus for having so many deities. Look at you lot worshipping so many gods. How is that even possible? I’ve heard it all over the years – but let me tell you something, in Calcutta, which is where my family are originally from, the deity worshipped is Maa Durga. Maa means Mother. Maa Durga is a goddess who rides on a fierce tiger, she has ten arms; in each hand she carries a weapon. She protects the weak and gives people strength. She is equally benevolent and fierce, showing no mercy to the wicked. So when my own mother was only just managing to function – get through the day and make sure that we had everything that we needed, I turned to Maa Durga for help when I felt lonely, or needed to know that everything was going to be alright.
It was faith that got me through the dark times. Faith that got me through the loneliest of times. Now, I’ll be honest with you, it doesn’t bother me if you believe in God or not. Whether you belong to a religion or not. I can only tell you that praying is what helped me – and enabled me to make positive choices in my life. And belief in God ensured that I never, ever felt truly alone.