Last week, my brother was driving home from work and decided to call me up.
‘Hey, have the girls seen ‘The Lion King’ yet? If they haven’t, I’d like to take them.’
‘No they haven’t, that’s really nice. Of course, by all means, they’d love that.’
‘Ok, what happens if the youngest one cries – you know, when Mufasa dies…’
‘Do you want me to come too?’
‘Only if you want to?’
A few minutes later, all of us were going. A big, fat, Indian family trip to see the live action, 2019 version of the epic, ‘The Lion King’ at the weekend.
The Lion King isn’t an easy watch for me. A little cub, loses their strong, protective hero of a dad and spends the rest of his life missing him and seeking redemption. The reason why my brother felt that my youngest would cry, was because she did cry when we went to see the musical in the theatre back in December. During the interval, when we were queuing in the long queues for the toilet, she was inconsolable as Mufasa had just died – and the lights came up. It was more than she could bear. Surely that wasn’t how The Lion King ended? The father just dies? We go to the toilet? My brother’s fear of her becoming upset was founded in reality.
We walked into the theatre together, the children sandwiched in the middle, between their Mama (maternal uncle) and Nanni on one side, and my husband and I on the other. We all commented on how we’d never been to the cinema altogether like this before. It was nice. Popcorn and sweets in hand, we all settled into our seats. Eventually, after all the endless adverts and trailers, the film finally began.
The beautiful, spiritual strains of the choir singing in Zulu began their familiar chant,
‘Nants ingonyama bagithi baba’, which translates to, ‘There comes a Lion’.
I felt the familiar sensation of sharp tears pricking my eyes. The animals from all over the kingdom bowing down to their beautiful newborn prince, Rafiki holding Simba up on the edge of Pride Rock for the nation to see – and me knowing already that everything was going to go so horribly wrong. It took superhuman strength to fight those tears back. ‘You can’t cry yet!’ I had to tell myself!!!
No matter how stoical I was trying to be, there was a part when I completely lost it. And that was when Mufasa tells Simba to look to the night stars whenever he needed help. That Mufasa would always be there for Simba, he would never be alone. At this point, I could contain them no longer. The tears were unashamedly raining down my cheeks, I glanced over to my brother – and saw that he was crying too, which made me cry even more.
You might be thinking how pathetic, a pair of grown-assed people, crying at a children’s film like a pair of children themselves? Well, whilst Mufasa was reassuring Simba that he’d always be there for him, and to look to the stars…I was transported back 30 years, when my mother would be feeding my brother rice and curry, and my brother would ask where our dad was – and my mother would take him to the front door, show him the night sky and say in Bengali, ‘Look up there, you see the brightest star? There’s your father looking at you, he’s always there!’
My brother was only a baby at the time, I don’t know if he even remembered that conversation. But to me, it was as vivid and clear as though it had happened yesterday.
A little later on, towards the climax of the movie, Rafiki tells Simba that Mufasa is alive and takes him to the river – whereupon Simba looks into the river and realises that his father still lives – within him. Once again, a flood of tears flowed blissfully from my eyes, grateful to be released. Once again, I looked over to my brother who was bravely trying to contain himself – but fighting a futile battle.
The Lion King isn’t a movie that can be easily watched if you have lost your father. Every word, every sentence, every scene carries a huge amount of meaning.
The months and years after my father’s death were unbelievably painful. Our struggle as a family, the support that we had to give to one another, the fact that we had no one else to turn to – are days that I will never forget. Luckily, my mother was a fierce lioness who kept our ‘pride’ together and we emerged into strong adults ourselves. The dichotomy that we face is that we will be eternally grateful to God that we were given a mother like her, but equally devastated that our father passed away in such an untimely way.
I often think about my father when I watch my little daughters. I know he would have loved conversing for hours with both of them. My eldest, constantly thirsty for knowledge, he would be amazed with her determination and wisdom. My youngest, the cheeky little one, who I know would have him wrapped around her little finger and make him laugh all the time. How do I know this? Because I see how they are with their Mama, my little brother, and even though my brother never got to know my father at all well, I see that my father lives on, inside him. The pride and love that I feel for my own daughters, I know that he would have felt, as he lives on inside me too.
I’ve said this before in previous blogs but there’s never any harm in saying it again. The people who you love, never leave. They are always there with you, living on in your heart. Giving you strength and love when you need it the most. Sometimes reading a blog can remind you of that. Sometimes sobbing in front of a giant screen, watching The Lion King, can remind you of that also.