One day, a couple of decades back, I was watching a Bollywood movie at a neighbor’s place. The story was of an estranged couple and their son who is diagnosed with a terminal illness. When the man, with whom the child lives, learns of his son’s illness, heartbroken, he goes to convey the same to his ex-wife, who by the way, is now living with another man. On hearing the news about their son, in utter shock, she blindly catches hold of the closest thing to her which happens to be the curtains, they come off and she stumbles, falls on to the fish tank kept nearby, both crashing to the floor.
It was quite an emotional scene. Yet, my neighbor made a clucking noise of disgust while it unfolded on the screen. Who the hell behaves like that, she asked. Such melodrama, she added for good measure. But she just heard her son was dying, I said, amazed that anyone could have guidelines on how people should behave when numbing news took them unawares. Couldn’t it happen that people tripped, stumbled, fell, fainted, had a dizzy spell or more when shocked? I could not imagine what I would do if I were the one in the screen mother’s shoes. Then how could I judge another’s reaction to tragedy of such magnanimity? How could my neighbor be dismissive? How could she even know what the woman felt? She was not that woman, was she?
This is it. I feel an instant disconnect with people like her when I come across them in life, people who seem to have set ideas about how others should behave in various situations. Lost your spouse/child/family? Have a grave illness? Had an accident, a financial loss? THEY will tell YOU the how to, how much and in-what-ways of things. As if.
Recently I read a book ‘Wave‘ by Sonali Deraniyagala (Yes, I recommend it). Described as a “searingly frank memoir” it tells of how the author’s life changed (what a mild word for what happened to her!) on the morning of 26th December 2004 when the tsunami that hit the Lankan coast took away her parents, husband, and two young sons. One moment they were a happy family on a holiday, the next moment she was all alone, the unforgiving water having taken everything away that she cherished. The book takes us through her excruciating journey after the loss.
Why I mention the book here is because I read a review that called the author selfish, spoilt and cold. This was the reaction to the author’s unflinching honesty in writing out her every thought/feeling in the days that followed the tsunami. The author had not conformed to the picture of the grief-stricken that the reviewer had in mind. This sort of reaction is another version of the first example, people deciding how the author should have responded to the situation, written. Such people don’t seem to know that there is NO pre-written script for people to follow when tragedy strikes. Truly sad.
Grief makes (some) people lost, angry, uncaring, insensitive to those around, self absorbed, thankless, selfish too for periods of time. For God’s sake, they are not in a popularity contest. They are mourning, trying to cope. Is it so difficult to stay connected to the reality of another’s suffering?
©Shail Mohan 2016