The Shape of Loss

By: Nimisha Kantharia

3/5 - (1 vote)

This morning my toddler playfully pulled me down on to the bed and said ‘Mumma you also sleep.’ As we both lay on our tummies, heads turned towards each other, something about the way her cheek was squashed by the mattress, up against her eye, reminded me of you. You, my dearest school friend have never met my child (in this earthly realm) and you never will (since she was born a decade after you died) but how I wish you could! She doesn’t look at all like you (how could she?) but I am an expert at catching these glimpses of you in other people, in the arrangements of their features, in fleeting expressions that cross their face, in the deeper notes of open-bellied laughter. I am a collector of these pieces of you. I find you sometimes when a sweet fragrance lingers. You know how the sense of smell can evoke memories? The olfactory receptors are separated from the memory seat of our brain only by a thin perforated plated of bone. That’s why a certain smell can transport one back in time, to a different place, an evocative image rushing to the surface. But this is not what I’m talking about for it is sometimes the aroma of biryani at a street corner, at other times the heady waft of incense or the delicate subtle floral notes in a garden can bring you to me. Your very name meant fragrance and so it is that any sweet smell can conjure your presence in my mind’s eye. Sometimes it is snatches of songs that were popular in the school-girl days of our friendship that remind me of you… anything by Ronan Keating, I remember how much you adored him at the height of his popularity, all the songs from Dil Toh Pagal Hai. Other times, the things we gifted each other bring you back to me. A black coffee cup (I gave you a black coffee cup as a birthday gift on your eighteenth birthday. I didn’t even know if you drank coffee, our friendship was forged by chance allocation to the same division the last three years of school, and sealed by shared giggles in between lectures. But it seemed like a sophisticated gift to give to a new adult) or a glance at a photo-frame (you gifted me this one). Let me make this clear, I don’t actually possess that same photo-frame anymore, and I don’t have your coffee cup. What I mean to say is that any black coffee cup can remind me of you, any odd photo-frame can take me back to the last time I met you. And the image in that photo-frame is crystal clear in my mind. You, a new mother, laughing your gorgeous generous laugh, while holding up your swaddled infant over your shoulder. I remember we were giggling helplessly because she was wrapped tight in a yellow muslin cloth and held that way she looked like a cabbage. I wish I had that photo in that exact photo frame. I wish I was the sort of person who took more photographs back in the days when mobile phones and their high-end cameras were not around. But even if I was, I would also have to be the kind of person who preserved things and kept them safely locked away in a cupboard. But I am not that person. Instead I am the person that stores these memories in my mind, creating a collage in an imaginary scrap-book. And I am always receptive to pieces of you that I can add to this collage. I remember how ill you sounded the last time we spoke, when you called to wish me on my 26th birthday. You died two weeks later from a mysterious fever and I only found out a couple of days later. For most of that first year, I thought of you every single day, sometimes several times a day. For a couple of years after that I thought of you at least once a week. And now, more than a decade after you left, you are a part of the world around me, I find pieces of you anytime, anywhere. Your death left a you-shaped hole in my life and sometimes I step into that void and for a moment I am pulled under by grief, and I let myself be pulled down until I float back to the surface of this present moment. At other times I lean up against the shape of your loss and it comforts me, almost as though I have laid my head on your plump shoulder for a moment. This you-shaped hole will never be filled or grow smaller, and I don’t want it to. Because I keep you alive in my thoughts. I know you live on in your child and in the thoughts of your parents and siblings but I must do my part as well. We all knew different aspects of you and it needs all our thoughts and memories to keep you here on earth. But I’m taking no chances. In case I lose my memory or die one day (as I most certainly will), I have written down these words, whispered them into the ether so that they linger on forever, and someday some fragment of them may waft across some unknown person and they will, for a split second, hear your laughter or see your ever-smiling eyes, and that flash of you will then stay alive in them.

By: Nimisha Kantharia

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  1. This was so beautifully written Nimisha. You have conveyed so simply, articulately and accurately how so many of us feel about loved ones lost.


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