on anniversaries

three years and two days ago, i packed my life into two suitcases and moved to new delhi. that in itself should be a significant and memorable milestone – a date that perhaps glares out from every calendar every year when May ends and June begins.

this year, i had forgotten that June 15 was the day, until a flood of emails from LinkedIn hit my email inbox – “congratulations on your work anniversary, hope you are well” – a stream of templated automatic notes from whichever of my contacts happened to be on the site on the day.

my first thought was that perhaps i was being strange. after all, given all that has happened in this short time, i’m frankly surprised i am still here three years later. am i supposed to remember this day, mark it in righteous solemnity? toast myself for surviving the adventure, or silently weep at all i have lost and gained and learned?

this year, my first thought upon realizing the momentousness of the occasion was to realize that it has been three years since i have been in my hometown on the date of my mother’s death anniversary.

it isn’t that the death anniversary entailed any special commemoration. when i lived back home, the day generally entailed either a small milad at the house with close family, perhaps some prayers at the local mosque, and a visit to her grave. for fourteen years, it was a day of reflection, capped off by a quiet visit with her initially, and then both my parents, in their final resting place. a few questions that received no answers; solemn pleas to the almighty to forgive their sins; many requests for their blessings and support for whatever venture i was embarking on; and a long walk back to the car wondering if they were proud of who i had become.

seventeen years is a long time, and so much has slipped away thanks to time. i no longer remember conversations with my mother when she was alive. i no longer remember the sound of her voice, except in tiny little snippets. no more memories of what she looked like, other than those captured in pictures, and thankfully very few memories of what she looked like in her final few days on earth.

things i do remember, though: vague memories of my childhood, when i first learned to talk. why? because they are forever recorded on tapes – my mother recorded some of her children’s first words and sentences, and though i don’t actually remember the conversation, its setting or its context, i know every single word, every single intonation, every single syllable by heart.

and i remember her last few days – not the days themselves, not what i ate or wore or did, but the overwhelming sense of gloom that pervaded that entire week. the first stroke and its aftermath, with her unable to remember who i was; the rapid descent into a coma; the move to a hospice room, and understanding for the first time what a hospice room was and what it signified; the interminable wait for the end; my father saying when i returned from school on that day, “you should go see your mother,” and nothing more.

i remember those days well every single year, because that same sense of impending doom and gloom that enveloped me then still buffets me every year in the middle of June. the date does not glare at me from a calendar anymore, but i know it’s around the corner when the gloom descends at the beginning of the week, irrespective of where i am, what i am doing or what i am feeling. and it amplifies rapidly throughout the week until it hits a crescendo on the day she finally passed away.

anniversaries aren’t all the same. but the ones that matter, the ones that shape you into who you are, the ones that take you and toss you around and shake you from the core – those are the ones you never need to be reminded about.

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