The sky is endlessly grey as we drive back home from the airport. The children are squabbling at the back while Saathi concentrates on the road. I am ostensibly looking at my phone but my head is trying to wrap itself around the fact that the world now does not contain my father in law in it.
We offered his mortal coil to Agni. We spread his ashes into the Kaveri. Over five days we appeased his formless presence. The term preytha occurring many, many times in the chanting. I rolled rice balls they called the pindam. We stood in a compact room and offered mountains of tasteless food to the soul so he would tire of his earthly attachment and make his ascent into whichever plane it was he had to go to next. On the 12th day, we merged his pithru form with that of the generations above him and forever released Saathi’s great-grandfather into oblivion.
We celebrated his life the thirteenth day with a homam and an elaborate meal. As we waved to departing guests and sank into bed that night, the sleep was that of the dreamless kind, the kind where the exhaustion that was mental has seeped into the physical.
The rituals were alternatively calming and full of grief. Some of us shed silent tears while others sobbed. We sat in small groups accounting our experiences with him. Friends and family visited, held us in their arms and left offering support. Over the days, the grief muted into something intangible. The kind that hovers unseen only to descend on us when we are at our loneliest.
The children participated in all of the mourning, curious and unlike their boisterous selves. They watched their thatha go from being a physical presence to that of a nonvisible kind. They wrote notes to him. They watched us sort through old albums and watched the cycle of life. They met new cousins and made strong bonds with the ones they already knew. Most of all, they served to lighten the grief, to make it bearable.
I partially unpacked late in the night, jet-lagged and unable to sleep. I have steel dabbas, ones that got left behind from my wedding trousseau. I have new clothes, a symbol from my family saying even if my in-laws are gone, they are there to support and offer parental guidance. I have manoharam, a sweet, crunchy snack, a reminder of the things that ought to be celebrated about a life that has lived out its potential. I have a steel ladle, one engraved with my mother in law’s initials. A sole memento of the person I never knew but I wish I did.
As the quiet reigns around me, I feel the exhaustion and the emotions I kept suppressed. I feel the familiar tingle in my nose before my eyes tear up. I feel that sob in my chest waiting to heave and let itself out. I lay my head on my desk and let go.