A month without Mary

About thirty days ago, I said goodbye to Mary. We were expecting a call, and when the call came we ran to the hospital, to the ICU, past the sweetly round-faced woman at the door who betrayed her Bengali provenance through air-heavy admonitions, and as the others waited outside, I went in and stood by Mary’s bedside as one doctor detached himself from his colleagues, crowding around her in a half-circle, and told me her heart had stopped. After three days of grief, which in its weight of unreleased feeling can feel like three months, or thirty years, the brain must have slowed down its deductive processes, for I asked this solemn man in his solemn white coat what that meant. What did he mean ‘her heart had stopped’? She’s dead, he said. Oh. He said this had shot up and that had failed and therefore this other thing had shut down. It all meant nothing. Post mortems are for television serials where forensics experts find traces of arsenic in the bloodstream and catch the killer. This was death in the real world. The strange words left the doctor’s  mouth and slipped right through me and drifted past the patients in the beds behind. How it happened was no longer important. It had happened.

Mary lay there still as a sleeping doll whose eyes had closed when rested from standing, the motionlessness of her small form no different from her stillness yesterday, the day before that. But yesterday, the day before, she was alive, at least in the way machines with their neon indicators and video-game beeps tell us. Today, she wasn’t. It’s a machine age, and the machines have told us that she’s dead, and the doctors have no choice but to echo this assessment. The sadness I felt was like a stone. Sadness in the movies is the opposite, like water, coursing through your innards and mopping up emotions and bursting forth in blessed catharsis. People cry so easily in the movies. That sadness leaves the system with the last tear, unlike this sadness, which was like a growth inside, a tumour gathering mass, a black hole sucking in and hoarding pain instead of releasing it and leaving me lighter. I looked at Mary guiltily, not being able to reward her struggle with a single tear, and after kissing her forehead, still warm to my surprise, I stepped out to let the others in.

There are times bureaucracy is a blessing. Between forms to be filled and final payments to be made and various people to reach out to for taking care of this formality and that one, none of us had much time to slap a label on what we felt, which only revealed itself when we spoke. People had to be informed, and we’d dial numbers and ask for them and when we started to talk of Mary’s death the voice would tremble as if it were wired to a socket during a voltage fluctuation. But after the call, the black hole would suck up this new burst of feeling as well, swelling, growing stronger. After there was nothing else to do, I returned to Mary’s side, where she now looked like a Babushka doll peeping out of an off-white knapsack. A face at peace bloomed from a body bag. How could someone this small weighed have so much in my arms, a few days ago, when I lifted her down the stairs and into the car that would take us to this hospital? My left hand still felt the presence, the weight, of Mary when she was a person, before she turned into Mary, this thing.

I looked around, wondering if the caretakers of these other sick and dying people were secretly relieved that it was Mary and not their father or aunt. Or maybe they were looking at me in anticipation of what I would do and whether I would provide a lesson on deathbed etiquette that would come in handy when it was their turn. A nurse came and asked me what I was to Mary, and I told her, the voice again beset by voltage fluctuations. The nurse stood around silently, respectfully, and then she left, probably too callused by death to contribute much. To my mind, I was the lead player, the protagonist, in a grand drama of grief, but to her I was just a two-bit extra reenacting a numbingly familiar part. More people would die tomorrow, more members of family would be given the news, and if lucky they’d succumb to tears, or else stand by numbly, like me, thinking that there must be something wrong, terribly wrong, with them.

I felt Mary’s forehead and it was finally cold. I kept my hand there, on her head, remembering how she hated being alone, and how much she must have hated being all by herself in the ICU these past days, for we were shooed out even before we could tell her we’d be right outside, right outside, and that there would always be a light on in this new room just like the light in her room at home, whose dull-green glow clearly possessed the power to ward off demons. I asked myself if I’d done enough, if I should have done more, and then I told myself that surrendering to survivor’s guilt was not going to help anyone now, not her, not me, not the people outside. And then, out of nowhere, the tears came. The stone inside was being cracked open by wracking sobs, and the gravelly bits and pieces were smarting my eyes and hurting me and making me ashamed of being embarrassed that everyone else was watching my convulsion over the small bundle of this uncaring person, under whose pillow a kind doctor had allowed us to slip a get-well-soon note from my sister, who, mercifully, has very little trouble with tears.

Copyright ©2012 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

63 thoughts on “A month without Mary

  1. Until I read the tag, I thought you had lost someone close to you. I do not know if you have; I feel you must have because somehow there is no way you could have written this if you hadn’t felt the immensity of such loss. May be I’m making a leap, but if there indeed was a Mary, a real Mary, then my condolences for her loss. If not, then you understand what it must feel like to lose such a person.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. nice. I like it. I like the fact that you haven’t spelled out the relationship. For some reason, it makes your(the protagonist) loss all the more relatable. For now the reader will add his/her own interpretation to this relationship and will since feel the pain/numbness that the protagonist feels.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. @rangan
    I read this piece first on my mobile(whose browser couldn’t figure out a way to display the tags) and thought you had lost your wife(You see, my logical faculty rebelled at the very suggestion of Baradwaj being Mary’s brother ;) ). Only after scrolling through to read the comment posted beneath did I realize there was something more(or less, depending on the way you see it) to this.

    Nice writing.

    If I were some sort of a shrink, I would be inclined put your tendency to write wistfully about the passing of imaginary female partners down to unsated desires arising from your bachelorhood.

    Now tell me it ain’t so. ;)

    BTW, why Mary? Why not Vasugi, Sheela, Mythili……or Mehr-un-Nisa for that matter? ;)

    Or am I “over-analyzing” things?

    Like

  4. Did’nt one of your previous fictional pieces also talk about some cancer suffering of a close one? what’s up with that?
    Hope its just fiction and nothing more.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. 1. Suppose I hadn’t used the first person, and invented a character named Bahadur Rahman (pay no attention to those initials, now), would the doubt still arise about the story’s proximity to real-life experience (both in this one and The Girl Who Smelled of Rum)?

    2. Doesn’t every writer steal from both his life and the lives of those around him (at least in part) when not giving in completely to the imagination?

    3. And if you don’t know the writer personally, should you care? I don’t mean this rudely, but in the sense of “shouldn’t you be responding to this as just a piece of writing”, and whether it’s good or bad?

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  6. But the writing is too personal bahadur! It’s like a kumbakonam schoolboy Hemingway reinventing the class 7 essay as fiction.

    With feelings being so up front, no wonder people are reacting as if you are narrating from immediate experiance.

    Like

  7. >>“shouldn’t you be responding to this as just a piece of writing”, and whether it’s good or bad?

    it’s good, it’s good!! : )

    but this is not a blog featuring just fiction – you intersperse reviews with your take on other topics from roaming around in other countries to general musings on life, so no wonder people get a little disturbed at what seems a peek into a very personal experience. and face it, you’re being sneaky, when you take the trouble to “brand” the other pieces with “Light, camera” and “Bitty ruminations”. You should put a tripe FFF before pieces like this to warn janta, heh.

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  8. BR:

    1. Yes.

    2. Oh totally. And the mostly unimaginative me is perfect example for it. I steal left and right from my life and lives of those around me.

    3. Namma enna apdiya pazhagirkom?! Jokes apart, I think this comments space has long become something beyond people just responding to a piece of writing. Or from recent cases, it’s come a full circle and things are like old blogosphere days again, with trolls etc.

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  9. you almost had me there, doc.
    nice try, really.

    i just presumed you had posted something meant for the first day of this month…a bit late?

    duh.

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  10. @1. Rangan, speaking for myself, yes, it would. Whether your protagonist was named Bahadur Rahman or Michael D’Souza.
    @2. Despite that, or because of that, perhaps.
    @3. I do not know you personally except through your writing. I responded to the protagonist’s ‘voice’. And isn’t it a mark of good writing (stop fishing!) that the reader responds as if it calls to him personally? Any writing that makes us (me) feel that we are vicariously living that experience – why wouldn’t we care?

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Sorry about that Mr.Rangan, opened up your page eagerly to see if you had anything up on the movie 3 and this was what came up. Didn’t realize it was under Fiction and guess I’m also quite a sucker for sob stories. It was also cos of the level of detail like your sister not having a trouble with crying and so on that I completely fell for the story (but I should have realized that you always write with this much conviction and detail).

    Liked by 1 person

  12. If you publish this in your blog, where we can count your short stories vs. personal opinions, the classification is obvious right?
    So. A regular visitor’s natural intent (I would assume) is to start from a ‘it’s a personal thing’ tag. So when I read something here, I am naturally inclined to start with ‘it’s BRs view/opinion/experience’ unless proven otherwise. Like your tag.
    Had you published it in a website which by itself is a compendium of short stories, it would have been a different ball game altogether!
    In any case, I think introducing a Bahadur Rahman would have really spoilt it. Especially when you are famous since any glimpse into the real personal you would be a bait for the readers.

    Like

  13. Anu Warrier: “why wouldn’t we care?” No, of course you should. At least that’s my hope, that what I write — not just this, but even the reviews and the other things — strike a chord. My point was only about the making-a-personal-connection bit, and that you can make personal connections and “find out” about me even from pieces that are not first-person.

    The way I see movies. The scenes I choose to talk about. The way I construct sentences. The way I respond to comments. The comments I choose to respond to. The tone of my writing. All of this is an insight into a person, and if you’ve been reading me for a while, it’s not too difficult (if you’re capable of that sort of thing) to put together a fairly accurate picture of me (the way Dimple sizes up Akshaye after a look at his paintings in “Dil Chahta Hai”).

    And this is true not just for me but for everyone else, even those aren’t writers themselves but just leave comments. Those comments contain more about *them* than about my article that made them respond. For instance — and to lighten up for a moment — I think, by now, a lot of us can say we know rameshram quite intimately :-p

    Radhika: Tripe, huh? Now, you *really* remind me of my English teacher :-)

    Gradwolf: “Namma enna apdiya pazhagirkom?!” of course not. “Lit for Life”-la hello-laam sollirkome. Andha anyoonyatha marakka mudiyuma? :-)

    Vasisht Das: I assure you, the intent was not to fool/trick people. This was not a prank.

    ruqayya: Haven’t seen 3 yet. Hopefully soon. And thanks.

    Mia: Regarding “any glimpse into the real personal you would be a bait for the readers…” Actually, I’m not much of an FB/Twitter type. That kind of sharing I simply cannot do, and even if I did it would be in something like this piece (or my reviews), where no one but me and those close to me know what the reality of the situation is.

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  14. Oh this almost slipped past…brannigan, no you can’t. You only know what rameshram puts out there as comments…. Or brannigan as writing….

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  15. I was also led to think of this piece as something very personal [ something that happened recently] before reading Anu’s remark… not that I was less moved but it did change how I understood the piece!! Its also how you read !!!
    @BR “… The way I see movies. The scenes I choose to talk about…all of this is an insight into a person…”
    Yes only to a point and a point an expert writer will want to take you. I wonder how much can the writer control and shape this ‘giving away’.
    It’s quite possible to remain unsure of the novelist as person whose books you devour, especially the ones you get to know only through the books [I mean with little accompanying social-media blitzkrieg].
    So the question is, what is writing and how/what does it throwback on the writer? Not a simple relationship I should think.
    This gets me to the movie’ Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ a movie elliptically coded that evoked this piece of writing… Reaching back to the director/author’s personal history gets that much more coded and complicated

    http://blogs.suntimes.com/scanners/2012/02/tinker_tailor_critic_eye_some_.html

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  16. “You only know what rameshram puts out there as comments”

    And for some…that’s ALL we’d ever need to know:-)

    Like

  17. that you can make personal connections and “find out” about me even from pieces that are not first-person.

    Sure. As Nimmi pointed out, that happens only to the extent that the writer wants you to see into his soul. We, as readers, also see what we want to see – ergo, diametrically opposite reactions to what you write in a review, for instance.

    As to, should we care whether the writing is personal or not; shouldn’t we react to it just the same way whether it is you, or your voice as the protagonist – I think, no, we shouldn’t care, but we do.

    We are, as humans, evolved to make a deeper connection to a personal tragedy. And therefore, the reaction to the death of someone close to us is not the same as reading about death in a story, or article, however well-written. It might move us, it might even make us cry, but it is not quite the same.

    Your writing does strike a chord in your regular readers; we feel we ‘know’ you – we have made that personal connection to you through your writing. So, when you write something that seems to have affected you personally, it affects us. When we learn it is a (very well-written) piece of fiction, then it does not move us less, but it affects us differently .

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  18. “that’s ALL we’d ever need to know”

    and I should give a rat’s fart because ….why?

    Like

  19. Good fiction draws you in, enveloping you within it’s own manufactured world, letting you sense it’s time and space even as you are pulled to experience it’s characters’ feelings, ideas and hopes.

    On that score, I’d say: Mission Accomplished, B!

    Now I eagerly await the Anthology/Novel/Novella that I hope this is but an intriguing sample of,

    Like

  20. “I should give a rat’s fart because ….why?”

    Awwwww! Did I wound the One Trick Pony?

    Froth! Froth! Froth away, Little Boy!

    See…Now I’ve put out a Rameshram-type comment as well…and boy do I feel like a smarmy dick :-)

    Like

  21. “and boy do I feel like a smarmy dick ”

    that must be the average day in the life of a Kay kay…hahaha…

    Like

  22. an aside you may want to get that “hostility to rameshram” syndrome checked out with a good shrink kay kay…it could hurt your married life…. ;) (repressed homosexuality often translates to violence.)

    Like

  23. so beautifully expressed…the first time i’d encountered the death of someone close to me,i too didn’t know how to express my feelings,how to capture in a page all that my friend meant…and because i couldn’t express it,I turned unnecessarily jocular and blase about the accident….your piece makes me feel better because I can see that different people have different ways of handling grief and just because we do not express it in a conventional manner,it doesn’t mean it hasn’t affected us..

    Like

  24. “hostility to rameshram”

    Au Contraire, mon ami. What you misconstrue ad infinitum (or should I say ad nauseum) as hostility/murderous rage/rabid foaming at the mouth and in the latest Brain Wave ….repressed homosexuality ( I’ll give you points for imagination at least) is nothing more than my amusing, time-passing attempt to communicate at your level. Call it an act of literary ventriloquism, like Proust attempting Dumas, say. I thought you’d appreciate my tuning in to your particular Frequency, the All-Scorn Channel, the Only Station that talks DOWN to people as opposed to talking TO them, but alas, as I suspected: You demand the right to dish it out, but lack the fortitude to take it. (Tsk!Tsk! And here I was thinking you were ready to stop wading in the kiddie pool and swim with the men)

    Oh well, a wiser soul than me has commented around these parts that you’re the Jester in this Court, and so I shall give you all the consideration owed to a Fool: Indulge you when you’re amusing, endure you when you’re not and once in awhile….place a well aimed boot to your rump should you harbor delusions of sitting on the throne or fucking the queen :-)

    So Jaw and Jape away, Jester :-)

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  25. “your particular Frequency, the All-Scorn Channel, the Only Station that talks DOWN to people as opposed to talking TO them”

    Aha! motive! the poor rabid dog is feeling talked DOWN to! Boo friggin’ hoo1

    Like

  26. Rameshram is a fascinating case. I routinely encounter this level of trollery on the TennisWorld website too, but even the most annoying trolls there usually know how to construct grammatically sound sentences and even throw in a few genuine witticisms. This troll, on the other hand, sounds like it has popped out from under the Rediff messageboard.

    But I’ve said too much now, and I really must get back to repressing MY homosexuality…

    Like

  27. See, “poor rabid dog” is exactly the sort of banal, unimaginative, low-rent pejorative I’m talking about. I demand that my trolls be a lot classier than this – otherwise I want my money back.

    Also, “Boo friggin’ hoo”? Really?!

    Like

  28. youre ok jabberwock, except for your annoying insistence that im trolling you might even pass for a muggle.

    or maybe, compared to the rabid dog most angry people appear inoffensive….

    Like

  29. “but even the most annoying trolls there usually know how to construct grammatically sound sentences and even throw in a few genuine witticisms. This troll, on the other hand, sounds like it has popped out from under the Rediff messageboard”

    HaHaHa…well said Jabberwock! I think if you boil it down, that’s what annoys me the most about Naradar Boy. He’s an atrociously bad writer without the talent or vocabulary to cloak his smarmy condecension and delusions of grandeur in scintillating prose and searing wit.

    Now excuse me as well while I go deal with my dormant homosexuality while getting my rabies shots :-)

    Stay tuned for more “froths” and “rabid dog” responses from the Jester :-)

    (I’d actually direct him to a Thesaurus if I gave a shit)

    Like

  30. “Also, “Boo friggin’ hoo”? Really?!”

    Miyomoto musashi in the book of five rings said ” The technique to fight and defeat one man is the same as the technique to fight and defeat eight men and this is the same as the technique to fight and defeat 64 men(he was somehow fixated on the hexadecimal system) ”

    My preferred weapon in the application of this technique is the short twitter post (20 characters or less). If you cannot make it count in twenty characters an

    “I routinely encounter this level of trollery on the TennisWorld website too, but even the most annoying trolls there usually know how to construct grammatically sound sentences and even throw in a few genuine witticisms. This troll, on the other hand, sounds like it has popped out from under the Rediff messageboard.”

    or a

    “What you misconstrue ad infinitum (or should I say ad nauseum) as hostility/murderous rage/rabid foaming at the mouth and in the latest Brain Wave ….repressed homosexuality ( I’ll give you points for imagination at least) is nothing more than my amusing, time-passing attempt to communicate at your level. Call it an act of literary ventriloquism, like Proust attempting Dumas, say. I thought you’d appreciate my tuning in to your particular Frequency, the All-Scorn Channel, the Only Station that talks DOWN to people as opposed to talking TO them, but alas, as I suspected: You demand the right to dish it out, but lack the fortitude to take it. (Tsk!Tsk! And here I was thinking you were ready to stop wading in the kiddie pool and swim with the men)”

    is not going to make a difference.

    Like

  31. My preferred weapon in the application of this technique is the short twitter post (20 characters or less). If you cannot make it count in twenty characters…

    Ah, so “Boo friggin’ hoo”, “I should give a rat’s fart because…” and (most eloquently) “froth froth froth” represent your attempts to “make it count in 20 characters”? I see. Well done, and all the best for the continued success and eventual monetisation of your Twitter feed.

    Like

  32. @anu warrior,

    What’s this Pick on ramesh ram day?! :D

    Apropos your comment: the half wits deserve no humor from me.

    Like

  33. “My preferred weapon in the application of this technique is the short twitter post (20 characters or less)”

    Makes sense. 20 words is about what I pegged your vocabularic range at.

    Like

  34. “the half wits deserve no humor from me.”

    Froth, Foam, Spume and Suds,
    Ye Gods, you’re such a Putz,
    Make a Point in 20 words, you say,
    Yet why does your prose suck every which way?

    -KayKay Kavithai

    Like

  35. Dear rabid dog, I pegged you for incoherent. now i see youre innumerate and illiterate as well. It isn’t necessarily froth. it’s your attempt at forming words.

    Like

  36. froth froth froth
    in verse
    is still
    froth froth froth.

    Yawn Yawn Yawn…..your inarticulacy bores me.

    Come back when you’ve mastered a few more words, bratty boy.

    Like

  37. Dear B,

    As much as I enjoy thrashing that self-aggrandizing brat trailing his self-important shit across your posts, using the comments section of your blog and especially a marvellous piece of non-fiction as an avenue to do that is just wrong.

    So please consider this my personal apology to you and a contrite confirmation that this matter is now closed.

    Like

  38. Not really. But it *is* frustrating to come, read the article, and the comments and see ad hominem attacks against each other that is rapidly dissolving into juvenile insults. That does not excuse my remark, though. I apologise.

    Like

  39. Dear BR,

    we all hope and pray that such priods of sainity will last, even as our better sense tells us how unlikely that is.

    Like

  40. ” I enjoy thrashing that self-aggrandizing brat trailing his self-important shit across your posts”

    hehehehe :D

    Like

  41. @Anu warrier,

    I do not feel too differently than the sentiments you have expressed. Among the three people that have decended to name calling (me, Kay kay and Jaberwock) I think it is very clear who is exhibitting “trollish” behaveour , and who is being victimized from pure dislike. But then trying to explain WHY a mad dog froths at the mouth and goes about biting people is futlie, I guess.

    To Quote rangan’s favorite director/actor combo, “avanai mothalla niruttha chol! ” ;)

    Like

  42. “who is being victimized from pure dislike”

    Oh…boo-friggin-hoo! (to quote someone)…a chance off hand remark I delivered without any malice provoked a record number of uses of the word “rabid”, “dog” and “frothing at the mouth” directed at me (stay tuned for more after this post) with some homophobia thrown in for good measure…then a “half-wit” lobbed at Jabber and me and a “stupid” at Tyler..idha ella solli…oru “victimized” Persecution Complex vera podiyanukku :-)

    But you’re right Warrier, mea culpa from my end as well for contributing to the juvenile thread…chinna pasanga level-lukku irangana, idhu dhan gadhi :-) Thanks for highlighting the futility of this.

    Peace out…

    Like

  43. I think Mary is a kid. There are enough references. Doll, small form, afraid of being alone/darkness, her room at home, kiss on forehead, carry her downstairs, get-well card, etc.

    Like

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