Life’s a series of rooms. And who we get stuck in those rooms with, adds up to what our lives are.
Your parents meet. They fall in love. A year or two pass by, and then comes the magic moment. When your dad asks your mum to marry him. It’s always a story worth telling. Everyone has that story. Each their own. They tell it at wedding anniversaries, birthdays, 10 year reunions. The kind of story where everyone sighs in the end, even if it was textbook material, seen in a few movies, and nothing out of the ordinary. It was beautiful. It was everything up till the happily ever after in a fairytale. A brew of all the right spells. But then the spell wears off, when there’s a new story to tell. Your story. The hospital one. That day when they were deciding what to name you. That day your mum endured the most painful and precious moment of her life. The day your dad saw you, and felt like a father. The day you were pink, bald and of no use to the Tooth Fairy. Your birthday.
17 of those later, they’re still telling that story. The story that changed their lives forever. This time, no one sighs. No one laughs. Tears in a mother’s eyes. Nothing’s changed. The living room is still the same shade of cream, with the same oak finish furniture, the same glasses everyone’s holding in their hands, the same people. Something’s changed. You’re no longer there. There’s an empty seat at the dining table where you had your meals everyday as a family. Your bed looks like no one’s been in it for a while. Your shoes are collecting dust in the closet. Your best friend walks to school alone now. You’re in the family photographs, the ones on a mountain top, by the beach, at a theme park, on a birthday, after a school play. Your mum and dad are in each other’s arms, with you squashed somewhere in between, or dad’s giving you a piggyback ride with your arms around his neck, or you’re planting a kiss on mum’s cheek. Wearing your best smiles. Smiles that could have produced the worlds greatest Patronus. Memories. Stories. The greatest story your parents ever had. Ever will.
Shakespeare lives on through his words, through his works. Loved ones live on through our memories, through our hearts. There will be times when we will see them again. During those moments many, many years from now, when we're in our room in the middle of the night, sitting with the lights out, listening to a deafening silence, the memory clasped tightly in our hands, the moments doing reruns in our heads. Many many years from now, i will be holding this article in mine.
So guess what? I want to tell you stories. Stories of 16 birthdays. Stories that take place in a world where high school is the last big adventure. Stories where the last memory you had was blowing 16 candles. But how do I tell this story? A sweet sixteen? How do I tell my side, when I was stuck in a room with you?
Here’s what I know about Harprem Rakhneet Kaur. Knew. She was from Lahad Datu. She loved to dance and enjoyed Punjabi songs. Every time she looked at you, it’s like she hadn’t seen you in years. Like Manpreet, she was a sucker for chocolates. She had a dad who called her every chance he could to make sure she was fine. Her favourite colour was green. She had cancer. She was 16.
Ranjit Singh. Form 4 student in
5 bloody lines. It’s all I know about you. I knew you for as long as 5 sentences. Yet when you left, my world had a few less smiles in it. I want to cry but I can’t. I’m ashamed. What is it like to lose someone? To stare at their contact number in my phone for hours, thinking about all those times I had to dial that number? To enter their room after being gone for years, running my fingers along the clothes, looking through the shoebox with our pictures together as kids, scanning the CDs on the rack, their songs playing in my head exactly the way we used to sing them out loud? I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to know, but I think the cost is more than I can bear.
Harprem’s message was ‘find the joy in your life’. Our lives are streams flowing into the same river towards whatever heaven lies on the mist beyond the falls. Someday I will close my eyes and let the waters take me home.
I’m deeply proud that they found it worth their while to know me. So one day, when I go to some final resting place, if I happen to wake up next to a certain wall and a gate, I hope they are there to vouch for me, and show me the ropes on the other side. Even now I can’t claim to understand the measure of a life. But I can tell you this. I know that when they died, their eyes were closed, their hearts were open, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and someone somewhere in the world was having the happiest day of their life.
I need you to do me a favour. Yes, you. The one who’s reading this post now. I need 2 minutes of your night. Your every night. For every car crash you read in the papers, for every loved one you lose, for every hurricane you see on the news, for every casualty of war, for every celebrity dying of an overdose, for every child dying of starvation in a refugee camp, for every panda bear being hunted by poachers, for every ant you’ve accidentally stepped on, for every branch you’ve broken, for every patient in a hospital. For every Harprem Rakhneet. For every Ranjit. 2 minutes of lost keys. 2 minutes of silence, with your eyes closed. To remember the people of the people of the people of the people of the people of the people we know. Because apparently, we are connected to each and every person in the rest of the world through just 6 people.
And now, tell someone you love them. Tell everyone.
Dedicated to Harprem Rakhneet Kaur (1991 – 2008), and Ranjit Singh (1992 – 2008)
We will see you again. Till then, Carpe Diem.