Flames and Ashes

It is a Sunday morning and folks are huddled up in sheets.  The protesting whine of autos whisking the unwilling souls to their workplaces has been lulled for the interregnum. The birds are a riot of notes and I am trying to savour the unique melody of each in isolation. Some warblings are perennial and pervasive like a finely falling drizzle. Some murmur and rustle like winds through the dancing mass of leaves. Some hit the cochlear organs loud and sudden like a trumpet in sodden air. Crows are raucous and random, cynical and abrasive in their reports.

minlawMy thoughts return to my mother-in-law who refused to emerge from a jungle of emotions while she lived. Hankering for a house full of noisy children constantly in need of pampering, she felt robbed when her chicks grew up and took off like migratory birds. She was forever scheming to have them all under the same roof on one pretext or the other and did succeed occasionally. Her world would be restored with the prattling and pandemonium of her grandchildren and of course, her own, who’d regress to their olden ways.  Sadly, for such a loving woman, her two sons who stayed with her had a relentless drought of babies. And when they were visited by a sapling at long last, my father-in-law went the way of all flesh without much of a goodbye. The magic of little ones frittered away as her world crumbled around her into meaningless heaps of gravel. Not to be undone, she lifted herself on her tiny wings and vanished into skies of oblivion on the world sparrow day.

Twice after that, I have dreamt of a child being born hither or thither in bustling households. And although three fourth an atheist of Hindu scriptures, I wish her to be installed into a crowded family in her rebirth.

I am still to buy the Ferrari that I can sell to become a monk. Meanwhile, I have contemplated selling off my old Samurai bike but I am not sure what it would make out of me. You may attribute the desire to the usual fit of blues to those in the professions of banking and blogging simultaneously. This bike though, officially died sometime in 2012, having completed the fifteen years of life granted to it by the gods of road transport. It is technically eligible for a rebirth of another five years but considering that its siblings have all become extinct, I feel lesser and lesser inclined to intrude on its coma. Again, it being a cadaver, having a dead bike rolling on the roads may attract steep penalties. The insurance companies won’t touch it with a bargepole. The transport companies won’t touch it without an insurance scroll. And the desert state that can grant it life lies more than eight hundred miles up north.

Before you marvel at my callousness, remember that unlike the previous pair of wheels I had, it hardly invokes good memories. It broke down the very day I rolled it down the showroom’s ramp. I suspect the world outside proved too much for it and many unpleasant skirmishes it had with the others of the species only confirms my doubts. Worse, I was often let down when my newly discovered conjugal bliss would be riding pillion. Eventually, it ditched me decidedly on a highway and it shames me to state how the culprit was a lowly scooter. The incident tweaked my metatarsal bones forever, not to speak of the irreparable mauling of my ego.  But then it had dragged me clear off a speeding lorry before its engine died.

So, dear mother-in-law, I truly don’t understand what happens to people when they move beyond the thresholds of this world. And since no one has ever returned to scare or regale the sagging souls left behind, I will set free this motorbike by rolling it down the landfill at a nearby creek. And it will be my prayer to the powers that be, to grant you both a much happier afterlife.


  1. So your local birds are “a riot of notes”? I wonder how they would compare with the birds in my neighbourhood, to which I’ve given such names as the telephone ringer, the fire alarm, the laughing chicken and the demented referee. You have such a magical touch with your use of words that I can relate to your stories in a way that isn’t possible with most writers.

    1. Dennis, that indeed is the case, especially in the morning. I absolutely loved your monikers the telephone ringer, the fire alarm, the laughing chicken and the demented referee! I guess I’ll need to hit the backwaters deeper to meet their Indian counterparts!

      Thank you for those kind words.

  2. Ah US, your stories & reminiscences are ablaze with colour as always: an elixir to us sagging souls left behind with our feet firmly on the ground.
    Cheers, ic

  3. What a heartfelt, poignant tribute. May she fly peacefully in the skies and bless the family with her love and warmth always.

  4. I’m glad you’re alive to write! California bike riders seem more likely to survive the rigors of the road with their helmets strapped tightly in place, for one or both passengers, and no helmetless children on board or schizophrenic traffic to endure. Perhaps your mother-in-law is soaring through the highways and byways of her afterlife on a gilded Harley. I love your writing.

    I’m headed back to Mumbai June 4, with a brand new shoulder and a few less pounds.

    1. Welcome back to the Mad City, Carmen! I am sure you know a thing or two of the traffic around here. I am happy for your good health. Thanks for stopping by.

  5. A heartfelt and poignant tribute to your MIL. Your description as always is impeccable…

  6. I really enjoyed this piece, Uma, especially your description of your mother-in-law and how she longed for a home filled with children and grandchildren. She reminds me of my own mother who came from a small family. When she married my father, she got her wish for a large family (I have 5 siblings, and now there are LOTS of grandchildren). I pay attention to my dreams, so I was very interested in your dreams of a child being born into a bustling household. Your wish for your mother-in-law to be installed into a large family at rebirth is lovely. Speaking of birds, there’s a bard owl outside my window whose hooting wakes me up in the morning; it’s such a rare sound here inside the city. You definitely know how to paint a picture with words.

    1. Women like her are a vanishing tribe, Helena. I am sure your mother has revelled in the extended family. Even I have as many siblings.

      I have wondered about the significance of dreams myself. I guess they project our own preoccupations and beliefs.

      Birds and their calls can be startlingly unique and so can be waking up to the hooting of a bard owl morning after morning! Thanks for the kind words.

  7. uma, I love your mother-in-law already and am fully prepared to be one of her howling brood in the hereafter. People who love people are indeed the luckiest people in the world. You have the true writer’s gift of seeing into the heart and soul of another person.

    1. NP, I will pray to the Gods to listen to your wish, whenever that is applicable. You are a tender soul yourself. Thanks for those beautiful words.

  8. Whenever I ask my mother to go on a vacation with my father, she tells me that she does not like to go alone with her husband without the family. Yes, shocking but true. After reading your post, I believe that this is an acceptable phenomenon.
    A beautiful post.

    1. Geetashree, in a way these musings are already being published at this weblog. True, having them in print would increase the readership. Thanks for the encouragement. 🙂

  9. How our surroundings keep reminding us of people who were once an integral part of our lives. But, nothing remains as it was and we keep going on. Changing ways, shedding skins, adapting and hoping for better and best.

    Loved your idea of tribute and the tiny little details which made it more special 🙂

    1. That is so true, Jyoti. Nothing is for keeps except probably memories and we must adjust our sails according to the winds. Thank you for your beautiful input.

  10. Refreshing tribute, full of vitality but sans mushy sentimentalism. Here’s looking forward to more such gems from you.

    1. Bhaswati, emotions befog everyone but the vision is clearer afterwards. I tend to let it pass and it gives me time to reflect.

  11. Fitting tribute to your mother-in-law. Interesting how you brought the bike out of nowhere and connected it with the tribute.

    1. I first met my mother-in-law in the same year as my bike. Her end was rather untimely and it reminded me of the fate of the two-wheeler. Disposing off the latter is symbolic of letting go.

      Thank you, TF.

  12. Everybody has memories, dark, bright and grey ones. But not many can convey it this beautifully so that those who listen to you would revel in your cherished memories so much as you do. The act of letting go can sometimes be tougher than holding on. I have been reminded of this quote many a time in my life too. I sincerely hope you let go off the sadness imparted, but nonetheless, hold onto the beautiful memories of your mother-in-law.

    1. Maliny, I am not sure how well I have been able to express the swirl of thoughts but I can summon and lose myself in those memories. Yes, letting go is painful. Thanks for your serene words.

  13. Amen to that. May they both have a very happy afterlife.
    If they could read this, I’m sure they’d be smiling. 🙂

    I remember your posts on your father and father-in-law. They will all continue to live through these lovely tributes. 🙂

    Have a great week, USP.

    1. But Divya, I don’t want to be writing tributes anymore! Gods seem to have other ideas though. Thank you for your encouraging promise and good wishes. Wish a great week to you too!

    1. That vow ensures that I’ll never turn a monk, which reminds me you have missed my previous post, The Monk in the Rain!

      Thank you.

  14. I like how although you are affected by her passing, there is an acceptance of the inevitable and even more, the warm affection you have for your mother-in-law comes through.

    1. Corinne, what do you expect from a man who has faced three funerals within a span of fifteen odd months? Nature has decided to educate me fast. Yes, the flame of affection is aflutter in this heart. Thank you, so much!

      1. I’m sorry to hear that, Uma. Life is so unfathomable most of the time. I guess it’s best for us to be open to what we’re supposed to learn – eventually it all makes sense ….at least, I hope it does!

  15. I love the heartfelt, poignant tribute to your mother. I could sense the affection you have for her though your descriptive words.

    1. Dear Dark Night, they say you should feel lighter when you have released some of the angst. It is my attempt to that end. Thanks.

  16. As always.. heartfelt and lovely. As I truly believe ‘you are not measured by the wealth you amassed but by the positive influences you’ve had over other lives’ I am sure your mother-in-law is extremely rich in that context.

  17. We know death is inevitable but it becomes so diifcult to accept it, they leave behind a void which is so difficult to fill.. May the departed ones rest in peace and living one get courage to live without them

  18. Some tributes may be a mere string of words, Uma – yours have the power to bring the people and the setting to life in startlingly vivid details and make the reader feel the melancholy and affection that you feel. May your wishes for your MIL come true for her.

  19. “I am still to buy the Ferrari that I can sell to become a monk” ~ This made me smile

    A beautiful tribute with some very beautiful words. Hope she is reborn in India, greater chance of having a big family with loads of people. 🙂

  20. Evocative, my friend. Your m-i-l would be proud of you.

    You opened with a theme that’s close to my heart … birds and bird-call. Just this morning the incessant calls of birds in my neighborhood reminded me to write that much delayed article about them. I am way behind schedule in my writing projects.

    Your kind thoughts for the dearly departed create fabulous images thanks to the felicity of language that you possess. I am sure she is at a happier place.

    And your article was a treat to read.

    1. Jayadev, daybreak amidst the calls of birds is an exhilarating experience. Let’s listen oftener to the birds of our neighbourhood -they will liberate us from worldly shackles. Remember we are birds of the same feather…!

      Thanks for your unbridled encouragement.

      1. Absolutely! That’s so true … nothing like birdsong to get you off to a good start.

        Cheers to those feathers we share. 🙂

  21. A beautiful tribute to your mother in law, US.
    I am glad only your metatarsals and ego got hurt in that serious accident.
    Your words and wordplay make me smile, but the emotions underneath touch deeply and evoke nostalgia and make me contemplative. I didn’t know one could write something simultaneously poignant and humorous. Irony, yes, but humor, far more tricky to pull off.

    1. You are right about the metatarsals, Nomad -it could have been worse!

      I am glad you liked the monkish reflections. It gives me strength to carry on scribbling. A million thanks to you!

  22. this is the first time i have come across such a vivid description of the awakening birds. I am an eighth standard student and i am highly impressed with the way you present a solemn topic in a very humorous manner. Your meaningful words have touched my heart and soul deeply and will remain there as an indelible memory.

    1. Little fairy, I remember when my late father would be struck by some deep sadness he’d begin to smile and shake his head. It seems, I am a chip of the old block after all! Thank you so much and May God Bless You!

  23. This is delightful. I sent it on to a friend who loves Ferraris. Perhaps at the end, I will ask to be simply rolled down to a nearby stream. You’re a wonderful writer.

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