“Jab jab tumhen bhulaayaa tum aur yaad aaye
Jaate nahin hain dil se ab tak tumaahre saaye” – Rajendra Krishan
[With each attempt to forget you, I remembered you more intensely
Till now my heart has not (managed to) rid itself of your reflection]
We went out for dinner with friends that we had not seen for some time. Just as we were seated in the restaurant, D extended his hand across the table and showed me his wrist. I said, “Nice watch” and moved on. He said, “No, look at it. This is 95 years old. My grandfather wore it”. It suddenly shone a whole new light on an ordinary, small wristwatch! I now saw it not as a chronograph encased in a metal and glass case, but the repository of a whole life of memories and a symbol of admiration and love for an ancestor. The twinkle and pride in D’s eyes as he talked about the watch and times spent with his grandfather have now also become a part of me.
My soon-to-be five years old and sagely granddaughter was home for a “sleepover”. She always likes to spend time looking over the bookshelf in my room and says, “Nana, you have sooooo many books and lots of cool stuff to entertain you,” as she gingerly lifts and pats each small statuette of Ganesh, the Laughing Buddha or another curio. Then, she always looks at the picture of my mother on the bookshelf and wants to know where she is and wants to hear stories of my growing up with her around. This simple request always brings up a memory that I did not even know existed in my mind. A picture or a trinket is transformed into a symbol that represents a very special part of several lives.
We have friends that share their passion for books and music with us. Almost always, as we sit chatting contentedly after an enjoyable meal, something will trigger S to state animatedly, “I must tell you this story. Growing up in Lucknow….”. In an instant we are transported magically into another world, a different era, to an enactment from a personal life drama that each of us has shared with our very own, special cast of characters.
Thoughts transformed and shared through symbols – whether a song, a particular dish and how it was either prepared or savored, a passage in a book, or a dress – serve to coalesce life experiences spanning whole years into instantaneous moments evocative of pride, sorrow, joy or reflection. Even as we share these special moments collectively, the emotions that surface remain unique to our individual experiences and perceptions.
The celebrated author Deepak Chopra has pointed out in one of his books (either Quantum Healing or Ageless Body Timeless Mind) the power of our mind, such that the mere whiff of a particular perfume can instantly bring up the memory of special moments with a loved one and even generate associated olfactory and other responses. The smell of a neighborhood barbecue can project you back to that special beach picnic with friends many years ago.
For several years now, my end-of-day routine is to sit quietly for a few moments before getting into bed, to thank all those beings – teachers, family members, friends and colleagues and even some strangers – who, while no longer with me physically are forever an intrinsic part of me. The Namokar Mantra of the Jain community reminds us to respectfully thank all those that have preceded us in this life journey and help to shape us. It is not that one must not forget; it is important that I must remember and honor the memory of those that have already trod this path.
An excellent sher (possibly by my favorite Ahmad Faraz) expresses this beautifully. Interestingly, the simple placement of the comma in the closing line, or the way it is recited can completely change the meaning of this verse:
“Woh unhe yaad kare jissne bhulaayaa ho kabhi
Humne unko bhulaayaa, naa kabhi yaad kiyaa”
“Humne unko bhulaayaa naa, kabhi yaad kiyaa”
[Let the one who has forgotten try and remember that person (beloved)
I have forgotten, (and) not even occasionally remember that person
I have never forgotten, (and) occasionally remember that person]