Halfway through the year there always comes a moment that makes me sit back in shock. Partly it’s the awful realisation that the undifferentiated hill of paper on my desk, which has developed pockets of slime and may or may not have flies buzzing around it, has to be sorted into a decipherable tax return, substantiated by more bits of paper that I will shortly have to start calling around for.
But mostly it’s because June 1 is the anniversary of my father’s death, and I’m always appalled by how much time has passed since he went permanently AWOL that beautiful sunny Saturday. Next Monday will be seven years. I’m still trying to get to grips with the fact that he has missed all the things that have happened in that time.
Two of his three children, one brother-in-law, two nieces and three nephews (at a minimum count) have gotten married; one niece, two grandchildren and three grand-nieces have entered the world, and another child is on the way. Two of his family have published books; one has held two artistic exhibitions; three have bought houses and one is fighting a legal battle to keep hers; one has lost a job; one is separated from a spouse; one has lost a companion. Two friends have had cancer. His father died, and so did his mother-in-law. His oldest friend is battling to keep a limb after a terrible motorcycle accident.
The US went to war in Iraq, Pakistan became the Taliban’s playing field, India elected two governments, there was another Isreli-Palestine war, the war in Sri Lanka ended, the Indian stock market shot up to unbelievable heights, and now the world economy is dragging itself around like a sick duck.
In other words the world has moved on, as it does. People relentlessly continue to laugh and die and be born and fight and make art and screw up the environment and buy high-tech toys, just as if nothing had happened. Wise writers sum this up beautifully by spending half a novel building up a character, killing them off in one spare sentence, and spending the next half on other people’s lives.
C’est la vie, and accepting that this is natural and inevitable is a good way to start accepting your own importance as far as the universe is concerned, which is—by a quick, back-of-the-envelope calculation—nil. The less one gets this, the more prone one is to putting up futile resistance, like building giant statues of oneself with taxpayer money (this will get the world to remember you a for a little bit longer, but not in ways you really want).
This year we’re going to mark my father’s seventh year of absence by going up to beautiful Sitla Estate in Kumaon, which is a collection of guest rooms run by a friend on an orchard on top of a ridge. Here the mountains are splashed against half the horizon, the forest is alive with birds and animals, and the night sky is ablaze with stars.
Besides the obvious joys of walking in the hills, of eating breakfast beneath a hundred-year-old plum tree and lunch amid pear trees, taking your aperitif in front of a bonfire on the verandah in the twilight, and dining in a candlelit, bukhari-warmed room, Sitla also has one especially strange and lovely attribute: time both flies as well as grinds almost to a halt there. The hours between waking and sleeping are both fleeting and stretchy, so that you can stay for three days that feel like one, but dream for weeks between lunch and dinner.
It will be the perfect place for us to linger over our memories without wallowing in them. If only I had an address, I’d send my father a postcard saying “Wish you were here.”