Wednesday, December 24, 2008

All about our mothers

Condolence is a tricky thing, at least for me. When someone has been bereaved, it's difficult to know what note to strike and what not to say. I remember a couple of disastrous efforts on my part, both involving colleagues who had lost their mothers. To one of them, who I was meeting after a long time, I mumbled "I heard about your mother" in what I thought was a sorrowful and compassionate tone, hoping I could quickly come up with a follow-up line. But in my embarrassment I spoke in a thick voice as if I was chewing toffee, and he quite naturally mis-heard. "What about my mother?" he asked, glaring at me. "She died, that's what about my mother". So that conversation ended right there.

On the other occasion I met a different colleague soon after his mother had passed away and, for reasons I cannot now fathom, I started out with "Is everything alright?". This person, who's never been very fond of me, looked extremely annoyed and said "No, everything is not alright. My mother died. So everything is definitely not alright." Oops. Clumsy me.

I suppose it can be hard for people to read your intentions and your confusion. Moreover in the cases at hand I believe the people concerned did not like me to start with (don't be shocked dear reader, such people really do exist!!). Anyhow I believe that I handle these things better after all these years (or as one might tastelessly put it, "many colleagues' mothers later").

My clumsiness aside, most condolers seem to belong to one of two extremes. One type will weep, clutch your hand and tell you in dramatic tones how sad it all is and how awful you must be feeling. On the other side there are the insensitive people who bluster their way through, with something like "Hi, old chap. Pity about your mother, eh? Good for her though, really, at her age. Life moves on, doesn't it - bought some new stocks lately?".

And there's a media version that falls somewhere in between the two. Barkha Dutt of NDTV is said to have asked families of the Bombay attack victims questions like "how do you feel, now that all your loved ones are dead?". (To be fair to Barkha, I don't think she quite said that, and I basically appreciate her and her reporting though I'm aware that most of my friends don't).

Now the reason why all these thoughts passed through my head is that Bombay is currently going through some confusion about how to deal with the terror attacks that took place four weeks ago today. Is it a continuing tragedy, not to mention that the surviving terrorist is being held within our midst, so therefore we must speak in hushed tones and avoid celebrations and parties? Or does life move on and we once more indulge our obsessions with the stock market and celebrate the re-opening of "iconic" hotels?

Some will tell me this is all quite irrelevant to the majority since it affects only the upper crust of society. And such people have already been roundly (and rather deservedly) condemned for their self-centred, Taj-centred, Oberoi-centred, not-CST-station-centred view of life. But I'm afraid that betrays ignorance of the soul of Bombay. Partying is an epidemic, an addiction or at least a regular habit in this city for much more than the Taj Hotel crowd. Hardly a couple of weeks can go by without some new festival popping up and providing yet another excuse to dance. And here we are at Christmas and the New Year.

I'm not exactly plugged in to the party circuit, but am watching with interest and a tiny bit of empathy as the confusion plays out.

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