She opened the cupboard door as a matter of habit.
For many years many mornings she had opened that cupboard door. Inside it was where her “casual clothes”, jeans, tracksuits, nightwear and such went in neat piles. Now there was a row of her deceased father’s clothes.
Two items stood out to her both the times she opened the cupboard as a matter of habit. A deep inky blue shirt lined with muted red stripes. Made of Thai silk. She had bought the fabric in Bangkok and he had it custom tailored at his favorite tailor, Srijana Tailor in New Road.
He had worn that shirt several times including to a cousin’s wedding. She remembered exactly how he looked in it, a one second memory flashed by of him, smiling, in that shirt. The second item of clothing was a smartly lined grey colored Banana Republic woolen jacket she had bought in New York many years ago.
He liked good quality fine things, making mention on many occasions about the high quality blankets he had bought in France that lasted more than 30 years and how we couldn’t get such quality any more.
He sometimes looked down on cheap quality China made American things, many a times when on a shopping trip, feeling the fabric and showing his disappointment by turning his nose slightly up and in at the same time or quickly releasing said poor quality clothing.
Although during her carefree college days she personally enjoyed wearing second hand clothing, likely of unknown dead people bought at hipster vintage shops close to “the village” or from the Salvation Army, she remembered vaguely making a mental note of his personal taste and when at the Banana Republic flagship store in Manhattan, she saw the jacket, a little out of her usual student price range, hanging in a row with others like it, she thought the quality might just pass his quality meter, he just might like it, and not discard it or put it away in some forgotten corner, like junk.
In fact he wore it on many occasions. It would have been good on a chilly Kathmandu morning like today, she thought. Not quite winter, not quite spring.
She missed her father and wanted to take in her hands the soft silken clothing, maybe put them up to her nose to smell them, or caress her cheeks with them, or even like in those dramatic films, wear them and walk around or lie in them. But she just stood there staring at the clothes then quietly shut the cupboard door wondering when next she opens the cupboard by habit will those clothes still be there?
She wiped her freely flowing tears and shook herself into her tough girl mode.
Besides being from a society of stoic Buddhists, it’s not right to cry over dead people, no matter how dear or how many memories you have of them, nor hold attachment to “people” or “things” not even to “places” or our “personal stories” even if they are complex memories that seem so real. It’s all a dream, they say.
Maybe those red robe wearing lamas, some fat and bald, some naked wearing no clothing from the waist up, and some with crazy hair and bad teeth are right after all.
As followers of the Buddha, everything they say and do is to protect our minds and point to reality for what it is, an error of our ways in perceiving, apparently. From the start, we’ve got it all wrong, apparently.
If she got it right, maybe she wouldn’t cry nor want to dance with a private memory of a loved one? Maybe she wouldn’t feel so attached to particularly those two articles of clothing, the ones she gifted her father?
This is all a part of the big suffering of human life, they say, one has to die and attachment is bad, and crying makes it difficult for the deceased to let go and go on to wherever it is next they are going to, and for those left behind too.
Then there is your windhorse (loongtar) energy to think about. If your wind energies go out of whack then you get what is commonly in western terminology called “depression”.
In her culture, it’s called “loong”. Like for someone who is a bit down or has the blues, they’ll say “oh he has loong”. It’s believed in Tibetan Buddhist Ayurvedic medical systems that humans are made of subtle energies that cannot be seen under a microscope.The main function of “Loong” is to carry the movements of mind, speech and body and there are many kinds of “loong.”
Too bad, she thinks, that she is such a huge crybaby and too bad her tough society doesn’t tolerate cry babies one bit.
So each time a precious teardrop formed at the corner of her eye, she had to make sure she shoved it back in, which as much as she tried, was close to impossible due mainly to the law of gravity. How can something that is already mid way going down go back up? A tissue might have been more handy than reprimanding taunts of “whatever you do, don’t cry!!!”.
To deal with this most taxing situation, she went to Delima’s restaurant in Thamel, “the tourist hub of Kathmandu,” and without posting on Facebook her presence there at said day and time at said place and neither taking nor posting photos of said moment nor of the contents on the plate and in the glass in front of her, she devoured not one but two of the “house special”, two juicy, gigantic mushroom beef steaks and to make sure it went down smoothly she also drank several orders of a pink concoction aptly named “Sexy Lady”. That was on the eve of the day they officially bade farewell to him and got his corpse readied for the grand cremation the next day if her hazy memory from the chaos surrounding that event served her correctly.
So what, she had thought, if like good, upright, moral code following Buddhists they were serving only vegetarian food at the memorial and of course no alcohol. She reasoned with herself by saying her father loved a good steak and so the double steak along with a generous sprinkling of her salty tears was in memory of her father and she didn’t care one bit who judged her how, if she was an awful Buddhist society member who cried when it hurt, or ate meat and consumed “sexy ladies” the thought of which would surely get the tongues of several society ladies wagging about what an awful daughter she was, crying when asked not to, and secretly eating sacrilegious meat and consuming unholy “sexy ladies” at the time of her fathers “passing”.
Three months after her father “passed”, she also danced away her blues at a party in public view. Afterwards in hushed tones voices went circling around the Boudhanath stupa. “Oh my god! How disrespectful! Dancing before the required quota of mourning which is set by society at one year.”
Only if they knew her father like she did. After his own father had died, she remembers, he didn’t forbid any of his family members from celebrating life, eating steak, singing, dancing, or wearing jewelry, and neither did he force anyone to carry the appropriate society approved expression or suck back their flowing tears. What’s the society approved expression for “I just lost my father”, anyways?
She remembered, when she laughed, he smiled, when she cried, which she did many times, sometimes for silly reasons sometimes for serious reasons, he held her hand. Tight.
So yes, the steak, the sexy ladies, and the dancing; it was her spontaneous decision and hers alone.
If she wasn’t allowed to cry spontaneously at least she could eat steak, drink and dance spontaneously. But the only way for her to keep a buffer from society’s vicious and frankly ridonkulous demands, to not cry or laugh through the highly choreographed ceremonies, the circus of death she liked to call it, to deal with the private pain of losing a once vibrant father now shriveled and cold, and all that comes with it, her emotions demanded to be masked under layers of light banter, mindless tasks like serving tea and biscuits to people who didn’t really want them but politely accepted them anyways, and tending to people who all looked either very, very stoic or who while stuffing their faces with greasy chowmein had a million opinions on everything related to her father, like they knew him that well, was to sit in formal meditation.
Just let the thoughts come and go; happy, painful, angry whatever. Just let it come and let it go. Oh and most important, don’t react. Just sit and do nothing. Like this, she just watched so many precious teardrops forming and unforming, and was even able to smile at them. Soon it became like watching a delicious Bollywood Hindi family melodrama movie with intervals for popcorn ofcourse.
The lead protagonist in the movie was her. Well, these days there are movies with female leads. Like that movie about the famous singer from the south of India who gets fat and drinks a lot upon her decline. Or the journalist who find out “who killed Jessica”.
In this melodrama, the female lead protagonist’s father has died. There are many flash back scenes constructed from random memories, there is some semblance of a main plot, and quite a few sub plots.
The narrative is not quite linear and there is no catharsis, really. Just a huge sigh of relief when the movie is over.
This sitting and doing nothing wasn’t a new activity for her as she had been doing it for several years, through the most difficult years of her father’s decline, but just not so publicly with people staring, wondering if she had lost the plot.
She wants to ask her mother why her father’s clothes are still hung up like that but she doesn’t.
Some questions are better left unasked like some cupboard doors are better left unopened.
(But now that it’s opened, and whats opened cant be unopened).