In Commas and Vagueness
I hope the rains of this land meet you as you depart.
This wish of a rainy rendezvous escaped from my mouth as a mumble when I read about Irrfan’s death. “Irrfan Khan: Slumdog Millionaire and Life of Pi actor dies,” buzzed my phone as I ran home to save myself from the sudden downpour that took over Sydney that day. Somehow when I read the BBC article about the sudden demise of an actor who I revered, my mind vaguely enlisted:
Irrfan’s death, rains, other-landly rains.
The stringing of random words by commas birthed a certain feeling — familial, flying between two worlds, natural — just something less distant than calling Irrfan the “Slumdog Millionaire and Life of Pi” actor. I announced his death to my extended family in Australia, and they expressed some remorse, but not the kind that reflected mine. They made a faint pcchh sound, a magnet-like sound that I have usually observed Indians make when they wish to express utter sympathy or tiredness. They did not feel any commas or vagueness, just a courteous sorrow associated with being away from India for fifteen years.
In that moment, I desperately called my father. I wish I could attach the voice clip of our call, but this Whatsapp chat partly demonstrates the theatrics of our conversation:
Abba, as you can see, is an avid watcher of art movies and unconventional cinema. With him, I have watched the Hindi adaptation of Pride and Prejudice on Doordarshan channel (a government public service provider) and witnessed actors perform on stage at city theatres. Which is to say, my father’s mourning of celebrities, especially the Indian ones, hits different. When he talks about actors and their movies, he reminisces about attending film festivals and watching internationally acclaimed movies alone in the local theatres. We do not share any kinship with Irrfan, you see. We simply remember him differently. I have a mid-world, wispy relationship with Irrfan’s memory. When he died in The Namesake (a necessary spoiler, okay?), I reminisce crying in my flight just half an hour before my layover. I was in the air, in the middle of both my homes, winter in one place and summer in other. My father reminisces watching him as an extra in a low resolution, probably stooping every three minutes light. I am not claiming that we saw Irrfan Khan as a family because my father is too practical a man to immerse himself in fandoms. But, I called my father because we shared something personal in how we remembered Irrfan, he saw Irrfan in screens blurrier and more intimate than Netflix screens. Thinking of watching Irrfan the last time in a Hong Kong Airlines TV screen and my dad watching him on Doordarshan, my tears enlisted:
Irrfan’s death, rains, other-landly rains, mid-home grieving.
They say a lot gets lost in translation. A lot also gets lost when the news of demise from another continent reaches you. There is a particular third-party solemnity to learning about the death of Indian actors when you have lived in another country for so long. I do not know that yet, but my uncle and aunty say so. However, my aunty, amidst the discussion of Irrfan’s death talked about how Sydney receiving rains after so long is a blessing. How people forgot about the absence of rain amidst the COVID-19 clamour, and how easily people forgot the terror of the Australian bushfires. It was this exact moment when I felt an influx of pointy words and ideas hitting my gut, you know. Felt like broken embers of words and phenomenon are being pelted towards my stomach and they are stringing with commas like:
Irrfan’s death, rains, other-landly rains, mid-home grieving, translations, fires, two-homed funeral.
I think that day this vagueness joined by commas made me wonder: when you are juggling between two lands, do all the events somehow do tend to be related? Is Irrfan’s death saying something about the rains? Is my identity a curious case of commas? Just how I cried about The Namesake among the cloud, how my dad watched Irrfan on hazy screens, will the mist that this rain creates touch Irrfan as he departs? My aunt says you tend to forget the magnitude of a few things when something else arises. Just like we forgot about the rains, my Australian family forgot how to mourn Bollywood actors with the same fervour. They do make the idiosyncratic sound of remorse, but there is this distance of forgetting that they can’t cross I believe. Living in India and Australia, I always hope that good things that I am witnessing in either of the places meet my people on the other land –
I hope this sweet Alphonso mango nectar reaches you in Sydney, Aunt Gretta. I pray the purple Jacaranda bloom falls on your kurta, maa. I hope the rains of this land meet you as you depart, Irrfan.