“Learning to Fly”
Well, we finally made it folks. We made it to the final chapter, arguably an outro rather than a full chapter, and I want to thank you for making it this far with me. While my instincts want to focus on tying everything up together, I will avoid that because there really isn’t a conclusion to a lot of what’s been written here. It’s a story that is still being written and arguably feelings that will continue to develop and change throughout the course of my life. I would be very curious to revisit this when I do my thirty wise thoughts in thirty years shtick, but for now, as a final bow, I want to talk about why I chose to publish this collection, because some of the chapters have existed (albeit in a briefer format) as ideas or scribbles for some of my future personal essays, but in recent months, I was forced to confront uncomfortable thoughts around permanence, life, and the all too real questions around death. I have a rather odd relationship with death, in that I am not scared of it. This is why I feel rather unshaken in saying that I am not promised a twenty-eighth Birthday. Yes, I would love to celebrate it and heck, I would absolutely love to live to a healthy and able age of eighty, but I am also mindful of how fragile life is. For those who haven’t had to yet sit through my retellings of each of these retellings, let me simply say that I have nearly died three times. The first time it happened, I was a wee baby, no more than twenty-one days. So obviously don’t remember that, although I do remember living through the aftermath of that. I grew up a sick kid, deeply aware of how I was not like the other kids and also how I could not eat too much salt, gain too much weight, and how I had to run to the bathroom every hour like clockwork because I genuinely could not tell when my bladder was full.
The second near-death experience is the one that I have memories of, but one that I wouldn’t truly understand till I was much older.
I was ten, recovering after my second bout of Septicemia and was being rolled away into the Operation Theatre along a long corridor with shiny lights above me. Arguably funny in hindsight (in a darkly comedic way) but absolutely horrific to hear at the time, were the wise words of a Junior Doctor who thought it prudent to remind me that this might be the last time I may ever see my mum so I should say my goodbyes now. And if you’re shocked at hearing it you should be because all I could think about as they were wheeling me away was how I’d never see my mum again and because your man was a doctor, he clearly knew what was happening so if he felt I was going to die; then I was going to die!
Well, I didn’t, clearly, and you know what - Fuck That Guy!
The most recent tryst with death came when I was eighteen. My dad had just restored a 1982 Suzuki 800 and it really was something to behold! Christmas day, with a friend in town, I took the keys to the car and decided to drive my friend home in it. I was careful and thought that a quiet Christmas afternoon, was the best time to drive it.
I pulled out of our house, merged onto the road, and reached the quiet junction some five hundred metres away from our house.
I put the car back into first gear, my friend appreciating the smooth and swift movements of the gearbox.
I flipped the indicator stalk to signal a right turn, relishing in the sound of the perfect yet measured slow ticking. My foot on the break, another on the clutch.
I looked to my right, to make sure that there was no traffic behind us and was in the process of turning my head to the left when I heard my friend scream and felt the impact.
My world went black.
At that moment, I was washed with a serene feeling. A calmness. I remember thinking to myself, “shit… okay… this is what it feels like then.” And I thought of the things that I would have loved to do, the things I never could, and being able to say things to the people in my life that I didn’t. And that regret, of leaving things unfinished and perhaps more importantly, of not having lived my life authentically and fully was a horrible feeling to have felt in what I genuinely thought were my last moments.
I woke up to the smell of burning rubber, the dashboard lay on my lap, and I didn’t need a birds-eye view to know the car was totalled. We had been hit head-on by a drunk driver but had miraculously survived. It’ll be ten years soon and I still have scars that remind me how Christ wasn’t the only one reborn! (The Delusions of Grandeur are so real, it’s nauseating.) However, that deep sense of not having lived to my full and honest expression became deeply entrenched and an intrinsic part of how I live or at the very least, have tried to live since that accident. Of course, I’ve missed the mark rather shockingly at times, as is evident in this exercise, but I find that when I stray or deviate from that authenticity, life jolts me out of inaction and forces me to really face the music. More recently, it was Maggie’s passing, my trusty companion and friend. It’s hard to write about someone, who for many of you is nothing but a glimpse that you see through my recollections. Yet I assure you, the real thing was well and truly greater and better than my words about her could ever capture.
She was joy. Pure, uncontained joy.
From the moment we drove back home with her in the back of the car, she filled our lives with joy. She was the happiest puppy I’d ever seen. Her eyes filled with curiosity and a hint of naughtiness, her nose leading her to every mischief conceivable. Chewing cables, shoes, books, tables, chairs; heck even beds! She wrecked an equal measure of havoc in our lives. Some of the earliest pictures I captured of her, capture that mischievousness perfectly. For many years she remained her vigour far exceeded the managing capacity of her household.
I use the word vigour to somewhat respectfully contain the absolute tornado that she was. Zoomies across the house, out in the garden, back again; tearing through the tableware, lamps, and any other thing that stood in her way. Those first six years of her life, when she seemed too much, were the years that we bonded. Back from the fort for long stretches over summer and winter, we bonded. After hours of play, having exhausted all the scratches and belly rubs, she gave way to a side of her that the others would very rarely come across.
While I have fond memories of her playfulness, what I remember the most are the moments of calm. Her lying in my lap, her soft breathing, us just in that space and moment. She couldn’t care that I was busy playing Xbox at the time, all that mattered to her was a comfortable thigh to rest on and a nice pair of fresh clothes to leave all that blonde fur on. Every break, every chance she’d get, she’d lie in my lap (even though she outgrew it rather swiftly) and she’d drift into dreams.
Then came the more recent years. She started struggling to get on the bed so she made peace with the foot of it. She couldn’t run around as quickly or for as long so she settled for rolling in the grass and the light jog. But the one thing she never compromised on, was the number of scratches and rubs she needed. If anything, post-retirement, she became rather greedy, waiting to make eye contact before bounding towards you and exposing her belly. And she got all the scratches, because of course she did.
She was the best girl. Her life as a retiree brought about another change. Although she remained oblivious to it, leaving home became exceedingly difficult for me.
Every goodbye was wrapped with heaviness because the next was no longer guaranteed. I started becoming more intentional with my visits home, making sure I maximised every minute spent with her, but any number of days could never be enough. Leaving my folks, my sibling, was hard, but leaving her was harder. She never quite understood facetime and any amount of it could ever make up for the real thing. Then the most unexpected happened. The world went into lockdown and I did the unthinkable, I moved back to Allahabad for a year. I got to spend that entire year with her. She got to be in every episode of my podcast that year. She met all the guests, wooed them immediately, and remained a constant companion through the long hours of the night spent editing and crafting it. Granted, editing took slightly longer because someone's snores had to be edited out, but I never minded a second of it. Leaving her after that year was unlike any goodbye I’ve ever had. Because for the first time, it did not feel like a ‘See You Later’. I remember that moment now, our last moment together. Her lying on the base of the stairs against the cool marble, my bags in the back of the car and just this final turn to whisper love to the most amazing being to walk into my life. I remember what I told her, I remember the sinking heaviness I felt at that moment. I can’t explain it, I have no logic to it, but I knew it would be the last I’d see her. The last time I get to run my hands through her fur. The last time I get to see her ears perk up when I called her name.
It felt like a definitive parting. And It was.
In late July, we said goodbye to my dearest of friends.
They buried her with the others.
I’m unsure if there is an afterlife at all, or whether she ever believed in one, but I like to think she’s in a better place where she’s with Elsa and Fifi, another in the pack. Her passing brought death into my field of vision yet again and perhaps more importantly, served as a reminder to exercise more vulnerability than I had in recent months. To be authentic. To hold in truth and earnestness, the parts of me that I was too afraid to see and be seen as. I decided to exercise vulnerability, terrifying and uncomfortable as it was because you see;
I had a friend once. The kindest and most wonderful being to ever be in my life and she treated me with endless love and kindness. Times when even I couldn’t do that for myself or for her, and she offered me nothing but love. And of all that she thought of me, or could conceive me to be, she would be really disappointed in me if I continued to hide the more uncertain parts of me in the shadows. I know she wouldn’t want me to lie to myself and by extension to you. So this exercise in vulnerability is to honour her memory.
A hope, that by perhaps embarking on this journey of self-acceptance I could make her proud and in doing so (rather selfishly) be proud of myself for honouring her and all the good that she saw in me. I want to be somebody she would be proud of. Someone that embraces themselves unreservedly and doesn’t present a work in progress as a piece de resistance.
And that’s what I am. A constant, changing, work in progress. And she loved me for that. No holds barred, no reservations. All the boops in the world! And I think if I was worthy enough for her love and friendship, then whatever shame compels me to hide these parts of me that I deemed unlovable, I’ve carried them for long enough. Because I am enough. So this one’s for you, for the reader to maybe see, feel a part of you in my experiences. Perhaps this allows you to discover, unpack, and have a conversation with yourself about the journeys you’ve been on and the many that lie ahead of you. This one’s for me, absolutely. These thoughts have been gathering up like a storm of nature, and the exercise of putting them on paper has been nothing short of therapeutic. This does not mean that I don’t have work ahead of me or that I am cured of my confusion, no. As I said, constant work in progress, but this feels like turning a new leaf for me… as a creative, as a storyteller, and more importantly, as a person.
Finally, This one’s for the best friend a boy could ask for.
The one that loved me, held me and saw me as worthy of love every, single, day.
If not for her, this piece may have never seen the light of day. I miss her. Her absence is felt every day, but this grief is nothing but a footnote to the joy she brought into my life. For Maggie.