I have been asking myself ceaselessly all these years the eternal question that anyone, having suffered a loss, would ask --- a loss that leaves a special kind of void, creating a gaping hole that does not heal with the passage of time. It rather exacerbates its presence by renewing itself day after day. But why does it not die away? I often wonder. Nine years is a rather long time. Memories normally would fade, particularly when one is afflicted with one's own troubled life. One more often than not feels as if the world around one is about to close in any moment.
Since we human beings are basically egocentric, we only look at ourselves, at our daily life and daily chores that mostly are mundane in nature. We thus spend day after day enveloped in a kind of delusion. One feels and believes that one has the heaviest burden to carry on earth where the perceived world becomes too small, creating a kind of insularity. The heart acquires some strange qualities, such as being unfeeling, uncaring and some other sentiments that are not to be there within its normal domain. We all differ in our sensitivity to emotions and exactly on this account we operate on a wide range of reactions.
In my case, however, time could not help me in either erasing memories or anaesthetizing my feelings for her. They remain very raw, even today. Since I would visit her every day on her ten ill-fated days, the attending doctors got curious about me, about who I was and my relationship with her. They noted some resemblance in features between their patient and me. I was informed, on my inquiry, that her internal organs had not been functioning properly. Nevertheless, I would check the board on patients' daily information every day, gathering to myself thoughts of any kind, of any eventualities. The ebb and flow of hope would run concurrently. Once, the comment on the board read, 'in danger'. On another occasion, 'slight improvement'. On other days, 'the same', creating for me a convoluted world of feelings with no definite answer in sight. Until now I remember every bit of happening as they took place on the very last day of the final ten days of her life. Uncertainty, anxiety, anguish and some other undefined emotions filled up this day. Standing by her feet, I faced the monitor directly. With a complex of wires and other accessories functioning, it looked more bizarre than it does when it is stationary. To me, it looked like a huge monster swallowing its prey, not greedily but rhythmically, as if relishing its each and every bite.
She was sinking every moment of her last day on earth, a day very close to my birthday. Something eerie was in the air, and in my feelings. Could my birthday be the day for her to make her exit from this temporal world? Does this near coincidence convey any message, if there is any message at all? A whole world of confusion prevailed; and I drowned in an ocean of unfathomable grief. It knew no bounds. My pain could not be shared with others as it was so exceptional because of her relationship to me. Sheer helplessness shrouded me and I realized that life in essence symbolizes transience and eventually nothingness. Life, even as we live, is after all an illusion. How precarious it is to talk about 'later' when we do not know about 'now'! As an individual observes her dear one moving away from her, she is absolutely forlorn, bewildered at seeing the impeccable work of the Architect of our life. Putting on a brave face, though breaking down within, I asked the doctors, in as much a normal voice as I could, 'Can there be a comeback from such a condition?' The answer was in the negative. Having heard the verdict from a mortal, I braced myself for the final verdict to be ordained by Him. De-sensitising my feelings, I could somehow withstand the ordeal as I witnessed it being enacted by death. She hardly realized the agony of her elder sister --- the only blood relation and her favourite too --- present there, one who did not look at her face but at her long, beautiful artistic fingers that would not play the tanpura, tabla or harmonium anymore. She stood there, looking at her on whom silence had already descended. No more would she sing in her unique voice those soulful songs with such animation.
Then began my encounter with the concept of death in as much of its totality as was possible --- death as transition to another form of existence (?), immanence of the human will and our belief in immortality. All of this crowded into my mind, for a long time, until it dawned on me that an acceptance of this state with some constructive outlook could possibly lessen such suffering. My first realization was that death is one of those phenomena about which we think the least although we are within its realm every moment of our life. We tend to forget the only immutable event amid the huge clutter of our quotidian routine. Again, death is nothing but a logical continuity of life. It just takes another form on another plane but does not annihilate the source it springs from. In the infinite realm of the universe, nothing is lost forever, no soul goes missing. The Owner gives shelter to all. Thus my belief in life and its ally death was reinforced. Yet as a mere human being, one feels helpless in such a situation. At this point, I fervently sought help from a more down-to-earth source for solace in my never-ending moments of pain, from poetry on death by Rabindranath Tagore. 'A death track is this earth. It's a world of death'; 'living deaths, we live in death's own house, ignorant of its meaning.' Tagore elucidates it further: 'Life: is it then a name for a handful of deaths --- an aggregate of dying?' Ultimately the poet sings of death's victory: 'Death is just another name for what you call life, not an alien at all.'
There was a magical effect on my sensibilities. It stirred up my soul. I felt her presence in my moments of undefined existence. I found her again. Thus began my conversation with her, however one-way that might be. Memories came flooding back.
Do you remember once while talking about age, I commented that since I was on the wrong side of fifty, I did not like my age anymore? You smiled and nodded. I hardly realized how portentous my utterance would be. You left us at the age of fifty-five. I cannot ascertain if you can hear me or not, but I do hear you. It is all etched in my mind, conversing face to face with you or on the telephone. We two would talk on a whole lot of things. Call it a quality in one's character or not, we both shared it. Commonalities aside, we fought on many grounds as well. I still remember having heard you sing a very melodious Nazrul song on Baishakh. Impressed, I called you. W talked about it and I added that for me it had all been about Rabindra Sangeet that month. My half knowledge was thus dispelled. A similar thing happened when you enlightened me on Mahmudul Haque as being one of the distinguished writers in our country.
I must narrate some apparently strange things to you that cannot be explained by any logic. Right after you departed, I spotted the name 'Neela' written at a number of places. This was and still is an uncanny experience. My best companion explains it as a relationship of soulmates between the two of us. And the game that we played on all ten days you were in the ICU? The first thing that I did on coming in was to ask you who I was. Every time a shy, sweet smile would flash on your pale face and you would answer, 'Shejo Apa'. I was reassured that your consciousness had not let go of you. When you were almost no more, I whispered your name in your left ear and miraculously you answered on the fourth whisper. That was the last time.
And then, all of a sudden, I turned bold and did not let the media people take your photograph. Commercial motives run high even in the midst of great despair and endless sorrow.
It will be exactly twelve years next March since Neela went missing, physically. After the initial shock of her passing, I have tried building my refuge by confabulating a domain of my own. I keep on writing 'Neela' on the film of vapour on the mirror as hot water flows from the shower every day. I cannot yet bring myself to hear the songs sung by her, though I have made gifts of them to those asking for them. I believe this limitation works in all human beings. This is our fallibility.
In our supplication to Him, we feel how infinitesimal we are.
The article is a remembrance of Nilufar Yasmin (whose birth anniversary was on 13 February), foremost Nazrul artiste and teacher, by her sibling. Dr Nazma Yeasmeen Haque is an educationist, music enthusiast and critic