One of the worst offenders was Grandmother, who sat in the living room with a wad of tobacco in her mouth, squinting in the sunlight. Grandmother’s eyes fluttered all over Mathrubhumi — one of Kerala’s mainstream dailies — landing finally on this prized page. Anyone talking about sports or social awareness would endure a blank stare from Grandmother. News of riots and murders got a slightly higher rating.
Even Devakiamma, Mother’s helper, contributed very wisely to early morning discussions by rattling away the names of all those who had crossed over to heaven and beyond. Grandmother would never stop at mere talk though.
I heard her one morning as she wondered aloud as to who the hell had submitted such a useless picture. “Kannum mookkum onnum illa (eyes or nose aren’t clear),” she exclaimed. She wanted some action.
“I am sure this is someone from Menakath House,” she shouted, urging Mother to pick up the phone and ask. Mother scrutinized the picture and declared that she wasn’t sure. Father barged in, demanding to be shown the picture as Grandmother offered more details on how we could proceed with this case.
“Maybe Premam from Pathayapura knows,” Father said, constructing a mental maze in his mind. A lot of time was spent on phone calls that day. From my aunt, who stays a few kilometres away, to my grand uncle in the capital city of Kerala, everyone struggled with this dilemma. The picture thus took on a life all its own as it created more and more assumptions, details and memories—all dedicated to someone whose death we weren’t even sure about.
It was at this precise moment that Grandmother revealed to us the presence of mind that her sister had shown a few weeks before she died. Indeed, my older grandmother had ensured her children had a crystal clear picture of her to be submitted to the Obit page right after her death. She had dressed up in her best clothes and made her way to a good studio near her home for a beautiful picture that would announce her death to the world.
I couldn’t wrap my head around this small yet mind-boggling detail. I realised that day the strange nature of obituaries—how they mattered more to those who weren’t afraid to let go.
As far as I know, there isn’t any remedy for this obsession. In fact, I now suspect it’s contagious and even hereditary.
I try never to miss a morning when Father feeds his pet crow (don’t try to analyze Father), discussing the Obit page with Mother, their minds flowing through a forest filled with memories. I look at all those unknown faces and hear about their lives, discovering at times a smile I recognise or a name that sounds familiar.
There are days when my beloved uncle or late grandmother appear too—their pictures letting loose a flood of remarks that convey a strong desire to see them again, but without being overtly sentimental.
Thus we sit every morning, a group of time-travellers slipping from the present into the past and back effortlessly, the Obit page fluttering like the wing of a wounded pigeon. Obsessions aren’t all bad, I guess; some are good, especially ones that bravely weave life and death together.