# 2 The name on the door
The house is as crowded and as dirty as ever, even when its tiled floors are mopped, and the dishes have been washed. Dripping laundry hangs from bars in the high-ceilinged corridor. The bars are lowered with the help of a rope when the clothes dry. They still follow this system out of dead habit, even though there’s an inch of garden outside the front door where you can easily set up a drying rack. “The society doesn’t allow; what to do,” they say. (The society allows.)
Groceries, jam jars, pickle jars, jars of flax seeds and dried figs, fresh produce from the morning market all clutter the dining table. Last week, egg curry had splashed from a serving spoon onto the once-clear, now-cloudy plastic tablecloth. It has dried into a hard orange crescent. Things hunker down on top of other things in the far reaches of the living room. A laundry basket misshapen with years of being stuffed with hard plastic toys seems to grow like a mushroom in that one corner. A stack of newspaper and magazines in that other one. Last winter, during a manic house cleaning phase, a bag had been stuffed with old sweaters for the homeless. It is now the height of summer and the bag has been pushed under the diwan. Its one black strap strays out like the tongue of a snake.
Cobwebs, like silk thread, move in the breeze of the ceiling fan. Two narrow shelves on the wall are pale with dust and crowded with tchotchkes. It’s a house that has been lived in so long that the things are now indistinguishable from its bones, from its people. There’s nothing bright, shining, and new. The speckled floor tiles are scarred and pitted like the pock-marked face of that man in that bus that one time. It’s a chaotic house. Its old and stubborn just like the person whose name is nailed into the front door. It’s tough. But its still alive as far as a house can be alive. Tea still comes out of the kitchen and garbage gets put out of the front door. You spot a house lizard strutting boldly across the living room floor (a sign that they’re too comfortable). But the person who lived here, whose name — all fourteen letters of it — is on the front door, is dead and has been dead a month now.
The inhabitants of the house orbit the deceased’s absence at different paces and in different rhythms. “We must all be together to mourn as a family,” says the woman who is now the lady of the house. Her words are directed at her daughter who had plans to move out last year. The lady of the house has grief but it is a less bewildered grief than her husbands. She has covered hers with a lacquered brightness. She has used faith to direct, control and manage it. “We are blessed,” she insists, “that our loved one was spared too much suffering. They had a long life full of blessings. After all, it was not even a week. The end was so quick. God is good to us. Many these days are suffering so much. Times are bad.”
The daughter says nothing, but she glowers. Did it matter that the deceased was old? Were the bereaved supposed to feel comforted by the age at which a loved one died? Indeed, where was the dignity, young or old, in having one’s breath sound like a baby’s plastic rattle as you lay alone in a room filled with the similarly dying and the dead? Where was the respect in the faces of the next family, waiting like vultures for the bed that the deceased occupied and now, no longer needed? And why compare this loss to the other losses one read about — the losses on highways and pavements and hospital steps? A loss was a loss. The daughter would not be comforted by prayer books and platitudes. She was still angry at the deceased for leaving (the audacity) like an ordinary mortal. Now she was stuck in this terrible house with its smell of sickness, the dentures in glasses of water, the lilac talc scented Godrej cupboards that blocked light and air. She was sick of the rooms with the framed family photographs crowding the pelmets, the lizards, even the cats that mewed outside the front door. She longed to throw herself into a house and a life she had designed for herself; with plants in the window, a scented candle on the dressing table and her jewelry hung on a wire frame. She wanted to smoke freely at a window seat, a cup of tea by her side. Instead she spent her days here (here!) oscillating between mild irritation and fiery rage. To smother the terror of those monstrous last days — the panic, the pain, the heat of the sun, the sweat that soaked the collar in the blistering afternoon — in gratitude, prayer, and the counting of blessings, was violence. Better would it be, to howl and rage at the moon.
The lady of the house had lost people before. In times of mourning, it was best to have all those one held dear near her. She put her effort into cooking things each family member liked. She baked, fried, steamed, stirred. Sweating, she dabbed her forehead with the sleeve of her nightgown and wiped steam off her glasses. At night, she washed the smell of turmeric and ginger out of her hands with a cake of sandalwood soap. She chose to ignore how her daughter stomped through the house in ill-conceived fury. How can a girl only 22 years old hold so much anger and resentment? Better would it be, to accept that life on earth ended and an eternal life awaited in the great beyond. The more troubled the lady of the house got, the more her careful construction of grief began to crack, and she filled those cracks by cooking, always cooking, frantically cooking, and whispering desperate prayers into the food.
In that house, that terrible house imprinted with the deceased and soaked in sadness, things carried on like before. But consider, for a moment, the many years of memory being actively altered to accommodate a kinder version of the human that once lived within its walls. Consider the ugliness of the death itself and all efforts to scrub it clean of its stench. Consider the push and pull of love and longing and pain in the people left behind; how they drift on separate streams toward separate goals and ends, never quite meeting but always in sight of the other. Consider. Consider.