Sunday, October 15, 2006

Post 161 : Passages 35 (Rediscovering your father)

SV, Salman Rushdie, Pg. 523 To fall in love with one's father after the long angry decades was a serene and beautiful feeling; a renewing, life-giving thing, Saladin wanted to say, but did not, because it sounded vampirish; as if by sucking this new life out of his father he was making room, in Changez's body, for death. Although he kept it quiet, however, Saladin felt hourly closer to many old, rejected selves, many alternative Saladins -- or rather Salahuddins -- which had split off from himself as he made his various life choices, but which had apparently continued to exist, perhaps in the parallel universes of quantum theory. Cancer had stripped Changez Chamchawala literally to the bone; his cheeks had collapsed into the hollows of the skull, and he had to place a foam-rubber pillow under his buttocks because of the atrophying of his flesh. But it had also stripped him of his faults, of all that had been domineering, tyrannical and cruel in him, so that the mischievous, loving and brilliant man beneath lay exposed, once again, for all to see. _If only he could have been this person all his life_, Saladin (who had begun to find the sound of his full, unEnglished name pleasing for the first time in twenty years) found himself wishing. How hard it was to find one's father just when one had no choice but to say goodbye. On Page 529 "I want you to know," he said to his son, "that I have no problem about this thing at all. A man must die of something, and it is not as though I were dying young. I have no illusions; I know I am not going anywhere after this. It's the end. That's okay. The only thing I'm afraid of is pain, because when there is pain a man loses his dignity. I don't want that to happen." Salahuddin was awestruck. _First one falls in love with one's father all over again, and then one learns to look up to him, too_. "The doctors say you're a case in a million," he replied truthfully. "It looks like you have been spared the pain." Something in Changez relaxed at that, and Salahuddin realized how afraid the old man had been, how much he'd needed to be told... "Bas," Changez Chamchawala said gruffly. "Then I'm ready. And by the way: you get the lamp, after all." On Page 531 Then all of a sudden Changez Chamchawala left his face; he was still alive, but he had gone somewhere else, had turned inwards to look at whatever there was to see. _He is teaching me how to die_, Salahuddin thought. _He does not avert his eyes, but looks death right in the face_. At no point in his dying did Changez Chamchawala speak the name of God. Again on Page 531 The last thing he had seen in his father's face, just before the medical staff's final, useless effort, was the dawning of a terror so profound that it chilled Salahuddin to the bone. What had he seen? What was it that waited for him, for all of us, that brought such fear to a brave man's eyes? -- Now, when it was over, he returned to Changez's bedside; and saw his father's mouth curved upwards, in a smile. He caressed those sweet cheeks. _I didn't shave him today. He died with stubble on his chin_. How cold his face was already; but the brain, the brain retained a little warmth. They had stuffed cottonwool into his nostrils. _But suppose there's been a mistake? What if he wants to breathe?_ Nasreen Chamchawala was beside him. "Let's take your father home," she said. On Page 533 And: The bier, strewn with flowers, like an outsize baby's cot. The body, wrapped in white, with sandalwood shavings, for fragrance, scattered all about it. More flowers, and a green silken covering with Quranic verses embroidered upon it in gold. The ambulance, with the bier resting in it, awaiting the widows' permission to depart. The last farewells of women. The graveyard. Male mourners rushing to lift the bier on their shoulders trample Salahuddin's foot, ripping off a segment of the nail on his big toe. Among the mourners, an estranged old friend of Changez's, here in spite of double pneumonia; -- and another old gentleman, weeping copiously, who will die himself the very next day; -- and all sorts, the walking records of a dead man's life. The grave. Salahuddin climbs down into it, stands at the head end, the gravedigger at the foot. Changez Chamchawala is lowered down. _The weight of my father's head, lying in my hand. I laid it down; to rest. The world, somebody wrote, is the place we prove real by dying in it.

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