This is a letter I sent to my former high school classmates in 2014. I studied at a school called Central School, or Kendriya Vidyalaya (KV), in Chennai (formerly Madras) in India.
“On and on the rain will fall
Like tears from a star like tears from a star
On and on the rain will say
How fragile we are how fragile we are”
It feels like life in recent times has been particularly eventful for me, especially in the context of deaths of people that I have known one way or the other. Starting with my sister’s father-in-law’s death towards the end of last year, and continuing with my own father-in-law’s death while we were in India, including a good friend’s mother’s death around the time of my FIL’s passing away , and continuing with the recent news of the passing of PN Sreeniwas, and the latest – the death of a parishioner in our church a few days ago. (She had been very a very active person in social outreach programs and was actually younger than me – a tragic loss.) We did also lose a member of our acapella chorus to cancer earlier this year. He was also younger than me. There have been others. I will mention Suma’s dad in particular even though I did not know him. Ramu also lost his dad not too long ago. We have lost a few other former teachers from KV recently. We are at that age where our elders who are still in this world are in the end-game of their lives, and we ourselves happen to be vulnerable to the ravages of middle-age. Cancer appears to be a common scourge. While we mourn all the good people that we have lost, we perhaps also cannot help wondering how vulnerable we ourselves are, perhaps even feeling that we have become more vulnerable with the passage of time.
But we also know that death is simply an unavoidable component of the pattern of life. It is the nature of life that there is death at the end of it. One does not make sense without the other. The body does deteriorate with time even if the spirit may not. We might find ways to extend our lives, but the end is inevitable. Is there a reason to get depressed about all of this? Can we afford to be afraid of our destinies? If it is inevitable, what is the point in worrying? Should we not simply focus on taking care of things today? Should we not straighten out our relationships with the world today? We should not postpone things – because the tomorrow that you are waiting for may never come. We could celebrate each day as if it might be our last, and find a way to ignore what is irrelevant in this regard. For me to try to keep this kind of a perspective is difficult, but I must try.
Other than the cycle of life and death, I have found other ways of marking the passage of time in my life. In my own case, I am very aware of how quickly the world is changing around me. Because of my overall background, it is the rapid development and use of new technologies for communication and entertainment that I particularly think about. The rate of change is amazing even to me. But the experiences in life that I identify with most, as far as marking the passage of time is concerned, have to do with the popular music of the times. When a piece of music plays, my brain automatically tends to identify it with a period of time in my life. Getting back to childhood, I have some very faint memory of my mom noting some music from the Beatles even when I was very very young (we must have just returned from our stay in the US). During the period of life that includes my teenage years, I usually listened to contemporary music. It was the music of Hindi movies that my mom played and sang to on the radio. And it was the English music that was locally broadcast, and which also came from far off countries and continents over the shortwave frequencies. I was a child of the music of the 60s and 70s, and it will always remain that way.
My dad bought us a stereo system at home at some point, and I ended up buying music on vinyl from a store on Mount Road regularly. (Anyone remember The Bay City Rollers? In hindsight, their music was not very good. (sample)) The 80s came by, and I was a graduate student at Stony Brook before I started working in New Jersey. I ended up collecting older music in the CD format that was becoming popular at that time, while still continuing to listen to contemporary 80s music, both pop and rock, mostly on the radio. In general, there is less music from this era that brings that feeling of warmth, but there is still good music to be found and even bought (sample). The 90’s rolled by, and by this time, I begin to feel like I was becoming dated. There was less music that I could identify with, but, as a part of a continuing process that had started earlier on, I was getting more into the older music of a time before I was born. I was getting more exposure to the original music of America – mostly jazz and the blues. Our kids are born during this period of time, and they spend their life listening to daddy’s music.
While I do get to listen to the music of the 21st century on occasion these days (when the kids turn on the radio and I am not in control), I do not go looking for it, and I do not quite identify with it.
But I am getting older, and nostalgia is only a matter of time. The music that was once rejected has now become more familiar, and is capable of putting me in that unique frame of mind that comes with listening to some of my other older pieces of music. I am not prepared yet to admit that the pop music of the 80s was anything more than atrocious, but I am enjoying it (perhaps in the same manner that I enjoy some of the atrocious music of the 70s). It certainly makes me happy when I am exercising on the treadmill or cooking in the kitchen, and it also reminds me of a period of time in my life. Time has passed, and I have changed.
I don’t know if I will live long enough to enjoy the music of the 90s. If and when that happens, it will be another milestone, another marker, for the passage of time in my life. But it does not matter whether that happens or not. I have to enjoy the music today. Let the music play on.