sadness of passing things

POSTCARD#289: Chiang Mai: It’s all coming to an end here, I go back to Delhi tomorrow and today is the 5th of November… remember, remember the fifth of November. Scary things, monsters and Halloween coming to an end too, for my Thai niece M aged 13 who is not interested in it any more. Not interested in witches hats and dressing up – dressing up maybe yes, interested. Or dressing down, torn jeans and earbuds in, and deaf to the world. It’s about how one is seen, ‘selfing’ like an actor playing a part, and the audience is swept away. “Bye-bye Toong-Ting, see you in December”, and she’s in the car and gone. I go downstairs to get something, along the lane to the main road, warm air, tall buildings create shade. Sadness; remembering M as a cute kid holding my hand and skipping along beside me… these days are gone.

Sadness still, over the passing of the King, noticeable in the absence of remembrance wreathes that were there everywhere in the town (and all over the country) for a year of bereavement. The feeling that something important has been taken away; this is how it is all through Thailand these days. A sense of his presence remains in the hearts of the population, manifest in all of the thousands of rural projects he initiated over a lifetime. I feel the presence too, it’s simple, the King lives on… he was a devout Buddhist, and the way I see it now, he reached enlightenment – I thought, surely it must be that everyone else can see it this way too, but then understood such a thing was best left unsaid.

This is how the experience was for me; I’d been watching the cremation ceremony on TV until quite late, and in the morning I felt his presence all through the apartment, out on the balcony, in the sky, the clouds, reflected light in the fields of paddy and all the way, it must be, to everywhere in the country. I feel his presence in the air, assimilated in the structural elements of materiality; the buildings and all through my surroundings now walking along the lane, as I used to with M as a child, holding on to one of my fingers as if it were the branch of a tree.

Out of the shadow, into the sunlight. Same sunshine we all feel as it strikes the retina… reaching for my sunglasses. A wetness in the eye, vestiges of mourning almost gone with the experience of the passing-away of someone dear to us. A large part of the Thai has simply gone… yet things just go on. Behind me comes the sound: toot-tootle-toot! And a man on a three-wheeled bicycle gets my attention with his little horn: toot-tootle-tee-tootle-too. He’s selling pieces of cut fruit – inquires with raised eyebrow if I’d like to buy some. I fell drawn to it but politely decline, thanks no; I’m just looking around.

As silence is not silence, but a limit of hearing.
As some strings, untouched, sound when no one is speaking.
So it was when love slipped inside us.
As this life is not a gate, but the horse plunging through it.
The heart’s actions
are neither the sentence nor its reprieve.
Salt hay and thistles, above the cold granite.
One bird singing back to another because it can’t not
[Jane Hirshfield, Come, Thief]

Photo, Buddha Rupa Ayutthaya: http://13966960783_a630225cb8_b.jpg


img_0164POSTCARD #236: Bangkok: The impact of arriving deletes the memory of how I got here. Random thoughts hop from one thing to the next, no connection, doing it for its own sake – processed, passport stamped, thump, and through to arrivals. Welcome to the Kingdom. TV monitors show news readers wearing black, the backdrop is a curtain-fold with grey wreathes and shades of black in respect for the late King. Taxi drivers wear black jackets – well, yes this is the cold season, but everyone, everywhere wears black. Everything is extraordinarily formal and sad.

Traffic comes to a standstill. I’m in a yellow-green taxi looking out the window; a clash of pink, red, blue and white-like-peppermint taxis on all sides – I see them in rear-view mirror, on the left, the right, and all around. Bizarre vehicles like four-legged creatures standing in silence, looking at each other sideways, waiting to see who makes the first move. Green light is go, urgency of speed and slices of landscape pass through the car. Scraps of thinking and bits of another journey recalled, brought into present time.

A pause, window opens in the mind… a fascination with the remembered moment; an event or an accumulation of events … just makes sense, by itself. Yes, I remember now, thinking the Bali people look like characters from the Hobbit; beings who exist on a smaller scale than the rest of us, and live in a smaller world – small houses, small everything. There’s a hint of comedy and laughter in Indonesia… hmmm, but not here, not now that the Thai King is gone.

Impossible to not be affected by the scale of bereavement and absolute reality of death as far as the eye can see. Public mourning for one year… there’s a lesson to be learned here in this small country.

“…We are concerned with our daily life, not some exotic, fanciful religious concept but actual daily life of conflict, the confusion we live in, the uncertainty, the search for security. We have been through all that, it is part of our life. And also death is part of our life, though we may not acknowledge that fact. We may try to avoid it, slur over it, or only be concerned at the last minute, as most people are. So we should together enquire into the nature, into that extraordinary fact, as life is an extraordinary fact, we ought to consider that also.” [J. Krishnamurti, The Beauty of Death as Part of Life Fourth Public Talk at Brockwood Park September 1982]


passing away


POSTCARD #226: New Delhi:
October 13 2016, at the end of that day, I came downstairs and Jiab looked up from her Thai friends fb page and said: the king is dead. Jiab has this minimalist way of communicating. I checked on the internet and got the necessary information and for the rest of the evening there was no discussion, silence, clink of cutlery on dinner plate.

Next morning a Thai friend came to see us and she was wearing black. All through the weekend I could hear Jiab’s fb videos of the mourning, I looked from time to time and people were distressed, in tears, the entire population wearing black now for one year, newsreaders on TV wear black, any unnecessary colour is avoided. Many Thais change their fb profile image to black and white for the duration of breavement.

I’ve seen it before when Galyani Vadhana, Princess of Naradhiwas, the sister of the king passed away. Click on the link and have some idea of the scale of the funeral event. The same wearing of black for one year leading up to the funeral itself and in this case we can expect it to be a much larger event lasting for many hours.

After it all comes to an end, Thailand will be a different place, in a sense it’s the end of the monarchy, there will never be another king to take his place. Without the much-loved figurehead, who knows how Thai society will cope.

But before that there is this long period of mourning, the King has not yet passed away, he is passing away – held still in the hearts and minds of the Thai population who are unwilling to let him go. It’ll take all that time and more for everyone to adjust to the loss and be able to face what’s to come…

“It is proper for you, Kalamas, to doubt, to be uncertain; uncertainty has arisen in you about what is doubtful. Come, Kalamas. Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another’s seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, ‘The monk is our teacher.’ Kalamas, when you yourselves know: ‘These things are bad; these things are blamable; these things are censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill,’ abandon them.” [The Buddha’s words: Anguttara Nikaya, Tika Nipata, Mahavagga, Sutta No. 65]