Tooth Fairy or not, a fairy guided Shernaz through the jigsaw puzzle of life. Read more about it in the weekly column, exclusively in Different Truths.
When I lost my first milk tooth, I was told to wrap it, put it under my pillow, and make a wish for the tooth fairy to grant. Like the obedient kid I was, I did as told and woke up with excited expectancy next morning. I buried the tooth and waited with the undying hope of innocence for my wish to be fulfilled. But my hope did not take the shape I had envisioned. I do not recall what I had wished for. What I do remember is that I gave this myth an unceremonious burial a few days later, in the same grave as my tooth. The subsequent teeth that dislodged from my jaws flew out the window. In years to come, I interred many another childhood myth of fairies, princesses, and magic – each one no more than an illusion.
Growing up, I realised that though there was nothing like a tooth fairy, I had had a fairy companion all along. Not a real life one nor imaginary. She was a jigsaw puzzle with a difference — an outline suggestive of an enigmatic, fragile, flawless and enduring beauty. That was all. The pieces were not provided. They popped up and still continue to, at different times in life. What I discovered was that these are no ordinary cardboard cut-outs but costly gems, mined from the depths of one’s soul. They are unearthed from grief, ecstasy, deep pondering…. Until the teeniest sparkling wonder falls into place the exquisite picture will remain incomplete and marred.
The first crucial part was revealed to me when I was all of seven years old! I was very attached to my maternal grandmother. I loved to sit on her small cot and take in how carefully she arranged clothes in tidy piles in her antique cupboard. I would admire her dainty gold sari pin, a fascinating set of jeweller’s scales with their tiny weights and quite a few of her other desirable possessions. The lovely cupboard with its Belgian mirror, glossy polish and a little carving was one more thing I wished to possess when I grew up. Or one similar to it, in style and allure.
Then one day she died, heartbroken after her young son’s demise. She just went away leaving behind every well cared for and admired thing! A few days earlier my dad’s sister had died and she too left behind quite a treasure that she was very fond of. Grandma’s was the third death in the family within a few months. The confused loneliness of a child can be miserably devastating. I missed grandma terribly. Overwhelmed by her disappearance, I tried to make sense, in my little head, of the core reality of life – death. One day, I sat on her bed, contemplating the cupboard, which had somehow lost its charm and then it hit me with a sledgehammer blow: “What use is it to run after these things if we have to leave them behind?” Shorn of its gloss, the true aspects of materialism became evident, and an awareness that there is plenty more to life dawned on me at that tender age.
A little later, I was packed off to the boarding school to join my elder sisters. Going back after a grand vacation was torture each time. My sisters began their act, crying two days in advance to arouse pity with the anticipation of prolonging the vacation, at the same time forcing me to take part in the charade. One day I snapped back: “What use is crying? We have to go so we have to go.” That I believe was another piece of the puzzle. It taught me the futility of fighting the inevitable. What has to be will be! Accept it and flow along with it. In the meantime, I had grown attached to my grandpa. I instinctively sensed his isolation even though very loving and caring children surrounded him. His quiet desolation reflected the years of intimacy and companionship, love and togetherness brought to an end by grandma’s passing away. As he remembered and talked about their life together, I learned about the permanence of love in impermanent relationships. One more piece clicked into place.
Then in the first year of college, far from home, I was rudely shaken up late one evening by the shattering news of my father’s death. I had grown close to him in the intervening years and I began to blame myself for his passing away. It seemed very obvious that anyone I got attached to was embraced by death. Was I jinxed? My mother’s fortitude, her indomitable faith in God and her selfless love even during the harshest times, was gentle healing for my tormented soul. She, together with my dad, helped reveal some of the most elegant pieces that have gone into my puzzle. Long after they have both passed away they continue to inspire us.
Humour was one very prized and charismatic fragment that I found in my parents’ home. It was more a gift from my elder sisters. I learnt to laugh at myself; I learnt that life’s burdens were less heavy if you looked at the lighter side and most importantly I learnt that it is far more profitable to laugh with others than at them. As Victor Borge said, “Laughter is the closest distance between two people.” That truly is one of the grandest pieces.
The mindless violence I witnessed during the 1992 communal riots dropped a blood-drenched piece agonizingly into place. Violence is deeply entrenched in our minds, unceasingly reinforced by ego-fed beliefs of superiority. Peace can heal the world community only when individuals reconcile the tyranny of violence within them, by truly understanding the nature of violence and the oneness of all humanity. Until then we will have only a semblance of peace, a treacherously brittle fabric, which can be fortified exclusively by loving acceptance and understanding of our unique differences.
Another portion of the puzzle impacted me after the riots. It forcefully brought home the difference between patriotism and nationalism. Patriots love their country even as they respect people of different nationalities and understand that for them their nation is just as much important, wonderful and lovable. They are not ego-driven, hard-headed, blindly arrogant fools who refuse to accept the faults and shortcomings of their country. Patriots love their motherland, are responsible, duty-bound citizens and work towards empowering her with unity, peace, and brotherhood, trying to keep her dignity intact. Blustering jingoism, racism, divisiveness, heroics, and vengeance are not patriotism.
Loving acceptance and understanding of our unique differences – it is an incalculably rich mosaic piece. A tiny puzzle in itself, its pieces were fitted in amongst others, by a marvellous husband and later by an equally remarkable friend. I taught myself to emulate their exceptional qualities, the sympathy and empathy they bring into their relationships and so to keep enriching other interpersonal transactions of my life. It also brought home another truth. Every life that touches ours, however remotely, weaves into it an inextricable pattern with threads that bind us together forever. It is detrimental to our own spiritual growth not to acknowledge the unity in our apparent disparity.
One day, as I was writing a horror story, the sliver of hard truth that sliced me from within left me shell-shocked. I could not go further with the story. For all my sensitivity and compassion, I was brought up front with a dark side whose potential was bone-rattling! The deeper I delved into this eye-opener, my numbness eased and I now understood clearly what James Truslow Adams was talking about in these lines, “There is so much good in the worst of us, and so much bad in the best of us, that it ill behoves any of us to find fault with the rest of us.” This jagged nugget has taught me to be less judgemental.
Life is an endless game of treasure hunt, a search for Truth. Each unravelled clue is magically transformed into another fascinating piece that slides into the jigsaw fairy pointing me towards an interior direction. And yet much of my puzzle is still unsolved. It will be fantastic if I can achieve that in this life. Or will I have to keep coming back till it is complete? The afterlife and rebirth – I have yet to work out whether it is a fact or a myth.
Sometimes I wonder if I am that one tiny but vital piece that will merge into the fairy. Aren’t we all essential bits of the whole? Truth. Light. Beauty.
Photos from the Internet
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To Shernaz Wadia, reading and writing poems has been one of the means to embark on an inward journey. She hopes her words will bring peace, hope and light into dark corners. Her poems have been published in many e-journals and anthologies. She has published her own book of poems “Whispers of the Soul” and another titled “Tapestry Poetry – A Fusion of Two Minds” with her poetry partner Avril Meallem.