At school, my history teachers made me learn the important dates off by heart. Battle of Blood River: 1838. Anglo Boer War: 1899-1902. World War 1:1914-1918. Arab-Israeli War: 1967.
My father was my true history teacher. He made me understand that the dates were important but not as important as the context in which those events happened and the bigger stories at play.
We live in an age that asks us to mark dates that mean something to us, be it frivolous and fun or deeply profound – Braai day, National Cleavage Day, break-up dates, hook-up dates, the day we lost our virginity, the day we stopped smoking, the day we cried for the first time in a movie, birthdays, wedding anniversaries, Women’s day, Mandela day. And so it goes.
We are date obsessed so when it comes to remembering a day you would rather have obliterated from the Gregorian calendar, it makes it more difficult because of our ceremonious conditioning.
One year ago, today, my father died. June 18, 2014. I want to remember the day because it is natural and it is a marking of a rite of passage of someone I loved. But I also want to forget it so desperately because it was the day the light was snuffed out. The lead up to this day was torture – a giant, looming, dark 18; a clanging bell over my bed. I’ve been tense and angry, irritable and sullen. I don’t want to be reminded of the day the Universe took my rock, my teacher, my hero, my confidant, my father.
If he was alive today, he would say, “Suhani, remember the dates are not that important. History needs to be understood in context. You need to understand the bigger picture.” So I will do just that.
There is a big picture and hundreds of thousands of extraordinary pixels that make up that big picture. I will start with a small list: Holding me above your shoulders at the beach. Green chillies and salt and vinegar. Red- beans Saturdays. Your red gown. Red Toyota Cressida. 4am History lessons. Chaiyya Chaiyya. Popsicles on holiday with a wheezing chest. Long strides. Arthur Murray. Sunday crosswords – completed. Post-Diwali shopping lounge modelling. Nani bhen. A capful for the ancestors. J&B – Juggath and Bhagath. December 16 Caddie. Old Folks Laugh by Maya Angelou. “Let Rome in Tiber melt and the wide arch of the rang’d empire fall.” Trips to Silverglen with Pankaj Udhas. Highway Sheila. Impeccable suits. Amitabh Bachchan. Dirty jokes. Clean shave. Kouros.
Veterans of war, wives of soldiers and mothers of sons will always remember dates in ways that historians won’t. June 18th is someone’s birthday. The day someone will get engaged or publish a novel or learn to ride a bike. For us, it is the day we said goodbye. The philosopher in my father would remind us that it was just a farewell to the mortal coil. The pragmatist in him would remark on the laws of equilibrium in all things of this world.
While it is the most difficult thing to do, there is a pain and glory in remembering.