I can remember everything about that day clearly. It was a Saturday. I was in the office searching for the prescription for my new spectacles, when a former colleague (and friend) from my journalism days, sent me the news link. The worst of my fears were confirmed when I opened it. They had found Liga after 38 days of frantic searching. She was no more.
A few weeks earlier, my musician friend Lynda, from Co. Cork, had introduced me to Ilze Skromane. Ilze had requested me to speak to my former associates from the journalism fraternity in Kerala to help raise awareness and push the government machinery to search for her sister Liga, who, by then, had been missing for a month.
The sisters had travelled to Kerala in February this year to experience holistic healing. All was going well when tragedy struck and Liga went missing on the morning of March 14. I had followed the story closely, connecting with Ilze over the next few days, mobilising everything I could at my disposal. Through the many conversations with Ilze, and in the backdrop of current socio-political and moral tensions brewing in India, I saw a person I had never met and hoped for her safe return.
My days, since speaking to Ilze, altered between working and trying to scavenge any information about her sister whilst mustering any shred of hope I could and offer it to her in a faraway land. I caught a glimpse of her terrible strain and absolute devastation when she wrote a heart-shattering post requesting the universe to reunite her with her sister.
It resulted in me spending far too many hours of the days (and nights) wondering about the fragility of the human existence and the extended manifestation of grief, without letting any hint of this familiar vulnerability show on my face. The empty packs of hand-rolled cigarettes poking at this feeling of helplessness, and taunting my sanity on sleepless nights, was a different tale altogether. And yet I stubbornly hoped against all odds that they would be reunited.
The previous night, a Friday, in my smoke-induced haze that I call sleep, I pictured the two laughing and cheering Lynda on as she performed Sister, dedicating it to them in the audience. I felt happy. It was Ilze’s birthday that day. In one of our last conversations Ilze had mentioned it would be the best birthday gift ever if we could find Liga. I had said a vociferous ‘Amen’.
And then there I was, on Saturday, the next day, holding my phone in one hand, the prescription in the other, staring at the news headline. Thirty-eight days later, she was gone. Just like that. The fragility of our existence and the sheer hopelessness with which grief manifests itself cannot be put in words. It is blunt. It eats away at your base and yet doesn’t let you fall. And it was exactly that.
There were conflicting reports, assumptions, surmises and other whatnots on the web. The words looked unintelligible. The last time I had felt such an intense manifestation of grief and helplessness, was when I lost KP uncle, and when I had overdosed on anti-depressants nearly killing myself before coming to Europe. All this came back during the bus ride back home. Misty-eyed, I had played a video recording of Lynda and Fintan Lucy singing Peace will come again, on loop, trying to profusely apologise to Liga all along. I couldn’t do it. Pictures of her and Ilze as little girls smiling, and as grown women embracing each other happily, refused to let me complete my apology.
Late that night when I had dropped all my masks of human civility and was free to be hurt and vulnerable and helpless, the ghost of my apology came back to haunt me. I have tried to convince myself since then that she is in a peaceful place away from this suffering and this wrath of tears. But the ghost of the apology has stayed on since then.
And there is nothing more terrifying than that.
(Dedicated to the memory of Liga Skromane)
(Rohan Swamy is a former journalist,
writer, photographer, now working at Trinity College Dublin)