The Struggle To Mourn After An Assassination

My daughter at a now empty grave

I haven’t worn color since Dinesh Anna died. It’s only supposed to be for a few months, but I haven’t stopped. The mourning period presumably starts with a death certificate, and we haven’t even got that yet. He’s not even buried. They exhumed the body and now — nine months later — there’s just an empty grave to visit. What am I supposed to do? There are special rites for the months following a death, but nine months after Dinesh Schaffter’s death, everything is still wrong.

I don’t even want to talk about his assassination. It’s morbid. As much of a national story as it has been, his death was the least interesting thing about him. He was a fascinating, delightful man and, in hindsight, one of a kind. I still imagine him walking into a room and the lights coming on. I still expect my kids to jump into his arms and be spoiled silly. I still have a dozen problems we’d call him about and just can’t anymore. I’ve tried to get his sons to replace broken appliances but they’re too young. What can we do now?

At this point, I call his December murder an assassination because powerful people did it and powerful forces are still trying to assassinate his character. They’re still trying to frame him for his own murder, as completely absurd as it is. That’s how brazen they are. Dinesh was trying to expose a financial fraud and that’s why he was killed. If the police followed the money that tells you who did it, but also leads to their bosses, so they’re scrupulously not doing that at all. Now everyone in the country gets the message the fraudsters rule and that they’d better shut up about it. People keep asking me who did it, and I can’t say anything, but just look at who’s not doing anything. That’s all you need to know.

The only comfort is that they really didn’t know who they were messing with. Dinesh was a family man in that he was a part of a family. His wife, his sister, his brothers, they have never given up on him. The powerful people corrupting the very concept of governance are trying to call this a suicide. It’s incredibly frustrating and constantly traumatizing, but the weight of their insipid lies can’t hold up under insistent questioning and dogged pointing out of the obvious. Which we still have to do. Every day. Fighting the ‘investigation’ is a punishment in itself, but in this, at least Dinesh isn’t alone.

But again, I don’t even want to talk about it. I wish I could go to the grave and talk to him like I used to. I wish I could take the children to walk around his grave like we did after school. They ask if he’d mind them walking over him and I say of course not. He always let them crawl all over him. It breaks my heart to think that those joyful moments have been taken forever, and now we can’t even simulate them in mourning. All we have is a photograph to light lamps in front of, and bring flowers to. Not just his life, they’ve taken his body too.

I always ask the children what would Din Anna do, so that his goodness lives on through them. Din Anna would help, Din Anna would listen, Din Anna would make it so. Why do I say it? Because it’s true. They were so blessed to have had that presence in their lives. Even in death, it cannot go. Through whatever rituals I can cobble together, I try to keep him with us somehow. Not just for months, I want my future grandchildren to know. The reason I wear white is because my grandmother never wore color after my grandfather died, making him vivid to me decades later. I still bow to him before leaving the family home. Death takes people inexorably, but rituals somehow renew them.

We all have our rituals, to get through the day. Din Anna’s mother — who I call Paati (grandmother) — communicates through cooking. She used to cook for him, but now she makes at least three curries for me, every day. The family teases me for this, but they’re just jealous. Her cooking is excellent and, more importantly, this is how she works things out. This is my digestive duty now. For three months I dealt with (and enjoyed) spicy dishes before getting the courage to ask her to tone it down a bit cause I was crying every day. Not from sadness, but from sheer chili overload. At least everybody got a laugh out of that. I still remember that on the day he died, she was waiting at his house, with guavas to bring to my son. My son never got his guavas and Paati never got to see her son again. My heart breaks and, as the saying goes, a man’s heart goes through his stomach. So with every tiffin, I try to fix it. It doesn’t work, but the act of working on it at least helps a little.

This is life nine months after Din Anna was taken, though I can’t really say because they still haven’t given him back. Dinesh is still being assassinated by this corrupted system. It’s still the night of December 15th. I don’t even know when the mourning starts.

Nine months, nine years, nine decades, we’ll never give up on him. I know for sure he’d never give up on us. That was him, and that’s the part of him we can keep living. Whenever my wife is sad about it I tell her Din Anna never wanted that. He always wanted us to be happy. We’re definitely not happy, but we’re together, and that’s something. He’d take some comfort in that. And by the light of the lamp, by the flame of my anger, I still take comfort in him.