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‘Walking Towards Death’ – 5 Essays on Mortality by Arathi Devandran

Part 3: ‘Discussing Death’

My first memory of death is linked to a man I never knew. My mother’s father died of a heart attack before I was born; the irony is that I know more about his death than I do about his life.

The entirety of the man has been reduced to a single black-and-white obituary photograph that my mother faithfully keeps at her prayer altar. Then, there are the stories. The stories of what an influence he was in my mother’s life, how he used to work with the British Royal Navy (this was in the 1940s and 1950s, in a pre-independent Singapore that seems as much of a myth as my late grandfather), and of course, the stories about how he died, and how that changed his entire family’s life.

It is funny, what death does. It slowly morphs to form the central narrative of a person’s life, as if only through death did his life gain meaning and importance and weight.

Continue reading “‘Walking Towards Death’ – 5 Essays on Mortality by Arathi Devandran”

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‘Walking Towards Death’ – 5 Essays on Mortality by Arathi Devandran

Part 2: ‘Mixing Memories’

One of my most beloved memories is that of gnarled hands plaiting my long, curly hair, fingers slowly sifting through tangles, gently unfurling errant curls, and tucking them neatly into the beginnings of a French plait. In my ear, the sound of my grandmother’s voice softly admonishes me, telling me to sit still if I want my French braid to turn out properly.

My grandmother was very good at French plaits, and, as her beloved youngest granddaughter, I took it upon myself to have my hair done whenever I could. It was one of the many perks that came with living with my grandmother, who was my principal caretaker during my childhood years, while my parents were off working and doing other adult things.

Continue reading “‘Walking Towards Death’ – 5 Essays on Mortality by Arathi Devandran”

‘Walking Towards Death’ – 5 Essays on Mortality by Arathi Devandran

Part 1: ‘Watching My Father Age’

For as long as I’ve known him, my father has been the strong one in the family. He was indefatigable; during my teenage years, he worked several jobs, survived on three hours of sleep daily, and still had enough patience to deal with an ailing wife and a mildly hormonal teenager.

My father never fell ill. While most of my early memories of my mother are linked to hospitals and needles and antiseptic cream, my early memories of my father are of tireless hard work, and the absence of any kind of disease.

When I was younger, my father would carry me when I was sleepy. I was tall, even as a child, but that never stopped him from swinging me onto his back, hoisting as gracefully as one could a gangly, all-arms-and-legs kid, and striding to wherever it was that we had to go. He would never utter a complaint, he would never say I was heavy, and he would never turn me away.

Continue reading “‘Walking Towards Death’ – 5 Essays on Mortality by Arathi Devandran”

‘Find A Way Of Saying It’ – A Burning House Press Interview With Nottingham’s Henry Normal

Nottingham-born Henry Normal co-wrote the Royle Family, Mrs Merton and many other television comedies, was a co-director with Steve Coogan of Baby Cow Productions and Executive Producer of ‘I Believe in Miracles’, the real life story of Nottingham Forest’s European Cup triumph. As it turns, we share educational, musical tastes and neurology – although Henry has made far better use of his – and it was a pleasure to interview him about his influences, autism, family and future plans, particularly his return to his first love, poetry.  

– Trevor Wright.

 

You’ve recently left Baby Cow and started to re-engage with poetry. What was the thinking behind that?

I worked in television for about thirty years. I’ve always loved comedy, I think there’s something akin with comedy and poetry and it comes down to truth. I think you’re searching for truth in poetry and there are certain things you only laugh at if they’re true. Comedy is a bit like playing a musical instrument, you know when it’s off tune and you know when it’s right. Comedy is exact, whereas poetry requires a little bit more imagination, and a little bit more interpretation. Continue reading “‘Find A Way Of Saying It’ – A Burning House Press Interview With Nottingham’s Henry Normal”

‘Living With Cancer’ – an essay in five parts by Arathi Devandran

Part 5: ‘The Everyday’

I am heading home after a long day at work, and I receive a frantic text from S, a dear friend. She has received upsetting news – the father of a good friend of hers has been diagnosed with cancer.

“I feel so helpless,” S writes. “There’s not much I can do for her, except remain available for her, and provide her support.”

I pause before replying.

I had been in her friend’s position before, of being told things that had made my world come crashing down around me. Of facing the insurmountable task of needing to be strong, even though all I had wanted to do was to crawl into a hole, to hide myself from everyone, from myself.

It had taken me several years to come to terms with my mother’s diagnosis, even after she was given a clean bill of health.

Continue reading “‘Living With Cancer’ – an essay in five parts by Arathi Devandran”

‘Living With Cancer’ – an essay in five parts by Arathi Devandran

Part 4: ‘On Hope’

I could not go with my mother to the doctor’s that day. Something urgent had cropped up at work, and I could not excuse myself in time for her appointment.

The feeling of guilt was familiar, but I had gotten used to it over the years. I had begun to understand that, as a caretaker, as part of a support system for someone with a long-term illness, I had to determine the limits of my capabilities as well. A caretaker was useless if she needed caretaking herself.

And the years of hospital visits and doctors’ appointments had almost desensitized my mother. Almost, because one can never be completely nonchalant about ill-health. But she had gotten used to it, and she had gotten used to dealing with most of it alone.

She rang me in the middle of the day while I was busy with work.

She was silent on the phone for a long time.

“The oncologist has officially declared that I’m in remission.”

Joy is a strange thing.

It hits you unexpectedly, from all directions, overwhelming, all-encompassing, until it settles so deeply inside you that you feel it radiating, throbbing, filling you.

Continue reading “‘Living With Cancer’ – an essay in five parts by Arathi Devandran”

We Disturb The Air – an interview with Cindy Savett

It must have been around Summer 2013. I had just had my first collection of poems published. It was the culmination of many years of continuous writing. A searing, intense, daily practice of generating language. I had begun writing in the first instance as a means to save my life, and now I had no room left to contain the word. I was emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually exhausted.

It was around this period that I discovered the poetry of Cindy Savett. Continue reading “We Disturb The Air – an interview with Cindy Savett”

‘Living With Cancer’ – an essay in five parts by Arathi Devandran

Part 3: ‘The Scare’ 

 

Dearest,

You know what the worst thing about cancer is? Once you’re touched by the disease, there is no turning back.

It has been four years since Mum was diagnosed with breast cancer. Four years since she went through her treatment. Four years of living with cancer, where in one way or another, we are reminded of its viciousness every day.

There is no respite. There is no end. Because from the moment the doctors tell you that you have the disease, it affects every moment of your life thereafter. It becomes a part of you. It is the shadow you can never quite get rid of, the awful feeling in the pit of your stomach that never goes away, the thing that wakes you in the darkest hours of the night, drenching you in cold sweat.

You might think this is only the case for the patient–the person who has been branded with this dreaded disease–but what few people know is that, when cancer touches one life, it touches everyone related to its first victim.

Those things that I wrote above? I go through them too. Cancer has become an indelible part of my life, and I’m not even the one suffering through it. The haunting may be different, but it is no less difficult, no less torturous, to deal with.

A week ago, Mum had a spate of dizzy spells. We didn’t think too much of it. These things happen, and then they go away. But, in her case, the dizzy spells didn’t go away. The alarm bells began ringing, fast and furious.

They did all the tests they could. Dad and I stood by helplessly, watching as she was poked and prodded by needles, wheeled to the X-ray room and then to the MRI scanning theatre.

Hours later, the doctors came and told us they’d found a tumor in her brain. Possibly malignant. Brain cancer.

And then they left us to deal with it. While our world came crashing down, the world outside of that little ward continued at its steady pace.

I think back to that moment – me leaning against a table because my legs had suddenly lost strength, mind racing, trying to figure out how the family was going to get through this again; my father, sitting next to my mother, holding her hand while she cried; and the sound of my mother’s crying, a low keening wail that was coming from a place that seemed so broken, so devoid of hope.

Thinking back on that day, I cannot remember many things. I cannot remember what we talked about after the doctors gave us the news. I cannot remember what we wore, what we ate for lunch – nothing.

But I can remember that single scene, like a tableau etched in a dark corner of my mind, and the sound of my mother’s cry.

***

They came back into the room again, hours later. Only to tell us that they had looked at her older records from years ago, and that they had spotted this tumor then too. It wasn’t new. It wasn’t a metastasis. It wasn’t cancerous.

 

Continue reading “‘Living With Cancer’ – an essay in five parts by Arathi Devandran”

‘What’s My Name?’ – an essay exploring identity and adoption by Anneghem Wall

What’s My Name?

 

Our names: our school pegs, our register entries, an ID badge, a passport, a bank account, a driving licence, how we introduce ourselves. Of course, all of our names are given to us, some a gift, others a curse, some that don’t quite sit right with the face in front of us, or for the body that the person inhabits, but it’s something we all have. Continue reading “‘What’s My Name?’ – an essay exploring identity and adoption by Anneghem Wall”

‘Living With Cancer’ – an essay in five parts by Arathi Devandran

Part 2: ‘The Treatment’

 

 

Note: This interview was written from a series of conversations between the author and her mother over several years. It has been put together to present this part of the series.

Me: Do you remember the day of your diagnosis?

My Mother: Yes. It is a day I will never forget. I remember the doctor telling me that I had a good chance of survival, that the lump they had discovered was small, that there was a fighting chance. The doctor spoke a language of hope. But all I could hear was death, disease, disaster. You know that saying about the world crashing down on you? Yes, that is what happened to me. The world as I knew it came crashing down on me. Continue reading “‘Living With Cancer’ – an essay in five parts by Arathi Devandran”

‘Living With Cancer’ – an essay in five parts by Arathi Devandran

Part 1: ‘When We Found Out’

 

Dear diary,

It seems silly that I am writing in my diary at this age, and yet –

Mother called earlier today. The biopsy results are in:

A malignant tumor. Breast Cancer. Continue reading “‘Living With Cancer’ – an essay in five parts by Arathi Devandran”

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