You might want to sit down for this. Mrs. Marzi, my raven-haired, hawk eyed, 80-year-old frienemy from next door, died this week rather suddenly. I know. Tres tragique. I saw her walking around our lane only a day before and she seemed in fine combative form: head up, shoulders back, judgment out, making mental accounts of how much everything cost (“New gas canister, eh? How new? Old new or Expensive new? I’m sure you overpaid. No sense in these young ones nowadays. Spoilt…where’s your mother?”). I was away for a few days and so imagine my (initially angry but later shameful) shock as I came back to find a traffic jam outside my house, only to find Mrs. Mazri very much not walking.
I shall miss her. That’s a fib, actually. It’s what people say after people whom they don’t know very well but met a few times die without warning. The truth is I’m perpetually shocked when someone goes from Existence to Not Being. It only ever takes a moment and now she will never pester me about dogs or snakes or architectural discounts again.
I’m surprised how sad that’s makes me feel.
Obviously my twitch of empathy is nothing compared to that of her 90-something husband, who looked, when we met, slightly surprised he’s outlived her. I remember when my own grandparents saw Mr. and Mrs. Marzi move in to this neighborhood a decade and a bit ago. Mrs. Marzi was in full form then, her hair darker and her will stronger. Her husband was an exercise in contrast: short, bent over almost double with skin like Japanese paper, he would shuffle along an inch at a time with his walker during his early morning constitution. Everyone made bets as to how long the extremely frail looking Mr. Marzi would make it. 12 years on, he’s outlived all of them including my grandparents, proving that slow and steady wins the race.
I don’t like thinking about Death, which doesn’t really make a bit of difference. Being alive is, after all, not being dead, so it’s hard to celebrate existence without occasionally pondering the alternative. We all live in perpetual fear/awareness of a dark phenomenon that can at will strip us of our dearest, or our self. Even now I’m shaking at the thought. I think about it in small instances, like when I feel guilty about losing my temper in front of my parents and begin thinking punishing thoughts like “when they pass away, you’ll remember all these nasty little interludes and then cut yourself out of shame and horror.” I sometimes try and guess how long people I love will live, and as I approach thirties, have taken to perusing my yearbook to see if anyone has died yet (as it happens three have been kidnapped and five shot, so the odds aren’t really great.)
News of Mrs. Marzi’s death reached me around the same time that I heard that Shashi Tharoor’s wife had been discovered deceased in her high-end hotel room. The story was made for the tabloids. She recently discovered her husband’s alleged affair with none other than a Pakistani journalist and subsequently took to social media to vent her anger. Like all modern operas, this drama floated and flailed on the Great Ocean of Opinion that is twitter. Two days later, her death is being considered an apparent overdose, since there was not suicide note as far as anyone can tell.
That, Ladies and Gents, is what one calls “ way sketchy.” The Pakistani journalist is under siege (would not want to be here this week). Shashi Tharoor has in the span of a year gone from the Dumbledore of Indian politics to its Kreacher, the bitchy house elf. As an Indian op-ed wickedly said, they’ve Tehelka-ed Tharoor. Assuming there is a they, which most aren’t doing.
Like in the States, the personal lives of the famous are being held up to scrutiny in modern India out of what I imagine is gang-rape-related-societal-shame. Sexual harassment and infidelity seems to get top billing. Strangely, I had been speaking to someone just the other week about the lack of any real sex scandals is Pakistan. The Universe quickly answered in the form of the Meera Sex tape.
I am not going to use the world allegedly because, well, you cant if the tape is the first search result on Google. The actress, thus far mainly famous for how she pronounces English words in ways previously unknown, fulfilled the fantasies of the country when a tape of her (and a man she’s clearly on biblical terms with) went viral online. You don’t see much in the tape, at least not anything you wouldn’t see on a French tv channel. But the fact of it is quite surprising, as is the lack of a general uproar. I am hoping our (comparatively) muted reaction to the tape reveals that we have moved on since the Veena Malik debacle of 2011. Hopefully, given that I have no gas or electricity or hot water or a working oven, we will realize we have bigger problems to tackle. It was inevitable that we would have our own sex tape scandal a full ten years after Paris Hilton made them fashionable. As inevitable as death and taxes, as the saying goes; or, when talking about Pakistan, just death.
Mrs. Marzi would not have have agreed with that at all. And for that I will miss her.
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A version of this appeared here.