Relationships Derwin Pereira


“Goodbye”, a heart-rending song by Celine Dion, celebrates her mother: “Mamma/ You gave life to me/ Turned a baby into a lady.” These bare words, and those that follow, do not convey the depth of her relationship with her mother. You have to listen to them as the music in Dion’s voice transforms a personal bond into a universal affirmation of the value of relationships.

 Yet, relationships are what many of us are likely to take for granted. It is not our fault. It is one thing when we were children clinging to our parents’ laps as if they were all that mattered in life as they did, indeed. A child’s world is bounded by the protective presence of parents, siblings and other elders and peers. What they do and do not do determines the outcome of every childhood day. The park looks beautiful in Papa’s lap. A scolding by him withers all flowers in the world. Mama’s outstretched hand makes even a piece of broccoli delicious. Eating it by oneself is a dietary punishment. It is perfectly reasonable to run ahead of Elder Brother because he is keeping an eye on the road ahead, and one warning from him will make Younger Brother stop safely. Younger sister makes faces at me all the time, but if anyone else does so even once, she will gouge out his eyes. That primary network of biological relationships is called a family.

Then we grow up. Bosses take the place of fathers, with the toughness but without the love that fathers have. No one can take the place of mothers. Sibling rivalries and jealousies are transformed into cut-throat competitiveness where one man’s wagyu beef is another man’s instant noodles. Parents do not let their children go to bed hungry. The loveless streets of unemployment might.

Hence we change. Relationships remain, but they go from being existential to becoming transactional. Hence the fake rituals of competitive life (such as saying “I wish you the best” to the person to whom one has lost a bid for a company’s or a nation’s leadership); the firm handshakes delivered over multi-million-dollar deals that might lead to multi-million-dollar lawsuits a year later; the fleeting companionship of those who confuse sex with love on champaign-drenched nights. We grow into the nast job of growing up.

Relationships matter, but mind triumphs over matter. The mind says that personal survival and success are non-negotiable. The heart proclaims otherwise, but the mind prevails. The mind can count time in dollars and cents: The heart was born and will die penniless.

This is a pity. Even as we chase after the future, the past falls off us. Parents leave forever. Elder siblings land up in hospital. Younger siblings land up in jail. And we are nowhere around. Nowhere. We have given up our place in relational time.

I am saying all this not about you or me, but about the collective destiny of millions of lives that are cast into the wilderness of change. It happens every day, everywhere.

And then, one day, a sudden change in circumstances such as the death of a dear friend whom one has not met in three decades changes our perspective on life. Life seems hollow after the spontaneous trust and liveliness of past relationships has disappeared. It is time to say “goodbye”.

Without casting aspersions on Dion’s song in any way, I would like to ask: What is so “good” about a “bye”?

So, let us hold on to relationships so that they may hold on to us.

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