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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The post I wish I hadn't had to write

Being in Dhaka for an FK Partnership meeting provided me with a chance to spend time with Ragni, now at her first job (at Drik) after graduation. Except for the two meeting days, for which I moved into the hotel where the event was held, I am living in a room next to her, provided to me courtesy Pathshala. The post I'd planned to write was going to be gossipy and funny ... but that will have to wait, now. For almost 4 days I have watched Ragni bravely handle the suspense of her college friend, Dora Magrath, missing from her home. Dora and Ragni had lived in the same house at Hampshire College and were good friends.

Ragni kept logging on to all the sites that could possibly provide any updates ... but little was heard. I watched Dora's YouTube videos - especially the one of her singing Amazing Grace - marveling at her wonderful voice and adoring her sweet smile. My heart went out to Linda, Dora's mom about whom Ragni had spoken to us. I spoke to Nuzhat about Dora and we both hoped and prayed that Dora would be home, safe and sound, soon. Tonight we returned after dinner and, exhausted, Ragni fell asleep in my room. I wrote the post about Pakistan's YouTube fiasco and then searched on the Net for Dora again. No news. Five days! The car she was in hadn't been found. That gave us hope and, as many felt, reduced the chances of foul play. I read and re-read Dora's words on her MySpace page:
I do not want to be a product. I do not want to sell my pretty face to sell a record. I want to play my music, to be a constant student, to live my life the way I want. And if that means that I need to have a day job, and maybe a high-paying night job a couple nights a week, then so be it. I’m tired of seeing every musician turn themselves into a product, into something smooth and glossy that everyone will automatically “love.” I don’t want to smooth out the rough edges, I don’t want to make myself into something or some one that moves with the tide. I want to own one wave, own the bubbles and the rough edges and the swooshing of that one wave and know that I move with it, move like it, because I wish, not because I can gain the whole ocean from it.
I found a CD of hers on a website. Downloadable ... but through PayPal, a sevice not accessible from here. Among her musical influences, she'd cited my favourite jazz singer of all time: Billie Holiday. Yes, I thought. Dora would ... Once again I logged on to Steve Huff's Dora Magrath page for updates, more links, and another run of the Amazing Grace video, which I downloaded to play for Ragni when she wakes up. At midnite, just as I was considering going to sleep, Ragni woke up. She logged on to search again, without luck. After all, I'd searched only moments ago. And, quite suddenly, there it was: Dora was dead! Dead! An awfully difficult word to speak or write about a 22-year-old. A little kid about whom, only a couple of days ago, I had read this:
Dora Magrath has a superpower. No, she can’t shoot deathrays from her eyes or lead North Korea. She has the ability of making everything disappear around you when she starts singing. This singer-songwriter sounds like a Regina Spektor fed with jazz records. Her amazing voice barely covered by a shy piano just gives me shivers.
It was good that I was with Ragni ... although I am sure I could offer her no real consolation. But loneliness would have made it much worse for her, I guess. It's been over 2 hours since we read the news of Dora's death. While I sit and write this, Ragni is visiting all her old web spaces and talking to friends and reliving those wonderful days and memories of Dora. My mind goes back to the loss of a friend, through suicide, when I was just 16 ... and I realize how inexplicable and confusing life must seem to my daughter. Dora, I wish I had met you in person. Yet, strangely, you now seem much more than just a collection of photographs and videos and a beautiful voice to me. R.I.P., child!
Finally, here's Dora ... in her own words. ===================== Update March 3, 2008: I am leaving Dhaka today, for home. Being with Ragni - free of most interferences - has been an experience quite different from what I had imagined. Over the last few days, despite the fact that at my age I have had to deal with many deaths before, I am trying to come to terms - not just with Dora's death but the inexplicable closeness I feel with her. The more I read about her at various websites and obituaries, the more I hear about her from Ragni and from Dora's friends, the more I realize how special this very wonderful person was IS! Ragni and her friends have put together a website featuring posts and reminiscences by friends and family as well as links to other sites and blogs that mention Dora. Read her mother's letter and you will be truly inspired by this amazing 22-year-old who has taught me much in this short space of a week.

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