H is for Hawk and the Transformative Power of Grief

12 April 2015

While I was reading Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk, news arrived from Bengaluru that a friend, dear and cherished, had passed away, suddenly, with an illness, yes, but with no special warning. It conjures, as Macdonald says in the book—among other things, an explication on mortality—a confusing mix of emotions. At first, a distrustful denial, an anger, a guilt for time wasted, for everything left unsaid. All at once I rummaged through my phone for messages we’d exchanged and through my head for stories and conversations. The last time we met was in January, with promises and plans to meet. Now, I would never see him again.

I am learning how to cope from a book on grief and falconry.

H is for Hawk recently won a slew of literary laurels, including the Samuel Johnson Prize and the Costa Book Award, and I approached it with tentativeness. It has happened before, that a book falls so short of its hype that it’s like being, heart in your mouth, in an airplane plummet. And falconry? It was something about which I knew so little, not least because of my massive disinterest in the subject. I don’t frequently read books about animals—does Watership Down count? I can think of no other on my shelf. But this drew me in from the very first page, with a description of a Cambridge landscape, the Brecklands, the broken lands, where wet fen gives way to parched sand. A land of twisted pine trees, burned-out cars, shotgun-peppered road signs. “There are ghosts here,” writes Macdonald, and she is there too, restless spirit, at 5:00 on a sleepless morning, going to see goshawks.

Janice Pariat is the author of Seahorse: A Novel and Boats on Land: A Collection of Short Stories for which she was awarded the Sahitya Akademi’s Young Writer Award and the Crossword Award for Fiction in 2013. She is currently based in New Delhi.