Five sentences crowded in the left column of the newspaper jolted me this morning. I read about earthquakes, bombings, accidents, murders and cardiac arrests everyday; newspapers make sure we wake up to witness the end of lives in solemn obituaries or gory details or just few indifferent words. But these are snippets of wars in foreign lands or riots nearer home or a bespectacled old woman lovingly remembered by her sons and grandchildren, and even though these deaths aggrieve me, their anonymity cushions the blow and makes it only a fleeting presence in my memory.
How does the death of someone you know affect you?
I don’t mean the intimate circle of family, friends and loved ones or the innocent victims in distant, war ravaged lands. I’m writing about those in between, the people one might have known, met at some point in their lives and maybe had talked about the weather.
A good friend of mine from high school traced me through an online social network and we ended up sharing the latest gossip, reliving old memories and promises to meet soon. She used to ask the weird questions and when we were in the eight standard she made me choke on a burger when she asked out loud ‘Does pubic hair turn gray?’! She spelled it ‘trigonometry’ but pronounced it ‘trikonometry’. Her hands were never tired by the animated gestures that accompanied every sentence she spoke. Every night her mother shook her curly hair to drive out any mosquitoes before she got inside the mosquito net. Time and distance had faded her from being a close friend into the sphere of a mere acquaintance and I forgot about her in pursuing the mundane activities of my life. And one day I received a text message informing me that she had died following complications of a regular cholecystectomy! I wasn’t devastated or cried throughout the day. I envy people who can do that. I was sad, and profoundly so, but I didn’t shed a single tear. I was amazed at my own calm and strength in handling the emotional blow. Two years on, I avoid any conversation that brings her up. The grief refuses to ebb away in a gush of tears.
My pehi (paternal aunt) died two nights after I had scolded her about eating potatoes. She was a diabetic who never comprehended the seriousness of her ailment. She gulped down rosogullas in secret, as if discreetness would shield her from the ravages of diabetes. Her feet had sores which she hid in the folds of her saree. She thought it was a game her body would win as long as she plunged a syringe into her abdomen twice a day. She got hospitalized frequently, but always recovered in a few days and the family breathed a collective sigh of relief. Five years ago she didn’t even have the time to reach the hospital. She died on her bed in our ancestral home in the village. I had called up to know if she got admitted in the hospital yet and I was informed that my aunt had expired a few minutes ago. It is this phone call that will haunt me all my life; how my heart had stopped beating for a few moments and it was momentarily difficult to move my mouth to form words.
Today the newspaper told me that another life had ended and it threw up a familiar name. I sat transfixed for a few moments, then rationalized that it might be a namesake and called up few people who might help refute the newspaper claim, but the news only got confirmed. He was an acquaintance who I had worked with nearly two years ago. Through the little interaction I had with him, I knew him to be a good-hearted, calm, intelligent, unassuming, hard-working, sincere, sober and kind person with a wit that took time to get used to. He had warned us about the futility of a doctor trying to advise family members regarding health issues. He had said, “Ghar ki murgi daal barabar!” and all the interns had laughed. He had once admonished me for rushing into the NICU with my shoes on. We drank piping hot cups of tea on a winter night and talked about treatment protocol of asthma! I remember him with the ubiquitous muffler around his neck and a brown jacket. He wasn’t a friend or a close acquaintance, just someone I had known fleetingly. But I am distraught by this sudden end to a young life full of so many hopes and dreams, a life that had just started out, a life which was backed by achievements and a life so gentle. Tongues have started wagging about the cause of death, but is it necessary to know how, where, why or who drove him to the ends of despair and end his life? It’s a sad enough fact that we lost such a good person from amidst us.
The melancholy of young lives cut short by untimely deaths haunt me every moment till they merge into the subconscious only to erupt in moments of solitude. I am scared to close my eyes in the shower, for the thought of the dead haunt me in the claustrophobic, hazy cloud of steam. In morbid moments I feel guilty to be alive and breathing when someone my age, someone I had known, someone who might be more deserving of a place on this beautiful earth is no more. I am disturbed by the unpredictability and the abruptness of death, of dreams and hopes remaining unfulfilled or fading from the memories of loved ones.
Today the sky was the bluest blue and the sun had cast a golden glow and a pleasant breeze had rustled the leaves of the tree outside my window. The traffic continue to harass, new books are getting penned, movies will release this weekend, iPad5 is yet to release, fuel prices continue to rise, people will continue to fall in and out of love, the ruins of Atlantis might be discovered and Venice might sink; but the lost lives will no longer witness them.