A Death in the Neighbourhood

The mood is solemn. Even the neighbourhood kids are silent as if on a cue of something really out of place. All people, forgetting their acrimony and petty differences, have come together to console the family that needs emotional support.

There has been a death in the neighbourhood. It is the first death of an elderly person on the campus and as we live like a big family, everyone is affected to his bones. The moment I heard of Akku’s Dadi’s death, I was too shocked even to react. The first thought that came to my mind was that it just could not be. Someone must have spread a rumour! But unfortunately it was true, as true as death can be!

A tall and graceful woman even at her age, she walked swiftly every evening making the young ashamed for their leisurely gait. It is 6-30 pm at this time, the time when she would go for a walk and today we are waiting for her body to come from Shimla where she had gone to spend some time with her brothers’ families. The wait was torturous as we could do nothing except wait. Every evening her grand daughters would wait for her to come from the walk but today whole of the campus was waiting for her.

I realized that it needs courage to go to a bereaved family. As you know that the best of your sharing the grief cannot mitigate the irreparable loss of the family. Gathering courage I, too, went to the family and a look at the face of my colleague made me break down completely. A confident and self assured young man looked distraught and weak. I wanted to hold him close to me. Death of a near and a dear one makes you see life in a new perspective. Death around you makes you wise, albeit temporarily. One becomes philosophic and rises above the mundane frivolous bickering.

Wait, wait and more wait for her to come. Not her but her body. Finally the wait was over and the men of the block brought out the body of the lady. Death is really cruel. It takes away the essence of life. A lifeless body was kept on the floor on and surrounded by ice slabs. I shuddered even at the thought of touching ice. And the fire that would engulf the body made me weep even more. Death is really a great equalizer.

I really wonder why we quarrel over non-issues when life is too short to live peacefully. But then as I said these revelations come to us only when we watch death at close quarters. But do we learn any thing?

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2 thoughts on “A Death in the Neighbourhood

  1. It does take great courage to face the bereaved family. Ice may still warm up, but then death is colder than ice. Last Saturday evening, I and my wife had a fight over a silly issue. While, I slept, she had a disturbing sleep, often rising to play games on her mobile or pick up a book to read to pass off her time. While I knew she was disturbed by the fight, my ego din’t permit me to talk to her. And I woke up early and picked up the morning newspaper and started reading it in the lawn outside. When my wife came to me with my mobile that Mrs Mehta was on the line, I thought, my wife had called her up complaining about me. Mrs. Mehta was my English teacher in school. We all loved her. And hid nothing from her. She is not only an English teacher but teaches us life too. After marriage, my wife too had developed an intimacy with her.

    “Hello Good morning ma’am.”
    “Hello beta. How are you?” (Her voice sounded eerie and doubts about something crude had started germinating.)
    “Ma’am I’m fine…” (there was this sense of urgency in me, that she should now come to the point. I couldn’t ask her how she was, or why she called up.)
    “I disturbed you, you must be sleeping.” (The initial doubts that my wife called her up had disappeared by this time and a sense of fear had started creeping in.)
    “No, ma’am. I had come out…” (It was a half baked sentence. Why wasn’t she coming to the point? Though, myself I didn’t have the courage to ask her the reason for such an early call.)

    “Beta my father expired early morning today…” (Normally, the first things that I would have said to her, if someone else would have broken the news and I would have met her mentally prepared would have been, “I’m so sorry ma’am to hear this.” However, that was not to be.)
    “Ma’am I’m coming.”
    “He would be cremated at Punjabi Bagh crematorium at 9:30.”
    “Ma’am I’m coming.”
    “You come there only.”
    “Ma’am I’m coming just now.” (I certainly didn’t have the courage to show any grief or console her. After all she was my teacher.)

    In an hour I was at her place. When she came out, I could not say a word to her. I did not have the courage to say anything to her. I just hugged her for a while.

    After a while, the ladies were asked to shift to the inner room. Four-five men, we rolled up our trousers, jeans or pajamas. And we started removing ma’am’s father’s clothes. The body was cold. I have touched mutton many a times in my life and the body was like mutton. I know it is crude, but then death is crude.

    I’d had the same feeling four years ago, when my Bua died at a yound age of 45, due to heart attack. She was a spinster and she lived in Shimla in our house. My parents were in Delhi and I was studying in the university in Shimla. I used to stay with her. As a matter of fact, I always stayed with her since childhood. She was my mother, father, friend, sister, everything to me. My parents were my biological parents. I was never close to them. If I belived or confided in to, it was her. And that fateful day, I was out of Shimla. I’d got the news of her death on my way back to Shimla. However, I was reluctant to accept that. When I reached home, the room had been emptied of its furniture and in a corner was kept her body. My maasi, who stays with her family in our building itself was crying there. I could not utter a word. I wished I’d not known this news. How do I react? Whether I knew about the death or not. There were no emotions in me. I just kept gazing at Bua’s body. My Maasi was tellng me (My Maasi is just six years elder to me and she’s been like a friend.) “Beta Bua ham sab ko chorr ke chali gayi.” After a while she told me, “Beta ro lo, apne andar matt rakho.” However, there were no emotions in me. Then I touched her for the first time. I held her face and her mouth. It was stiff and cold like the mutton and the body of the goat hung in meat shops. It repelled me and I just got up from that place and went out. There were varied thoughts in my mind. A person, whom I longed to see and whom I longed to hug, is repelling to me today. I longed for my parents for the first time ever in my life. They however reached from Delhi by midnight only. It was only after two hours, when one of my closest friends came home, that I cried for the first time.

    Death is crude and crudely, I gave fire to her body. And so was ma’am’s father burnt crudely.

    And as soon as we came out of the crematorium, Mrs Mehta told me, “Beta ghar ho ke jaanaa. Khaanaa kha ke jaanaa,” she pointed out to her neighbour, and said, “Inhone saara intezaam kar rakha hai, ghar pe, khaanaa khaa ke jaanaa. You must not have had your breakfast also”.

    I told myself in my mind, “Welcome back to life.” There is only truth and philosophy in death, and if there’s any place where there is philosophy, it is at the crematorium.” But this school too is equally selfish, which doesn’t let truth and philosohy take out from its gates. As soon as one is outside its gates, you are back fighting for life.

    — Surender

  2. Saroj Thakur

    Dear Surender,
    It is a brilliant piece of writing. It seems to have come straight from your heart, without any pretensions and make-up. Death is really crude. I was writing another post on “Why men don’t cry?” But your comment has answered many of the questions that baffled me about lack of sensitivity in men and I realized that this lack is case sensitive and cannot be generalized. I always appreciate a balance between emotional and rational component in human personality and your comment shows that you have that. Keep in up.

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