On dealing with death…
by Abhinav Kukreja
13 February 2014
I was on the phone with a friend.
‘Hey listen. Mom’s calling me for lunch. I’ll call you in a bit. Don’t worry, she will be perfectly alright’
‘Thank you, Karishma’
I kept down the receiver.
Five minutes later, my phone rang again. Only this time, it wasn’t the friend. It was my mother.
‘Come back. She’s no more.’
I did not say anything. She had run out of words as well.
I could hear people crying behind her.
She hung up after a long pause.
I was expecting myself to burst into tears, but that did not happen.
Everything slackened. An indispensible part of my life had left, and nothing seemed the same.
It was like losing a tiny piece from a puzzle. The bigger picture still made sense, but it just wasn’t the same anymore. This time, the piece had been taken off right from the center.
I rushed down to alert my Nani, but her face told me that she already knew.
‘Pack your bags. We leave for Delhi in ten minutes’
My bags were already packed. I had been anticipating this.
I went back upstairs, and locked the door. I tried to weep again. I failed. I looked for people in my contact list whom I could call. I couldn’t find anyone appropriate.
The ride back home took us three protracted hours.
I don’t remember much of the journey, to be honest. My head was out of the car window, and the vapid February wind shut my eyelids. I couldn’t see; I couldn’t feel.
I was in the car with three other people, but I felt alone.
I yearned for the traffic lights to turn red, so that I could delay the whole experience.
Every once in a while, when the car stopped, I could hear the faint sound of Damien Rice’s voice through my headphones, which somehow seemed like a crass cacophony.
In my defense, I was a young boy of seventeen. I was learning new emotions.
We went straight to the cremation house. That’s where I saw my father. He was my pillar of support, my stalwart of strength. Before my eyes, two strange men took my grandmother’s cadaver out of the ambulance. Before my eyes, I saw my father’s eyes turn red, and face turn pale. I wanted to go and hug him, but my feet were resilient, and my heart was beating faster than it ever had before. All around me, I saw people grieving. The feeling was eerie, because I had never seen these people cry before; I had never known they cared.
And then, while the vapid winds became unnerving, I felt powerful. I felt powerful, because I knew it couldn’t get worse than this. I knew this was the end of all my apprehensions, and that even if things had taken a toll for the worst, the veracity had to be embraced.
My eyes met my father’s a few minutes later. He nodded me to come forward and stand next to the body. I left comatose again. More lifeless than the body I was being asked to stand next to. My emotions were too real to be described.
My grandmother was covered in layers of white sheets – her pyre cascading drops of sorrow. This was the end of a life. I still couldn’t picture her under those layers. To me, she always remained on her bed, pretending to watch the news channel.
This is when regret started to fill me up. I hadn’t visited my grandmother when she was in the hospital. I was too timid. I was too petrified.
Her death had changed the life of many, but when I looked around, I could see that nothing had changed at all. This was an everyday affair at the cremation ground. It made me ponder about the significance of human life. It made fear oblivion.
But this wasn’t about me. This was about a woman who had spent a large part of her later years teaching me the alphabet and putting up with my nonsense. This was about the woman who had made me bellow and lark.
Sadly, I just understood my grandmother on the bases of how I felt about her. I was with her for eighteen years, and I saw just one side of her. Maybe I wasn’t sad because she was no more. Maybe I was sad because the feelings and emotions I had ascribed to her were no more. Maybe I wasn’t grieving the loss of a body. Maybe I was grieving the loss of something much greater- the embodiment of her soul in mine.
During the several rituals we performed, I didn’t see my father cry once. I have to say, my respect for the man increased.
But then, when he gave fire to her body, I finally saw him shed a tear. His eyes turned to the color of the late autumn evenings all of us cherish- the color of the blood which was no longer flowing in my grandmother’s body.
We left for home after all the rituals were done with. Some relatives came with us, while some went back to their own lives.
Sadly, home didn’t feel like home. My grandmother rarely left her bed, but she was always visible through that tiny crevice between the wall and her door. Her bed was neatly made up, like always. However, today, there was no one to occupy it.
I wanted to weep, but tears failed me. It was miserable to not be in control of my own body.
Occasionally, when my father was looking, I swept my hand over my face so as to wipe away the tears, which weren’t there.
I don’t know why I did that. I wanted to be there for him. This seemed to be the only way.
Over the next few days, I took my final exams, and helped my mother serve the guests who came in every now and then to show their support, most of which felt fabricated.
Here I am now, three months later. But this time, when I swipe my hands over my face, my tears are real.
This time, when I think of her, it renders me catatonic.
This time, I cry to grieve, not to pretend.