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anil mehrotra

Drama


4.4  

anil mehrotra

Drama


End Of A Journey

End Of A Journey

21 mins 229 21 mins 229

A JOURNEY’S END 

This Sunday morning was no different from the previous Sunday morning or even those before that. The only significant difference, however, was that when I tried to get up I could not. My effort to get off the bed proved futile as the limbs and body appeared to have been cast in lead. Overnight, a sort of stiffness had crept-in. Even a simple activity of wriggling my toes and fingers met without success. In fact they felt cold. Anyways, it was too mundane a feeling to be taken up seriously at this juncture when the rest of me lay immobile.

I tried to look around. But the neck wouldn’t budge an inch. Instead it felt rather heavy, rock-solid, disjointed with the thorax and the head. I remembered that during a routine check-up visit to the doctor I was indeed warned about the possibility of a creeping cervical and advised to get an x-ray done. But as always procrastination got the better of me and I had shelved the plan for some later date. Actually speaking, it was the exorbitant cost of the x-ray that had made me reluctant to get it done. Had hidden the fact from my wife too, who would have heard none of it. Remembered my father too, who could be heard advising anyone within the earshot distance to never ignore the silent warnings our body gave us from time to time. Made a mental note not to delay it any further. Was it too late for me now, I silently questioned myself? A cloud of silent cold fear had started forming somewhere within me which I could not pinpoint.

I tried to look around but in vain. I couldn’t decide whether the darkness was due to eyes being closed or it was so dark that I was unable to see. Though I could sense the existence of the orbit of my eyeballs but there was a stony feeling to them today. The pupils appeared to have turned opaque within the lustrous, liquid pools inside which they floated with abandon. Today they lay frozen like the centuries old lava from a dead volcano. I forced myself to see but to no avail. Black it was and an all pervasive blackness remained. Overnight and unannounced the otherwise colourful world had shrunk into a dark ball. It must be a temporary loss of vision which would soon pass, I tried to convince myself. The thought that this was how the blind felt flashed across my mind? It was frightening to even think of surviving an entire life-span in a world etched only in shades of grey??? Fright overtook me once again as I decided of getting my eyes tested immediately from a better ophthalmologist. In fact, one of my close relative was an eye specialist of repute, though he never gave any concession in his fees. My prime reason for not consulting him.


Even in that abject darkness and immobility, I could perceive that it was well past my usual time of getting up for morning chores. It commenced with a casual stroll in the park, exchanging pleasantries with folks of all age groups, as I thought that I was quite popular in the neighborhood. This was usually followed by some gardening, watering the plants if required, scanning the daily newspaper followed by a strong cup of coffee, with a single, sugarless biscuit.

But today, I lay cocooned within an absolutely eerie silence all around. No sound, not even the tick-tock of the grandfather clock which stood in the corner of the room and chimed every hour on the hour. It may have stopped due to in-sufficient winding by my wife. She found it too technical. I reminded myself, to get it serviced from the mechanic in the market and added it to the ever-lengthening list of pending works. 

Finally, I could hear some voices, though distant but audible and familiar. So, obviously not everything was wrong with me. I could not only hear but was also able to identify people through their voices. And since I knew and could analyse what was happening to me, the brain too was working well. Where then was the problem?

An immediate sense of relief swept over me, as I knew that whatever has happened was only a figment of imagination. The awful dream, a nightmare actually, was about to end. I blamed it on the late-night dinner of chicken and rice washed down with few shots of my favourite brand of Single Malt whisky. Waited with bated breath for the world to turn colourful again. The thought of attending the scheduled evening party at my favourite watering hole excited me no end. Thought of wearing my favourite black polo neck T-shirt teaming it with the cream trouser I had recently purchased in a sale, but had reserved it for wearing on some distinct occasion. And that occasion was tonight. 

Nothing of that sort happened.

I continued to lay still, log like. Nothing moved within me. Couldn’t even feel my heart beat. Instead a heavy, cold sheet started engulfing me, getting colder by the minute. But this cold was different than what I felt during winters. It was almost macabre. 

I heard my wife calling, chiding me to get up as it was fairly late, even by Sunday standards. More calls followed, which I could sense coming from the kitchen. She must be busy in making club sandwiches for me. The thought of having it with coffee, outside in the small garden, which I had created, was comforting. The garden lacked roses and I had planned to add some colour by planting roses, in the coming monsoon. This too was added to the list. 


There was a rush of shuffling feet into the room. “Get up, the sun is almost on top. So much work to do without any help. Even the maid has gone on leave. Get up and help me”. It was my wife, as always cribbing about the maid and the amount of house-hold work she is left with, now that the daughter is not with us.

We lived alone. The kids, a strapping boy and a doting daughter grew up, got married and settled at their place of work and choosing. While the son visited once in a while, the daughter was more frequent.

“What’s your problem, today? Not feeling well or what? I sensed, she had come closer and removed the sheet from my face, touching my forehead and wrist, checking for fever. And then she shrieked. A loud, horrendous wail emanating from the four walls of the house reverberated across the neighbor-hood.

Some lady, probably Mrs. Joshi from the first floor arrived in the room.” What happened? I heard your shout” She addressed my wife, who probably was staring, stupefied towards the cot where I lay.

There was a gap and then sound of rushing, running feet. “Someone please call Dr. Gupta, there appears to be some problem here”. I identified Mr. Trivedi, the first one to arrive, shouting to no one in particular to fetch Dr. Gupta, our colony doctor.

Dr. Gupta arrived as I could make out from the sudden hush which fell over those present in the room. I could feel him checking my wrist, followed by the neck and the chest. And then, in the gravest of tone the doctor’s reserve for such moments, he proclaimed me dead. Long dead, infact. The word had a grim finality to it. Sometimes during the night I had moved into the realms of history.

Immediately outside, the hush was shattered as hell broke loose. A loud yowl arose from the room even as I tried to comprehend the gravity of the doctor’s words. Did I hear him correctly, that I was NO MORE? But how can it happen so soon and why ME? I am only into my sixties whereas Mr. Shukla is still roaming around, in probably eighties. Though looks so frail, yet the bloke had gulped two large neat pegs in the wedding ceremony of Mr. Kushwaha’s son. People I tell you, fall for anything which is free. There was nothing wrong with me till yesterday so how can this happen. And that too so suddenly! I was sure there was some mistake somewhere and the awful dream would end soon. I had so much pending work to do. Wonder if my pension for the month was credited. Could not even complete my WILL. S**t..


The thought that there was something wrong in doctor’s proclamation was also bolstered by the fact that I followed a certain saffron robed, constantly winking Baba to the hilt. The stunts I did with my breathing apparatus followed by calisthenics as advised by him, daily in the park opposite my house, would have put even sorcerer Houdini and any gymnast worth his salt melt into oblivion. Could it also have been due to the park-sessions being attended by Sarla- the dusky wife of one of the neighbors? I questioned myself. Seized as I was with a graver situation, I forcefully cast away the thought. She will have to wait., at least for now.  

The room appeared to be getting crowded. “Bring him down from the cot” someone, I couldn’t identify, said. Immediately felt being grabbed by a couple of hands and being lowered on the floor. “Remove the carpet at least” another voice suggested.” See, You can’t use it, later. No point in wasting such a beautiful carpet. Pure wool, I think. Must have cost a neat packet”. The carpet was removed from under me, probably rolled up and placed aside.

“Has someone informed the kids” It was more of a question than a statement, thrown in the air. “Earlier the better. They will require time for reservations etc. Difficult to get on short notice. And listen, break the news gently, like Khanna is not well etc? The voice continued.

 “Yes, they have been informed, should be here by evening” another unidentified voice in the room answered. In fact there was a connectivity problem so had to try a couple of times before I could get connected to Mohit beta. I must change my vendor as there are a lot of call drops on this network. Just imagine they charge so much but when it comes to providing decent service they are zilch. Rascals. This Govt I tell you….” his voice trailed off, expecting everyone to fill in the blanks. 

 “Bhabhi jee, has the ice-slab come. It will be necessary to preserve the body till the cremation, which I am sure can only be held tomorrow now, as you would like to wait for the kids to come. Isn't it? ”.This I guessed was Trivedi, enquiring from my wife. As if she had been dealing with ice-slabs and dead bodies throughout her life. She replied something in a muffled, sobbing voice which I couldn’t make out.

“BODY”? I was aghast. The proclamation by the doctor was just about ten minutes back. And within those couple of minutes I have lost my name and identity! Not even Mr. Khanna as I was generally addressed. I was now a body. Only a body!! The entire lifespan condensed in to just a word. BODY, that’s it. 

Remembered the school definition of Matter – anything which has weight and occupies space is Matter. Presently I had both. Only the breath was missing. And breath alone could have made me Mr. Khanna, and then I would have had mattered. It was death that made me realize the importance of breath and by that analogy Life. But now it was too late for everything. Losing out on breath converted me into just a matter, and now I did not matter. I was a body which was now to be finally, somehow, disposed off. Procedures and preferences may vary. 


Mr Pande, a lawyer, residing a couple of blocks away, interjected “There is no problem. My father’s cremation was held up too and performed late in the evening, the next day. Mind you, the summer that year was horrible, the worst in the past decade. It was widely reported by the media. We had to change the ice-slabs thrice, despite the dearth of ice slabs due to high demand, that year. Fortunately, my nephew knew the guy who provided the slabs. And we managed and managed well”. I am sure he must have surveyed the faces to see their reactions.

The reality finally dawned that I was cold and dead as a stone. I lay in the very room where I had spent countless days and nights of childhood and youth, pursuing studies, work, marriage, money, fame, family; all milestones en-route to achieving happiness. 

 And the final milestone of absolute happiness, achieved after years of search!! The shadow of a waiting, dusky figure flashed across. Who will break the news? But more importantly, how? And its aftermath? Even in that state of immobility the shock shook the body. Only had I known it earlier, I could have said the final good-bye, yesterday itself. I could visualize the svelte, dusky figure standing stupefied, silent screams emanating from the heart, echoing from the sky. The helplessness was now complete. I felt the lava crust cracking and the magma erupting once again.

“Don’t you have something in pastel, if not white, to wear on the occasion” Heard a voice suggesting to someone. “You know, I too was wearing a bluish top with a darker shade of lower when I got the news, through the maid. Husband had gifted when he returned from his tour to Mumbai. Changed into this and then came. Couldn’t wear earlier. Hope it is looking ok”. She informed, enquired and suggested in the same breath and continued. 

Heard a vehicle pulling up in the porch. Probably the ice had come as I was gently lowered onto a cold slab. Other than feeling stiff and immobile there was no other sensation. This was the last effort, if only to somehow make me “last” for a few more hours, if you know what it meant. 

“Listen, someone please place a fan on the side to keep the flies away. And will someone light up some incense sticks next to the body. It is summer and the body will start putrefying soon”. Someone present in the room directed someone to do it. Someone else did.

More people from the colony trooped in. While the gents filtered themselves and formed groups outside on the road, the ladies moved in. “Listen, keep some chairs outside, under the tree so that we can sit” a voice commanded from outside. I remembered to have planted the Gulmohar sapling when I had moved into the house. It had grown into a beautiful tree bursting into red flowers during the season.

What happened, Yaar” Has he died? ” Someone from the colony enquired in a tone bordering almost on wishful thinking. This I was sure was Mr Nigam with whom I had had a few altercations over parking of car outside my house. No, actually I am just playing dead-dead. It’s my hobby actually, I felt like screaming into his ears. Joker. 


 Every time a new entrant arrived the wail went up into a crescendo only to fall back to normal level and talks resumed.

“How did it happen”? A lady enquired and continued, “You know, one of my distant cousin too died recently. Had gone to sleep but never got up in the morning. Felt so bad. What can be done. Life is like that only. Married twice and had three kids. One, from the first husband. She, however, was smart enough to have shared her jewelry among her three children before her death. I later learnt that they also had a plot of land, somewhere. Don’t know what happened to that. The cost must have zoomed by now. It must be a gold mine by today’s real estate prices. Lucky kids”. Could visualize the vile hidden in her thoughts as she continued to sow the seeds in the minds of those present. 

“Has someone gone to book the crematorium”. This, I was certain was Mr Yadav, my immediate, inquisitive neighbor. “I would have gone but actually my car is not starting. Bought it only last year but just see the state of quality. Its not what it was earlier”. I was sure he was fibbing as had seen him driving outside the mall only yesterday evening”. He continued “I tell you my father had a Fiat which was simply superb. Moved like butter. And mind you I am talking about the fifties. Wish I should have booked a sedan instead of this rattling box of an SUV”. The bloke was effortlessly making everyone aware of being born with a silver spoon. That he was living in an MIG house with nothing much to boast off, however, is another story. “There is heavy turnout at the crematorium, now-a-days. It would be worthwhile to book in advance”. He added.

“First, let the family decide their preference for the routine wooden pyre or an electric cremation?” Dr Gupta added.” See, I would advise an electric cremation as it takes less than half the time that of the pyre. More so the scoundrels at the crematorium invariably supply wet wood as it weighs more. The way everyone makes money now-a-days, they don’t even spare the dead”. I could feel his exasperation

“I agree”, Pande intervened. “One can wait though, but it is a working day and so difficult to get even half-day off. That way the electric option is better as one doesn’t have to waste much time at the place. It is all over in a few minutes. Sunday, of course would have been different”. Pande certainly was born ahead of his times. Talking about designer deaths in future. At least one could have consulted all and sundry before kicking the proverbial bucket. 

 Son and daughter arrived in the evening. After deliberations, which I could listen to, a consensus was arrived at to have the rituals (read disposing of the body) done electrically, by noon the next day, which happened to be a Monday. The time-slot was accordingly booked. A hearse-car was arranged after much haggling over the rent. The driver was charging exorbitantly and had to be persuaded to reduce the amount which he reluctantly agreed.

No sooner the time was decided, phones started ringing. Everyone who was anyone took upon himself to inform all and sundry, insisting that as it would be an electric cremation it won’t take much time. There was a macabre sense of festivity.

‘Is this an iPhone. Let me see?” someone enquired. “Yes, its iPhone 11. Just purchased a few days back.See, once you use an I phone you will not go back to any other cellphone.” The reply had all the ingredients of the classic neighbour’s envy, owner’s pride advertisement

Someone, probably one of the broker friend of mine, tried to make the best use of the activity and fixed up a meeting. “Let’s meet at the crematorium. It is mid-way. You can hand over the cash to me there and then proceed with your work. It will save me unnecessary movement”. I heard him telling someone on the phone.   


I was carried off from the ancestral house in a hurriedly constructed bamboo stretcher.  The see-off was predominantly by the women folk, amidst much crying and wailing. I could also gather through their talks that they were in a hurry to reach home for lunch, as either their family members or kids were about to return from the school or work. And prior to all this they were to have the customary bath. “You know, I was about to apply henna to my hair, as it was long over-due, when the maid informed me of this. I had to come here then. Will now try after lunch” a voice lamented. “Why don’t you use 3B shade of Loreal? Really makes the hair so dark, silky and soft. Husband also likes it” Someone with a gruffy voice, suggested her preference.

 The males took to respective vehicles, feeling generous with those without one in offering lifts. The hearse car carried me, my son and two/ three relatives and an unidentified person who was either not offered lift or was without a vehicle. Whereas everyone sat on the cushioned seats, my stretcher was placed on the vehicle floor. Apparently, the seats were for the still living.

The body reached the cremation ground- my final resting place, if it could be called one. Remembered being fed up of being constantly reminded of acquiring a plot, I had once asked my wife to accompany me so that I can show her the housing colony where we had a plot. I took her to the cremation ground and told her that this was the biggest colony where each and every one of us had a plot. She almost threw me out of the car. I had smiled then. But now though the smile was missing; the celestial-plot was within reach. 

 There must have been a crowd as I could hear someone informing about a likely delay due to other cadavers lined up for cremation, ahead of me. It wasn’t difficult to realize that besides a few relatives, other’s constituting the motley group were mostly childhood friends and some immediate neighbours. Staff from the office from where I had retired a few months back were missing. A working day had its own problems.

“Where is Ramesh, Yaar? Haven’t seen him of late” enquired Joshi, adding that he had indeed informed him. “Oh, the premium to his life Insurance was due today. So has proceeded to the bank to deposit the cheque. Had said will try to join once he was through with the formalities.” Someone replied.

“Hi Chief, did you apply for the Rights Issue launched by the Reliance Group recently? A query was raised by, probably Trivedi. “Not yet. Today is the last date but then this happened and I had to come here. Hope this finishes early so that I can file my application. I am sure the Nifty as well as the BSE index is sure to rise in the coming days”. I was sure this was Neeraj who was a great player on the stock market and had often advised me to invest. He owed me some money through on-line unloading of some shares. But without any documentation how and why will he return the money? I cursed myself for not doing it when I was “alive’ and now there was no way of correcting the mistake.


I heard Shukla, some distance away, “Oh hi, not seen since quite some time. Where the hell have you been all these days? How come you are here? Never knew you knew Khanna” he enquired. “No, no, I had to come for the cremation of my uncle being held at the adjoining shed. It is taking too much of time as they had opted for the wooden stunt. Had advised them for the electric cremation but was not agreed to? People don’t realize that it is difficult to afford so much of time now-a –days. It was fortunate that I saw you and came over. Good that I met you here” I had no idea who the man was.

Mohit, my son was running around for the death certificate from the Nagar Nigam Authorities. “So are you sure that the death was due to natural causes” the man at the thoughtfully opened Nagar Nigam counter gave a piercing, know-all look from atop the frame of his specs, perched on the tip of his nose. A quick exchange of some currency notes nipped in the bud the possibility of any further questioning. The certificate was issued. I could have died of bird-shit falling on me, for all he could care.

“Boss, let’s have something cold once this is over. It is so hot here. By the way what are you doing today evening? We can have a drink at the Club”. I heard an unrecognizable voice fixing up an evening at the Club, as the other replied in the affirmative. I too agreed. Why waste time and for what. The dead in any case can’t raise a toast, can they?   

With some more money exchanging hands the priest saw to it that there was least delay in arranging for my quick rendezvous with the owner of Baikunth Dham-wherever it was. The delays were quickly resolved and the final touches were put into place.

With tone and precise words practiced over the years, the priest urged all those desirous to pay their last respects. Like school boys for the morning assembly they lined up, arriving one-by- one at my feet-end, hands folded, eyes closed, mumbling sweet nothings within their lips, stepping back for the next gentleman to replace them. I watched and watched, helpless now as ever. 

So, this was going to be my last look at this world and its people. I will never, ever walk this path again irrespective of what the reincarnation philosophy and various learned men in those saffron clothes may have preached or said. 

At this precise moment a shapeless something detached itself from me and stood mid-air, looking down on the happenings and the earthlings surrounding my immobile self. This probably was my soul. Remembered childhood teaching that the soul, could neither be burnt nor destroyed by any means. It was indestructible. Abandoned by the body it hung mid-air, detached and yet amused, watching the ongoig shenanigans below.


 I was placed on the iron carriage-way attached to a lever. Upon being operated the carriage-way would deliver the contents into the dark, womb like chamber . A piece of sandal-wood about 6-8 inches long was placed over my chest, symbolic of being cremated over sandalwood pyre. Whether sandal wood or mango wood, would the intensity be any different? I wondered. More importantly, however, the person concerned would be beyond exercising his preference, even if he wished to. So, to cut a long story short, the lever was operated and I was delivered inside the chamber, aglow with the smoldering remnants of the previous incumbents. 

I heard the priest asking my son “Come to the electric switch board here. This is the switch you have to press and which will ignite the Chamber. Son, this is equivalent to lighting the funeral pyre. Before that, however, you may like to pray and of course offer a contribution at the switch board”, thoughtfully adding “indicative of your immense love for him”

Years of dealing with the mortals had made him wise enough to understand that these last words, expressed at the right time elicited the maximum response in terms of emptying the contents of the wallet. Some more money exchanged hands- the final payment for buying my ticket to board and leave for the undisclosed destination. Knowing the impending, I firmly clutched the list of pending works close to myself. There was no hope now.

 Amidst chanting of shlokas of which nothing much could be made, Mohit pressed the switch. 

There was a sudden burst of heat and light. My last thoughts were about the shapeless soul which would still be floating around aimlessly watching the mortals, the list in my hand and the silhouette of a dusky woman looking up into the azure expanse of the sky, as if trying to locate me. 

The journey came to an end in a puff of smoke. 


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