Speaking To Stars
Speaking To Stars
First major conversation- April 1984 on the way to Dehradun
One night of the start of summer in Delhi. I took the bus from the Interstate Bus Terminus of Delhi for Dehradun. It was 11 pm and the bus would reach Dehradun by 6 am. It was a 3x2 bus, meaning on one side the seats were long enough to accommodate three people together, but it was an empty bus with only 10/15 passengers. So after getting the ticket from the conductor, I lied on the big seat with my head on the side of the bus, staring outside from open windows to the infinite sky. Within minutes, the bus passed through the biggest cremation ground of Delhi, Nigam Bodh Ghat and I started remembering my visit to the Ghat on 1st January 1984. Yes, my grandmother, lovingly called 'Famma' was consigned to flame on that day. Strangely, I did not cry on her death, did all whatever was expected from me, except crying. I knew I could talk to her because she would be in the stars. But on that day, in that bus, my throat started choking, while passing through the crematorium, I started weeping, unknown, unseen.
It was 30th December 1983 and we received a message of the death of one of our aged relatives, most of the same age as Famma. It was cold night as usual, and all were in their beds, under quilts and talking on everything in the world. She commented, oh, this relative is also gone, now I am left alone. I told her, "Look, it is very cold nowadays and do not think of leaving like that. All of us will have difficulties." She laughingly said, "So what, you will feel the cold but will have to bear it. I will feel the heat of the fire, so I do not worry." We used to joke a lot, and probably, that was the last joke of our life with her. She did not wake up the next day. She was taken to Hospital and died later in the day. And cremation was done on 1st January 1984.
After some time, the bus had probably crossed the borders of Delhi and was moving quite fast with agricultural fields on both sides, and clear sky, much clearer than what we could see in Delhi even in those days. I could see the stars moving along the bus, and one of the stars appeared to be trying to come near, nearer, and I recognized, it was my Famma.
I asked her how was she? She said she was fine, with no physical pain, it was much lighter, with no days and nights, there were no needs to be met. She had met all her sisters, relatives, who all had left before her and was happy that she was among them. But she missed me, she missed us, and she missed my father the most. I told her that father also missed her too much, but she interrupted me and said she knew that as she was seeing all of us every night as she was the star now. I told her, but we could not see her as the sky in Delhi was normally overcast, either clouds or dust. But could understand that it did not prevent her view. She could see through everything. She laughed, I too laughed with her.
She asked me how we were feeling without her. I told her, "You were our guide, our girlfriend, our child, our guardian. God has snatched a part of our being by taking you." She consoled me, "See, everything which is created in the world has to go one day. Human being can live for a few decades, but even the trees have to go, whatever might be the length of their lives. You were teaching me once that Aravali range was the largest mountain range in geology, but where is the mountain now, nothing is left beyond some hilltops. So if mountains can go, oceans can give way giving rise to the vast Sahara Dessert or the Himalayan Mountains, Continents can move from the South Pole to the middle of the earth, human lives are nothing.
When the Earth is sustaining everything, we, the humans also have to sustain everything. Look at me, I lost your Dada in 1945, I had lost more than one children, I lost all my siblings and their spouses, I am the last to leave, and I have sustained all the losses smiling, laughing, fighting with you people. in the same manner, you will also have to sustain everything in life." She gave me the lesson of life, another lesson. I could feel that as if while talking to me, her eyes became moist. She spoke about my father, who was the eldest son. She spoke about my uncle, her youngest son how he had decided not to marry and work for our welfare. She told me that the family had fought the battle of survival for decades, and we would have to carry the same on for many more, but she would always be there, watching. She spoke about my mother, all of my siblings. I told her that we miss her traditional Bengali rural quotes, and she smiled.
The bus screeched to a halt and the conductor started telling everybody, get down and have your tea or whatever you need as it will not stop for the next three hours. I got down from the bus and looked at the sky, could not see her any more.
Second major conversation- May 1999, on the way to Vaishno Devi
I boarded the bus from Jammu to Katra. It was a Friday late evening. I was on a short trip to Jammu and suddenly decided to go to Katra. I was alone, so it was quite easy for me to decide. Went to the hotel after office, changed into informal clothing, informed the hotel that I may not come for two nights, and left. The bus took some time and dropped me at Katra. Before that, I had come to Katra, and then to Vaishno Devi twice, but the trips were not very cosy at least the last one. This time, I had decided that if I did not feel comfortable, I might return to the hotel any time without going up as I was not a too religious type. It was a solo excursion by me, with none to tell me where to rest, when to walk fast and what to and what not to eat or drink. Such advises used to irritate me, so I was a bit comfortable even at the start. Slow and steady steps, continued walking for hours, taking rest in between. It was dark, parts of the path having electricity. I kept on walking, climbing slowly, stopping here and there. After around four hours, I decided to take some rest at a restaurant. I was feeling hungry, so had some food and then lied on a cot lying in the open sky. It was pleasantly cool, as compared to the hot sultry weather of Jammu. The sky was invitingly clean. There was no moon, but the brightness of the stars was so much as if their light was reaching the earth. And then, I started looking for a star, my father, we called him Baba, who left us in 1992. And it seemed to me that one star was looking at me, directly, contact me. I focussed on that, and yes, I recognized Baba.
It was seven years he had left, and I remembered once his uncle had told me, "You know, your Baba is an extraordinary person, who is always ready to live for others, trying to make others happy. But he will never get the credit for his sacrifices." I asked Baba, how was he. He almost repeated the reply which Famma had given years back. No body, no need, no hunger, so it was fine. They were beyond diseases, pains and needs. He enquired about me and I said I was not good without him. I said, "Baba, I want to say sorry to you. You had so many relatives, but you were very lonely, I could feel your loneliness only about 1990. Though at that point, I had decided to be with you, for you I could not. Sometimes I wanted to fight for you, fight others, but I lost courage. Slowly, with time, when I looked back, when I spoke to other relatives, I could get more aspects of your character. Yes, how you were contributing to the family of Famma's sister, and nobody in the house knew that. You saw that everyone should come up and stand on their own, but you never wanted your writ to be imposed. Yes, I have a complain, your acceptance of everything made me follow you, and sometimes I feel that I should revolt. But I am your son, it is very difficult to revolt, only because the revolt causes displeasure to people around. Yes, Baba, I love you, I respect you, I miss you. You know Baba, I felt very bad when one day, I realized that while you had purchased bottles of sauces and other things, you silently heard somebody saying that you had purchased liquor bottles, whereas you have not taken any liquor nor did buy any for years. When I said you why you listened silently to the accusations, you just said, how does it matter if someone wants to say something. The truth cannot be changed. Baba, the world has changed, truth does not have any existence in the world. Only the perception of truth and the fierce power of the voice prevails. I am also misfit in this unequal fight. The perception of truth may or may not have any relations with truth. Fact, the word was struck off from the dictionary. Evidence and Proof had taken over the place of fact. Baba, give me the courage to stand up and revolt. Given me blessings. I miss you, I love you."
"Dear son," he said, "you are honest when you say that you realized that I was lonely, but that is not the full truth. Actually, when I felt that all of you are grown and your uncle, I withdrew myself and started enjoying my solitude. I knew always that there were many persons who were not pleased with me, but so it be, so it is. I have tried to be guided by my conscience. Many times I have rejected the demands of this material world on me, which otherwise appeared to be very normal because I had a commitment to my conscience. Remember, if your most loved one asks you to move away from the path of your conscience, then that person does not love you. Such a person loves himself or herself, and uses the relationship to blackmail you because of your weakness."
"My son," he continued, "I know very well that you have started feeling lonely at times, but I also know that since you were not very social since your childhood, always afraid of making social contact with many people, you can easily get solace in solitude. You lack confidence, and that lack of confidence is largely due to me, or say us, your elders. We have been hesitant to let you decide for yourself on many occasion, taking a decision on your behalf and you have happily submitted yourself to our decisions, and sometimes demands. But, now, when I see you moving from place to place, fighting for recognition of your abilities, fumbling in presenting yourself in front of unknown persons, then I feel, probably, we should have let you play the ball independently and much earlier. Therefore, I will advise getting your confidence in what you do. You have the knowledge, the commitment, now fight the world and win it. I know when you think of past, you feel bad when people used to address me by name and not relations, and I also never enjoyed that, but always remember, the characters in the world are all stage artistes, they are going to get paid according to their performances. If anyone did not play his or her role properly, the world will respond with a reprimand, in some kind, in some manner. I want you to be always happy, but also remember that you will not be happy always. So, let it be. The roads are created to be smooth, but they are bumpy when used, still, you can travel in life towards your destiny, continue travelling."
I was lost in his conversation, engulfed by the aura of his presence in the mountain, but did not realize that clouds were floating in the sky, and from somewhere a large patch of dark cloud came and covered him, and he was lost, lost again in the infinite sky. I got up and continued my journey.
Third major conversation- June 2011
I was in Mauritius, and June was comparatively cooler. I left India in November 2007, in a condition of heightened depression and did not come back for more than three years. My uncle, (Father's younger Brother, our Kaka) was the head of the family after the death of my father and he wanted me to come back, by taking leave from the job. I used to blame the circumstances for all ills and had left dejected. I was not sure of my destination, except that I was looking for an escapade, and I got that. Kaka wanted me to come. to see him, to take some leave. He loved me a lot, I also loved him, but the circumstantial pressures appeared to be heavier on my mind. With time, he developed cancer. When I learnt that his condition was worsening, I spoke to my employer for some leave, but unexpectedly, received the message of his departure before getting the leave. I travelled to India later, but could never forgive myself for not being on his side, not seeing him when he was suffering. Especially, when I learnt that in his last days, he would take my name several times, and ask whether I was coming, I cursed myself. Yes, I cursed myself.
With this background, his departure fresh in mind, I used to think of him off and on. I was staying alone and had to do all my jobs myself. And then, my neighbor told me that there was a total lunar eclipse which will be visible in Mauritius and he wanted to take photographs of the movement of the moon on a beach. I agreed and both of us went to the beach. While he was moving with the camera to take the photo of the moon, I just lied on the sand, staring at the stars, with a blank mind. And then I saw a new star. I could recognize the star, it was Kaka.
I extended my hand towards the star, and it blinked, and as if a drop of tear fell from the sky on my face. My eyes became moist, throat choked. I could still speak to him because did not need the audible voice, only thoughts were sufficient to speak to him. I asked him, how was he. He said he felt relieved from pain and treatment of cancer. He was happy about that but missed the family. I said, "Kaka, I am sorry, I did not come to meet you. It will not be honest enough if I say that I did not get any leave. In fact, I did not seek to leave in advance, and when I bought it, it was too late. Kaka, I am indebted to you. Yes, I was angry with you because it was easier for me to blame you than to accept the blame of incompetence. But the anger was misplaced. Yes, Kaka, you had kept yourself in a commanding position all through but you had sacrificed a lot for us. A large number of people had benefited from you, many wanted to use you, but you had been more careful than Baba. You wanted us to attain heights of success, but I failed you. But most, I am sad that I could not serve you when you were sick. It is unpardonable."
He interrupted me, and said, "Listen, yes, I was extremely sad when you did not come to India for more than three years. But, I am not angry anymore. I could also understand your frustration about what had happened with you before you left India, and you were too disenchanted from circumstances. We always hoped that everything would end peacefully, and just moved on, but things did not improve for you. I never blame you for the disintegration of the house, which you consider yourself responsible. Every one of us was responsible for that. Only time will tell whether you were the centre point or the scapegoat. You have already crossed 50 years, have experienced everything that a person could, the good, the bad, the ugly. You have met the beast, the man, and the saint. You have been blessed and cursed at the same time. I am aware of your turbulence but could not do anything. Still, I will give you one advice, do not believe people easily. That is your character and is not good in the present world. People will easily cheat you. Son, you have seen me taking charge of the situation, whatever it was. You had a habit of allowing others to take charge, but you must change that now. I know it is difficult for you, but ultimately, you will have to do it. The world always does not move according to us, and you might have to adjust, but still, keep your head high. Bend only to let the waves pass over you, but rise again to let them know you exist. Do not allow the waves to break you, destroy you, sink you."
While the conversation was going on, the moon has already crossed the prime attention of the photographer and he was calling me. He thought I was sleeping and said he had called me several times, but I knew I was not sleeping, but talking Kaka, the star. His calls disturbed me and Kaka, and he suddenly vanished from the scene. Probably he was waiting to see me, speak to me and once done, he had retreated to his heavenly abode. I kept staring in the sky for some time and then left with the photographer friend.