All the Funerals and Deaths

When she carried the dead child to the Buddha and told Him her sad story, He listened with patience and compassion, and then said to her, “Kisa Gautami, there is only one way to solve your problem. Go and find me four or five mustard seeds from any family in which there has never been a death.”

In this dark room my cell phone screen is the only source of light. It floods my optic nerve with kilobytes of information. Sensory cortex reverses the image to make sense of them. Neurons fire up and a path of fiery realization gradually take form. A friend had an accident. His bike fell on the road throwing him on the footpath and his wife in the middle of the road. A bus then ran her over ending the 2 year old marriage.

I lay there in the darkness trying to sleep and failing. So I walk the path of memory. It leads me to a small town. It’s twilight now. There at its end stands my high school. You can’t see inside from here now but when I was here it was different. The gate wasn’t covered with tin sheet; wall wasn’t that high and covered with broken glass on top. See me climb over the wall and jump. I feel the exhilaration of flying. I walk in. The basketball court and the immense playground lay in dusk of memory. I climb the steps of the old building built by a wealthy Hindu Jamindar 94 years ago when this was nothing but a small village community. This building is one of the older ones. I walk through the corridor and pass closed classrooms. At the far end of the grounds stand the school mosque. On its eastern wall 5 kids are carving something. It’s there their last day of school. One of the more bookish kids has suggested that they should carve their names somewhere. He got the idea from a story where the writer returns after years of living abroad and carves “I came” under his name in his old school. The name beside my name is Asad.

After a year the bookish nerd would be in college and in a grey morning he would learn that Asad and his family was in a road accident. Asad died there on the road coloring the asphalt crimson. His father was in ICU. They didn’t let him know his eldest son was dead until seven days later.

Everyone reacts differently to a death. I saw a guy getting his faith reaffirmed, finding conviction and aim in an aimless journey. I? I just lost my faith. Everything became meaningless. Nihilistic is the word.

“It was a good death.” I hear a woman say. Another agrees. I find a fork in the path of remembrance and take it. I know the house at the end of the path and the earthen yard and the white ceremonial cloth covered woman lying in the middle of it.

 “Why do you lament?”

“I lament for my daughter, Exalted One.”

“In this burning-ground have been burned eighty-four thousand daughters of yours. For which one of these do you lament?”

I once tried to trace the lines of one old woman’s face on paper with a pencil. My grandmother, she was the last of her generation. She saw partition of Bengal, in 71 fled the liberation war of Bangladesh and returned to raise her five children alone. My mother was youngest of them. In her old age she raised us her grandchildren, as one by one all of her sons and daughters were swallowed by the modern nuclear family theorem. She rotated from one household to another bringing up a new generation, always happy and strong and telling impossible tales. Who could have imagined she had a broken heart and one day that would fall apart at the dead of night leaving her in the cold embrace of death.

I remember walking in the there; people standing around the yard, woman crying. My mother, standing in the doorway looking at her mother. See her lying there, smell the incense burning beside her head, bright sunlight shining on silver hair. A wreath of paper flowers rest around her neck.

Three women come and prostrate on the ground then sit beside her.

“She died a peaceful death,” one of them says.

The other two nod in unison. “Yes. Passed in her sleep, she did.”

“Don’t cry child. She didn’t suffer. How many had that luxury?” she say this to my aunt.

“She died a good death.”

“It’s a good death,” the kindly ones declare to the grievers.

She is cremated by the river. I stand on the road which runs before of it holding my mother. As I feel the warm asphalt under my naked feet one word rings in my head, “Good death”. How can death be good? I remember the night before. My father calling me, telling me she was in pain. Her heart muscles had become ischemic. After an hour she was gone.

“Oh, mother, please stop crying or I will not be able to fall asleep in my coffin, because my burial shirt will not dry out from your tears that keep falling on it.”

In my youth I was an odd kid. My thought process affected by the odd things I read which included everything ranging from pulp fictions to almanacs. My evening strolls sometimes took me to the crematorium. And in the evening Nightgaunts took me back there in my dreams. I had to stop these strolls once my parents found out about these. Night terrors didn’t stop until much later.  My earliest memory of death was me sitting beside a white cloth-covered corpse. I always thought in my previous life I died of drowning. I was a sickly child. Often fever took me to the gates of living. I remember a fever dream.

I’m laid there on the ground. My mother sitting beside me crying as I watch all this from above. Her wails pierce my phantasmal form.

Was it a dream? I think so. For me there’s isn’t no new beginning. For me Nihilistic is the word.

The life of dead is placed in the memory of the living

                          – Marcus Tullius Cicero



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