An Eyewitness Account

It was a coincidence.

That’s how these stories start, don’t they?

It was just a coincidence.

She just happened to be sitting there; at the right place at the right time. Or was it wrong place, wrong time? One can never tell in these situations. But she hadn’t meant to see it, to witness any wrongdoing. On any other day, she’d be thrilled about an opportunity like this. She was the type to press her nose against the window and spy on the neighbours. It was a childhood trait of hers. That’s why she had a flat nose, her mother would explain.

But that day was different. Tragedy had struck the Singhvi household, when the patriarch of the house refused to wake up that morning. And our Aneesha, dazed and heartbroken, had been staring out her favourite window. As you might have guessed, this is when she happened to see something that would make her such an important character in this story. But she didn’t know it back then. She didn’t care.

The mist floated, an opaque white, taking up half the view from her window. The other half seemed to have been painted in a grey palette, buildings and roads alike. And they were turning blacker by the minute, due to the incessant rainfall.

A man emerged from a building. This building was no different from the others, a cluster of mass-produced structures, except that a man emerged from it and ran across the road, trying to protect himself from the downpour with his flimsy little handkerchief. The handkerchief was pink. She remembered that because it had caught her eye, this sudden burst of colour in the monochrome of her view. Of course, she thought nothing about it then. She didn’t care.

But later, when questioned about what she saw from her optimal spying position, that’s all she could remember. A flash of pink floating among all the grey. It had seemed like a sign, she said. If that tiny little thing could survive the rain, she could survive this tragedy.

The policeman questioning her put on his best sympathetic face, his hands clenched tight, his foot tapping nervously on the tiled floor. He asked about the man’s face, his clothes, or any other feature that could help them recognize him. No, she said. Just the pink handkerchief. And wasn’t that enough, she wondered, as the policeman repeated these questions again and again. He wouldn’t even tell her what the crime was. And which man carried a pink handkerchief around anyways?

The policeman sighed. It wasn’t a pink handkerchief. It was a white handkerchief soaked in the blood of a dead woman from the building across the street.

Oh, she said, and would say nothing more. He sighed again, this time just for effect, and walked away. She turned back to the window, looking at the black and white view outside. After sometime she saw him cross the road, his pink handkerchief fluttering in the wind.

Advertisements

A Lament

They say life is filled with good and bad moments. That the bad moments exist so we could cherish the good. We shake our cynical heads at these clichéd sentences.

It’s true, but it’s so obvious! Why say it?

Maybe it’s for days like these, that one needs to be reminded of statements like ‘bad things happen for a reason’. A day when it’s alright to use clichés, and reassure ourselves with lies. A day when being cynical is not enough to keep you sane.

It’s a day of mourning.

To be honest, I was never very close to her. She was not one of those women who spend their time doting over their children, or grandchildren. No. She was making something of herself. And she became many things; actress and author are the only two I’m aware of. But I know she became many things. She was always doing something.

She was not domestic, the way you would expect grandmothers to be. She was extroverted, and passionate, and ambitious. She was the grandmother I had, but never really knew. She was the grandmother I would have liked to know.

Sometimes I think I’m like her. Or that if I knew her, I’d like to be her. She was flouting norms, when flouting norms was not the norm. She was bold, brave and brazen. But most importantly , she was independent. She was free.

I never understood this as a kid. I understand it now.

Surely, this is unhelpful. This description that does not describe. It’s difficult to describe someone you barely knew. But love doesn’t come from knowing. Love comes from being. You love someone simply because they exist. You love her because she is your grandmother, and you are her granddaughter. And there’s no changing that.

The last few years she hadn’t been as free. You could see her mind and spirit, as fiery as ever, trapped inside a decaying body. I’d like to think she found a way out. I’d like to think she’s finally free again.

Maybe that’s naïve. Maybe it’s optimistic. But today both naïveté and optimism are acceptable. After all, it’s a day of mourning.

The Shower

She stood under the shower, with nothing to adorn her bare body except her limp black hair and her red hands.

She closed her eyes with a slight shiver, focusing her mind on the water. Hot and gentle, it fell on the back of her neck, a turbulent stream or a tame waterfall. Tiny rivulets flowing down the steep curves of her body; her back, her arms, her breasts. They gushed towards the floor, forming swirling patterns of red. She arched her back slightly, emitting a loud sigh as a waterfall cascaded down her back, giving her a pleasure that was neither sexual nor spiritual.

With a raised hand, she wrote a name on the steamed-up glass, with the pride of a scribe inscribing a slab of stone, or a sheet of papyrus, watching with fascination as the name vanished in a cloud of steam.

She gave a short, wry laugh. It amused her, this fleeting existence of her art, just to be lost in fog and nothingness.  “Just like human life. So brief. So intangible. So…erasable.”

She stood under the shower, for as long as it took for the water to wash away the blood, and with it, her guilt and her fears, her suffering and her tears.

She was free.

 

The Lake

I’ve seen it many times.

I’ve been there many times.

With different people

In different cities.

 

Yet it remains the same.

This lake. A body of still water.

Blue, green or a shade of grey.

It simply reflects the beauty around,

Hiding the dangers that lie underneath.

 

And yet, tiny ripples form on the surface;

Visible only for a moment or two.

A glimpse at the world within.

Visible to those who pay attention.

 

They say still waters run deep.

How deep is a question

Unasked and unanswered.

The lake beckons me.

Invites me to enter its realm of eternity.

 

For if destiny exists,

Then destiny has spoken.

A watery grave lies in front of me.

Stranger

I see you at night,

Every night

When I’m asleep.

You creep into my dreams.

You watch over me,

Protect me,

Like a guardian angel

Or a ghost.

I can sense you

At times, standing

Just behind my shoulder.

Silent. Watchful.

I wondered

In the beginning

About your motives,

Your intentions.

You swoop in like an angel

When I need you the most

And protect me from hurt

From pain and death.

I’ve never met you,

And I never will.

You will forever remain

A mystery.

Yet I yearn

In times of solitude

To get to know you,

My beloved stranger.

The Day I Didn’t Die

‘Don’t let go!’ I kept repeating in my head, as I grasped my mom’s hand as tightly as I could. ‘Hold on!’ I wanted to scream, as my mind reeled in panic. But I stopped myself in time; for opening my mouth would mean inviting the sea water swirling around me into my mouth and lungs, causing me to drown. To die.

The thought of dying made me smile. It was almost funny. I could recall stories with plots just like this one! An average day in an average guy’s life. Then an unexpected death.

My day had been just as uneventful. I was in Pondicherry (now Puducherry), a tiny union territory along the east coast of India. My mum had taken me there for a ‘miraculous’ treatment that could cure one’s eyesight. And for a 11-year-old wearing glasses of power -5, this treatment was much-needed. After a week of eye-drops and trying to read by the candle light, the treatment ended with no results, and we finally had a day off. On this last day, we decided to do a little sightseeing.

So we caught a bus and went to some beach. There we removed our chappals and gingerly stepped into the water.”Don’t go too far in, some men standing nearby warned us. “The slope suddenly becomes steep and the currents are quite strong today”.

We shrugged. We hadn’t intended to venture into water too deep.

It was a beautiful sight. A marvelous sandy beach lay behind us; clean and isolated. The few people roaming around was a sight for my sore eyes, that were used to the crowded and dirty beaches of Mumbai. The water too was clean! The greenish grey sea seemed to glow in the afternoon sunshine. The waves raced towards the beach, splashing at my ankles into white froth. The water rushed back even faster! I would almost slip every time it carried the sand beneath my feet into the sea.

A woman joined us in the water. Wearing a yellow salwaar kameez, she stood on my mum’s other side, enjoying the sea with us. I had never seen her before; but I was too engrossed in enjoying the water splashing up to my knees to care. ‘Let’s go a little bit further’ she suggested brightly. I nodded my head in excitement. I was having so much fun! And so we went deeper and deeper, till the water reached my stomach.

Suddenly the waves became bigger. They must have been as big before, but would become tiny by the time they reached me. One wave was especially large. Though I must admit I wasn’t paying attention. Taken by surprise, I was knocked down to my knees. Before I knew it, I was kneeling on the sand, my hand still clutching my mum. I wasn’t worried. I would’ve easily stood up.

The next wave was enormous. I was in the process of getting up, and this wave knocked me right off my knees and onto my back. As the water rushed back into the sea, its tremendous force knocked my mum of her feet too. In an instant, my mum was sitting in the sand. Her head barely above the water, she was gasping for breath. Her outstretched hand clung on to mine, as the water started pulling my body towards the sea.

I tried to regain my balance. Tried to sit up. But the current was too strong. My mother couldn’t get up without supporting her body with her hands. But she also couldn’t let go of mine.

I was seized with panic. I struggled and flailed. But every time I did that, my mum’s grasp on me loosened. The current became stronger, threatening to carry me away into the depths of the unknown.

After a few moments of this frenzy, I stopped fighting. The effort seemed futile. Though I was underwater, my eyes were wide open. I watched with amazement the surface of the sea; the change in color when a new wave splashed over it, the pull I knew I would suddenly feel. I was bathed in a greenish hue. The water around me felt gentle and loving.

My body was filled with a kind of peace and warmth; one I have never felt before and after this incident. Suddenly, I didn’t feel wet. Or hungry. Or tired. Or afraid. Or anything at all. I only felt happy.

My lips curved up in a smile. I was ready to die.

But I didn’t die. The men who’d warned us earlier came running to our rescue. They pulled me out of the water, and helped me and my mum to my feet. They scolded us for not listening to them. My mum thanked them profusely for their timely help. We looked around for the woman in yellow. She was nowhere to be found. The men said they never saw her.

My mum pulled me close and held me for a very long time. She was almost crying with relief. To this date, she recounts how frightened she was, how desperately she clung on to my hand.

As for me, I wasn’t very happy. I was cold and dripping wet. There was sand everywhere – my clothes, my shoes, even my hair! It was a wonder I still had my glasses on! And I had lost something very important. I had lost the peace that I now know exists.

I would rather have died.

Of Religion and Death

Almost 2 years ago, my grandmother died. Some sort of cancer.

My mum had a hard time dealing with it. She would keep asking herself, and me, these questions.

Why did this happen to us? Why us?

Where do you think she is right now?

And though engulfed in grief myself, I knew the answers. It just happened. To her. To us. In a world of chances and probabilities this was bound to happen to somebody. It just happened to us. As for the second question, she’s nowhere. One second she was here. Alive. The next second, she ceased to exist. Dead.

But my mum, she couldn’t swallow these answers, and not knowing how to explain them to her, I remained silent.

But these questions kept eating at her, and soon transformed into questions I possibly could not answer.

Why did God do this to us? Did we do something wrong? Did we commit a sin? and

I know aai (That’s what she called her. Means mother in Marathi) is watching from above. Do you think she’s upset with me for not doing more?

Seeing how I don’t believe in the existence of God or Heaven, I could do nothing more than silently hug her as she cried.

And that’s when it hit me.

Why humans need God. Need religion.

It is so difficult and painful to face grief and loss and death. To understand why something happened and for the answer to be ‘Just because’.

It is so much easier to blame it on an imaginary third person. Someone omnipresent and omnipotent. Someone who controls our destiny, who controls death. Because without that assurance, the world is chaos. To believe that our loved ones don’t just perish, but ascend to another realm where they continue living the best life, and watch out for us.

And I appreciated how lucky mum is, to be able to believe in that imaginary being. To believe that her mother is watching over her.

Because I can’t.