Vagaries of Solitude
The thoughts of suicide cross my mind too often these days. In fact they began surfacing soon after your death, but I managed to thwart them since they were few and far between. However, of late, the increasing consistency is driving me insane, yet, the timidchap that I am, summoning enough resolve seems almost impossible, despite acquiring a tough enough rope. Don’t laugh, please don’t laugh at my predicament and don’t assume that I am as timid as I was; the painful aftermath of your death has reasonably toughened me. The rope is waiting for the d-day, all set, and don’t be surprised if I bring it off and land up there in heaven one of these days. But the thought that the almighty might have considered someone like me worthy of a place in heaven is unbelievable. But then, despite leading a rude and ruthless life,and severely hurting several in the course, if you could get there, who in heaven would deny a harmlessbloke like me?
Although the thought of joining you in heaven leaves me ecstatic, a quiet dread runs through my spine for I am unsure as to how things would pan out once I reach there. Are humans there as fickle as they are here? Here on earth egos force us to do what we warned ourselves not to,and, just the way we wasted our years here, what if our egos were to be at each other’s throats there too? Or do people enter heaven with their terrestrial memories erased for good? Then, if our brains are utterly devoid of memories, how do we recognise each other when I end up there? Or is heaven a spiritual, intangible world where souls float weightlessly? If everything, literally everythingin the universe is made up of atoms, why are souls intangible? And, among the billions of floating souls there, how do I distinguish you? Or how will you single me out? Are souls renamed over there or do they wander about with their earthly names and surnames? No matter what, undeniably, as opposed to the notoriety of hell, heaven seems a very fascinating, liveable place.
I am not too old to die so soon, but this devil, asthma, seems hell-bent on taking me away. Waiting for a natural death is out of question, seems waste of time, and, besides, my lungs are refusing to take this piercing pain anymore for they have almost reached the bursting point. Therefore, as it’s only a matter time, I have planned it all rather well; since I love to die in our bedroom by hanging from the fan that put us to sleep for over three decades without a hitch, I have slung the rope over the fan and kept it high enough, tight enough to hold my bulklong enough. Time and again, as I enter the room to get our book of poems, the thick rope, firm and stiff, mocks me and dares me to have go at it. The poor thing doesn’t know that it’s just a matter of putting my head into the noose and kicking the stool away.
Now, how can I wilfully kick the bucket when Sandhya is yet to marry? Of course she is amply self-reliant to take care of herself, even a large family, but, in my opinion, she is not wise and worldly enough to raise children. And, besides,knowing the ways of this world so well, how can I leave her alone? Badri is embroiled in his own peculiar pecuniary miseries in Bangalore; he neither has time nor any inclination to think of his sister’s marriage, or to show up even if it is arranged by modern matchmakers who undertake all the tasks right from matching the horoscopes to first night, and everything, literally everything in between. Of course it’s a bit expensive affair, but their gracious, impeccable services seem worth all the money. And, nowadays, few ultra-confident matchmakers are offering money-back guarantees, which, if nothing else, at least tell us that they can’t afford to fail and lose all the money.
“She is nothing short of a man as far as competence, composure and determination go…and she will snatch away any top job usually held by men.” That was what you had said about Sandhya, just a few days before your death. How true your words have turned out to be? The ease with which you conjectured future odds based on someone’s bearing still leaves me speechless. Even Sandhya is equally baffled and says you were a forecaster of the highest order and you would have beaten the great Daruwala even. However, having been such an accurate clairvoyant all your life, I wonder, how did you fail to foresee your own death? Or, as they assert, is death really beyond foretelling? And it also mystifies me that you never foresaw that Imight outlive you and manage to survive without you—and remember yours truly is eleven whole years older than you when you breathed your last.
Soon after your death, graduating her master’s with distinction, Sandhya moved to Hyderabad. Impressed by her leadership skills, within a couple of years, they asked her to head the multinational company’s operations in Cochin, replacing a man who headed the branch for over ten years. And she just needed a few years more to globe-trot heading the Apac region, succeeding, once again, a seasoned Cantonese man, who, she wrote last week, was trying hard to regain his position, of course, through machinations.
“Forget Chanakya, the Chinese are far better tacticians even at microscopic level,” wrote Sandhya. “However, when endangered, just as rest of us, they too turn unscrupulous and callous, first to survive and then to arrive at desired outcomes.”
Before I call her Sandhya anymore, let me tell you that her Dutch boss has nicknamed her Sandy, and she likes it so much that she wants me and everyone else to call her Sandy. “Sandhya sounds too archaic, Dad,” she said a week after I returned, when she called me to enquire about my visit to Bangalore. I had assumed that Badri had not invited her. I was wrong. He had sent the same sort of electronic invitation to her too, that, when opened, invited you to their wedding ceremony.
“That very day I had an important meeting in Taipei, Dad,” said Sandy. She also said Badri had mailed all the videos and snaps of his marriage and she spotted me in them. It really heartens to know that our children interact on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, emails and cellphones almost every day. Unlike our days, these days, siblings are keeping in touch far more intimately, far more frequently, even if they live oceans away from each other. Is technology redefining relationships? Is it bridging the gaps that distances produce? Is it making them considerate? Absolutely yes; the White Father’s technologies are helping people of all colours, races, everywhere. Gandhi might have kicked the Whites out of India but we are embracing their technologies with vengeance, perhaps to make up the losses accrued due to their absence. Or, even while making money, are these their ways of keeping all of us under their digital control? Who knows? In our days, we knew only bio-data, but these days, Sandy often talks of Big Data and the patterns that can emerge from it and the unbelievable source it may turn out to be to make our lives a bit less unpredictable. These days, she asserts, since it’s surely the next big thing, most of the Indian IT Czars are preoccupied with it to gain upper handby deciphering easier, inexpensive ways of interpreting Big Data, before the Chinese, Americans or Europeans figure it out.
Even if Sandy is not too optimistic about the risks of Big Data, I have a strong hunch that technology, particularly of the information and social media kind, cannot be harmful in its overall effects. Don’t you think so? Of course it’s a different matter when someone has subsequently killed someone who was first met on Facebook. Or when someone’s marriage was ruined when someone else had uploaded an explosive video on YouTube. These must be aberrations that must be minimized with better cyber policing. Don’t you remember the story of one of our cousins who, despite being utterly unemployed, had managed to get handsome dowry by pretending that he was a senior branch manager at Sundaram Finance? Space age, high-tech or brick and mortar, the reality is that scoundrels will always be there. How can we forget the black sheep of a washerman who had questioned Sita’s purity during Ramarajya?
I know the question you are dying to ask: when is Sandy’smarriage? That’s a tough one indeed. That would have been a simpler one in Badri’s case, but, as you know, Sandy is not only not an easy-going girl, she is no less than an untameable tigress. Of course she is twenty seven and, had you been here, you would have somehow browbeaten her to marry someone within our fraternity long ago and we may have had amused ourselves with grandchildren by now. But then I can’t force her the way it might have been possible for you. These days, even if girls are deferring their marriages into their thirties, and pregnancies well into their late thirties, I am really worried over the three reasons beyond my control. One, she is staying alone in Cochin and, two, she travels all over AsiaPacific alone and, three, she has become so adventurous that she brags of Bungee Jumping, Paragliding, Wingsuit Flying, and Mountain Biking. It is paradoxical that Badri hates such sports calling them dangerous, while Sandy is infatuated with them.
Whenever I raise the question of her marriage, she somehow manages to distract me by talking about my arthritis, diabetes, or my latest comrade, the whooping-cough, which is working very hard to devour me much before his two cousins bring me down. It is said that prolonged whooping cough, also known as hundred-day-cough, leads to complications such as middle-ear infections, dehydration, hernia, and pneumonia—some of these, I am afraid, might be hanging out in my body already.
Every now and then, I try to dust your antique collection only to aggravate my whooping-cough. Your collection, including crossover collectives, is too huge to keep them clean, intact and secure. As my eyesight fails by the day, I am pretty sure, one of the new cooks is pilfering items almost every day, and I am unable to figure out which ones are missing. They are so many, some so tiny, and some so brittle that I can’t see whether they are intact in the shelves, closets, in the cubicles or whether they are missing altogether. Charmed by their matchless beauty and workmanship, we had accumulated many knick-knacks, gewgaws, frills and even whatnots without realising that they survive the test of time far longer, change hands and stay put while we perish untraceably. We assume collecting, cherishing antiques, art or curios is an unmistakable hallmark of high life, but our tastes are as short-lived and as meaningless as life itself. Of course, accumulation of anything, including knowledge and wisdom, ultimately, comes to a naught. For all its glory, unquestionably, life is not only miserable in the end, it is also so right from the beginning, but when we were young and raring the miseries were bearable for they were our own fictional summits, the so-called, inevitable accomplishments of life, to scale.
At the back end of my life, when am too weak, blighted, and vulnerable, I thought this must be the time that enthuses all sorts of diseases to attack me? No, not at all. Death is not always a consequence of diseases, it may take away someone for no reason, someone for greed, or even take away someone over trifles. Let’s take your own case. Why did you die all of a sudden? Weren’t you sound in limb? In twenty nine years I had never seen you cough or sneeze, and every annual general check-up report had pronounced you fit as a fiddle. Look how absurd is life. While you were robust all along, I was ailing and sickly all the time; while you have gone, I live on.
Not only we the humans, for all its inflexible laws of nature, Mother Nature herself seems fickle minded. If there is nothing random in nature, why are births and deaths so random and so accidental? Or, is this a prearranged unpredictability that human have to live with?
Like a shrivelled plant used to extreme aridity, my withered body persists, while my comrade, whooping cough, is plotting to transport me to your place. And the transportation costs cannot be much for I have lost most of my body weight. I am now almost skeletal, almost weightless.
The ruthless coughs keep me awake all night, every day. Every evening, the cycle of death and survival begins soon after I hit the bed. The whoops are so agonising that it’s miraculousthat I survive them, and, in fact, it’s my gritty lungs that I have to thank for they somehow grab puffs of air in the tussle between life and lifelessness. That’s how I survive from minute to minute only to go through the cyclewhole night, and until sunrise. I don’t know as to why whooping cough dreads the dawn; he disappears the moment sun appears. Whatever be the reason, I await the sunup that resuscitates me for the day ahead.
And the story of my nights is too gory. As midnight approaches, with every convulsive cough, I spit a bit of myself. The clumps of blood, saliva and mucus that I spit next to my cotspread at snail’s pace. The runny clumps reach every inch and corner of my room by morning. As the sunrays enter, the clumps of blood, saliva, and mucus turn into solid nuggets. The horrific sight, and the unbearable stench triggers shivers down my spine. I had heard of miserable deaths of many of my friends, but I never knew that my death could be so terrible and so protracted.As a matter of fact, it is not the agony of dying, it is its prolongation that takes the toll.
Every morning, as I begin to breathe freely, the housemaid laments about having to clean the carpet of bloody, slimy nuggets; her grudge is actually to do with the fact that she has to clean such stinking, contagious crap for such low wages. You were the one who had fixed them, so revising them without your consent is inconceivable, and I am clueless as to the ways of getting your written or oral consent from heaven. In fact I tell her my predicament, and of my helplessness, but she keeps murmuring that it is just another game moneyed people play to keep the lowly, lowly, and wage slaves, forever. Don’t worry, I am not unduly troubled for she had also confessed that she cannot afford to lose even this meagre wages as her growing children are devouring a lot of money, a lot of food, and her husband, being jobless, downs a lot of liquor.
This is the woman whom you had hated to employ as a cook saying she was very ugly, dirty and shabbily turned out. You refused to let her into the kitchen, saying she was good enough only to sweep the outer surroundings of our bungalow. But she is the only one who cooks for me now, while every one of the cooks have fled unable to bear the stench that I puke every night, and unable to answer my questions on missing antiques. Look, this is what happens in life; the people we loathe the most are usually the ones we have to turn to more often than not in moments of crises. She is the only soul on earth who prays for my health, for my long life; even if she prays out of her selfishness, given my lonely plight, her words comfort me, they soothe me, and her food sustains me and, sometimes, while my whooping cough is at work feverishly, her words put me to sleep, like a good sedative.