Tragedy of Death & Distance
BROTHER DARLING, your voharvoed (birthday) falls on vaethtruah (birthday of the river Vitasta). Every year I would vie with other siblings to be the first to greet you and wish you hundred years of age. This year you are in far off realms yet not distant, departed but not separated; I am advised to distance from you and your dear thoughts. Can it be that a part of me is also dead and lifeless!
Mother keeps repeating that she looked beautiful and radiant when she carried you- no wonder she was hiding beauty inside her. You, dearest, looked finest among all four of us; Perfect features, perfect face, charm personified. You entered a room and it was all you.
You and I were admitted in a school together in a town where father was posted. You being you- used to break free your hand from my hold while crossing the road, refuting my demonstration of seniority of two years. You would smile triumphant from the other side of the road. The teachers in that school were mesmerized and fell for your words the way gopies did with little Krishna.
You were a school boy but the chosen one to visit the new bride, when the eldest from our generation were engaged to get married. The boy child in you would take the stage, repeat the dialog, count the goodies you were fed there and repeat the new bride’s remarks. The audience comprised from youngest cousin to grandmother and you would bloat with pride and attention.
Again that beautiful picture floats in my imagination, you as a navy cadet in white tunic with black and gold laces looking like a prince. We would share the cream roles you saved for us from the refreshments you were served. Then, before we knew we grew to adulthood and were scattered to all corners. Careers, spouses, children took priorities, though each of us always in other's heart cherishing those childhood memories, craving for short visits and glimpses. Then some miracle threw you in this part of India where I had found my refuge. Those three golden years spent in close proximity with you and your family stand in my life precious. Dear brother, I would count the steps that separated our residencies, relishing the idea of being so near leaves me nostalgic.
And then you left for far off lands. I encouraged my son not to return to India so that my visits to you are frequent. You were a foreign citizen, with your own ups and downs, accidents nearly fatal, a fire of devastating magnitude but nothing broke your spirit; you were happy in adopted country, but in heart of hearts you remained the simple Habba Kadal boy who loved hot girda, wangan hatchae and yekhnee. The positive unbending spirit and ardent faith in Shirdi Baba was your forte.
We met, argued, quarrelled and then within no time made up, wept and then laughed together. When and how you mastered Hindu scriptures: reciting the Mahimnapar with ease. Perhaps father's religiosity had taken roots in your psyche. This sense of other worldliness in you had a penchant for mystic.
Some where the piercing eyes of ruthless Kaal spotted our lovely brother and engulfed you in his tentacles. Our lion of a brother felled like a tree still green in its prime. Like a warrior being hit by a fatal arrow, falling in a war. We prayed to all Gods searching for an elixir to extend your days visiting soothsayers, talking on internet and ruing the helplessness of distance that separated us. Mother was in penance, while the dear woman, your wife alone was frantically dealing with doctors, driving to hospitals in sub-zero temperatures, eyes blinded by thick snowflakes and her own tears and the girls never ever forgetting to recite Baba's name.
Your own brave existence clung to Hope. The handsome persona hunch backed going through intricate surgeries, chemos and radiotherapy. In your humour you would wonder and exclaim to my husband (your brother in law) "look- all the flesh of my thighs has been devoured by vultures". I would not know where to look to hide my tears. I still disbelieve that you ever thought or talked of death. But our beautiful Shamsunder was definitely deteriorating. You were waning day by day. We have seen young deaths before, your friend, my brother in law, but in our denial we attributed his premature death to something else. We were angrier with sorrow. But this was like watching an eclipse covering a bright Sun. Once during that tumultuous period while rubbing your dry hands with a cream I noticed a long flawless life line. I thought aloud "you are going to make it, you will not die".
The pain killers left you drowsy, still in some flashes of acute liveliness you would talk about father who was not lucky enough to see our affluence, and I would pray only if you lived even 10 years younger. Your dear wife was dealing with pain, still on tiptoes, acting with herculean energy as if she possessed some divine power. In that strange land we watched helplessly. We could not drive, not even help with groceries.
The physiotherapist trying to keep you on your legs erect, I heard you singing "mein andhaa hoon bandha tumhaara" (I am a devotee, but blind); one of the eyes troubled you with double vision. You would keep on muttering "hataa paanae kiyah goi". I wanted to vanish than watching my lion of a brother exclaiming helplessly. Astonishingly all along, you did not lose that joie de vivre, kept on joking with children advising my son, how to prepare a resume effectively and even trying to use your contacts to find him a job. The Sikandar of Zutshi's was fading but never did it cross our mind that you were so near death. We always thought that Baba will be benevolent to the hoping girls and devoted wife. Mother was spreading her pallu in front of Baba; she could not see her Kukanandan going. And then came the stage of semi-delirium. In the hospital, your lustreless eyes lit up for a while with a flash of recognition " has mother also come" your eager question left us helpless. The separation of oceans and mountains were the barriers. But she readied her old bones to take your tired head in her motherly bosom. That was not to be. The repetition of the names of siblings, wife and children and mother was all you had to say. Perhaps you were a child again, running those meadows hand in hand with us giggling in joy.
Surrounded by dear daughters and beloved wife, you just stopped breathing, tired and almost fed up. Baba had told you that the new house was going to be even more beautiful. The early June morning was wet and weepy. Leaves, flowers and the eaves of roofs shed tears. And there was a line on my lips, Rath ha vandai malineo. Law of the land- darling -now a body, was not supposed to be led into your own house, the home you prided yourself with. Your going was like our childhood play, when we played Hotel. Collecting pennies, we would buy snacks. You and elder brother would be the proprietor cum waiters. I and the kid sister would be the guests. After some servings you in your signature impulsiveness would declare "vaene gav loot" (now there would be a general loot). You would collect the snacks in your childish fists and run away leaving us baffled and protesting. I felt the same way; you had run away taking with you the peace of our mind, the sleep of nights and the radiance of our faces. With your death, died a son, a father, a beloved, playmate of a brother.
One more debacle of the law; the irony of ironies, our visa expired the same day, and we had to leave. The woman who had fought for months with destiny alone had to do the funeral of her husband. Simultaneously crying, talking on phone, booking the funeral house. We were hardly aware of the regulations and rules and protocols and formalities. I watched the skies as if to ask you for a solution. Your face was vivid, mocking at me the way you used to say in our childhood games "jaan goi" (serves you right).
Death they tell me is an important cosmic equilibrium, coming and going, sooner or later is the way of nature. But all of us groan and moan when a dear one is gone. The way an animal does when in great physical pain.
All pent up grief burst out at the airport. Anger, frustration, guilt and helplessness manifested itself in form of my screams when our airlines caused a small hindrance. The tears streaming down my eyes unabashedly. I could hear you reproaching me by saying "paglenee, yetihe haednay" (mad woman, people here will laugh at you). Karmic cycle and death may be the ultimate logical end and vaeth may continue to flow and celebrate its birthday for eons to come, but for us every vaethtruah, we will mourn your death and our tears will mingle with the waters of vaeth.
Parineeta Khar nee Zutshi was brought up in an extended family where joys and sorrows, even the illness and career of a child was a shared affair. Although she is a science graduate,. the penchant for English literature stood in her stead ; She came out with an Honours in English literature. She further accomplished her Masters in the same subject from the University of Kashmir.
Her restless existence had no time to grow as she got married during her university days. Her husband’s career tossed her on to the far off lanes of Paris. Motherhood, responsibilities of a wife and a daughter-in-law and running a household with a scientist husband kept her busy for a good part of her energetic years.
When the demand for her other roles diminished she had time to reminisce. The stored up memories gushed out in a deluge. She started writing short stories for local newspapers.Her first book “ ON THE SHORES OF THE VITASTA” was published from the Writer’s Workshop of Calcutta. The other book “ WE WERE AND WE WILL BE “ was published from Utpal Publications, Delhi. Her stories depict a celebration of life a continuation of life. Parineeta and her family have been living in Hyderabad from the last twenty eight years.