Scuffle and the Dead
I had a dream, 'Hearing the Dead'.
I'm an invalid. Nobody wishes me in good times and nobody consoles me in my suffering. I have a room with holes on the roof and floor. I’m all alone. People in huddle speak ill of me, they chastise me and envy my life. They are planning to take away my breath, they are ganging up, drafting evil plans and in their hands they keep those sharp edged swords, ready to take away my heart. They are sharpening their weapons and planning to drill those with brute force into my stomach to rupture my intestines. They are planning to take away all my organs and I hear people saying that they will throw them away to dogs and cats. People will pull off my eyes with hot iron rods and stamp them with their feet.
I hear people saying that somebody is going to shoot me from behind at my head with my skull opening wide and blood sprinkling to heights. I'm going to die a painful death and the pain ripping me apart, tearing into my heart and breaking through my bones. They say I’ll die young; I'll leave as one who was arrogant. People will despise me; they will hate me with all their strength. They will hurl cries of abuses at my funeral. They will not chant traditional mantras for me but they will abuse me. They will pray for my soul to wander aimlessly for years to come and that I must not have another life. People will throw filth and soot at my coffin; they will drag me naked on the road. They will spit on my face and smash it with stones. They will pull out my jaw and grind it in a miller. They will cut my head with guillotine having sharpened shiny blades smeared with thick blood. They say I’ll die young.
That is the time when you realize, when it comes upon you that life is without meaning, its hollow, its misery, pain and repetition. Life is completely absurd and yet we become part of this meaningless form. We are forced into this world of deep contradiction and chaos that makes no sense at all, that which is all transient and that which is going to burn, that which will die in flames and that we stoke those fires ourselves, those of our loved ones and we do it without shiver. They did it without a shiver. The first few days and then after, they turned indifferent and that is natural to us. This is another absurd, not a single shred of memory, each memory fades away, lost in time. We move on, smile and even laugh. They did the same to me on the very first minute after my death, waiting not for a day or two. They celebrated and drank. They had kept bottles of wine in the basket and enjoyed whole night. They sang songs of death for me and danced to the tunes of love songs. It was such joy for them and I was looking at their faces, I was mum, I saw life. The dream kept on changing places and I found myself drenched in sweat. The dream continues, it’s all mixed up, I hear strange voices.
And when time passes by, each day takes away with it the times we lived in, takes away those memories, every bit of them, the remnants as well. Life moves on and we forget the dead. The dead treads the journey alone.
The fires erupted, fires all over. They did put me on a large wooden block, embellished with roses and marigold and then lighted the pyre from head side. I looked on from spaces between the dry wood and then a lot many of them came from all sides. They all seemed in a hurry. Some were throwing wood logs at me from distance, it was hurting me and that heavy one took away my sight. My eyes were clad with dark and my feet started burning. People were carrying dry sticks of grass lightened with fire and putting them close to my chest, feet, eyes and head. My skin started melting in few seconds. I cried and growled. I pleaded them mercy but they were all mum, busy in stoking the fires. The fire charred my body and I saw someone throwing a clay pot of water. I longed for water, I was hungry, I asked for a cup of milk but the fires kept on suffocating me. I died, I longed for food and I died hungry. Where was my father? Where was my mother, the son and the daughter? Where was my brother? They all left leaving me in fire. I was hungry. I wanted to be with them.
The flames, they consumed everything, brick red, the flames, flesh lost in fumes and the ashes all mixed with soft bones, the rib cage so prominent, white grayish powder scattered around, ashes, charcoal, curd, milk, flowers, coins and the dead lost in times. The dead craves for life. That last minute memory, fingers with brittle nails, hands waving loosely, the slow steps, opening and closing of door slowly and the stares. The fire of time has engulfed it all. Time has created a void, a chasm whose length and breadth has swallowed us all and with those, the memories as well. I wonder who was on that wooden block, was it me or someone beloved? I started scrawling.
The dream ends and leaves me aghast. It is inscrutable. Does it oversee future? I'm left all alone and broken. My right hand is half paralytic and legs are devoid of energy. I come out of my room and the sun shines on my face. Morning has arrived. I long for eternity. I never want to part, part with life. I fear dying. The one who does fit under the rubric of being sane and human as well and this very thought, the transient one, of the connect, the connect between all life survives him. His love for life survives him.
He stretched his neck and there she was brandishing her arms and looking through the glass. She was dancing in a swirling mode frantically and he kissed her cheek in between, all the fast moving like wind, she danced well. He stops her in between, she waives it away and again moves in a swirl, dancing and moving her feet with hands cutting through air. Her face was full of smiles. He waited for his turn. Stopping after minutes, she comes dancing around, hugging and holding him tightly, planting a kiss on his cheeks, confiding in him. They move outside, it’s raining. She never stops talking, talks all the way to home.
The weekend ends, train awaits and it’s 4 pm on the clock. The same coach and the conversations: Are you doing fine? Yes, I’m good, doing well in life. Do you have any problems? You must not worry, Time will fly like anything, good times are ahead, I had a dream, everything is going to be OK, we all are going to prosper and will have enough meals, tea, rice and sugar. And the idea of so much warmth for the people, for the strangers often surprised him, but he couldn’t do anything, it was inherent, it came running over, it was an impulse, it was spontaneous, all normal and natural, he can’t resist. Don’t lose hope, spring is sure to come. There may be certain uneasiness in the wind, but its sure going to dry, it’s going to settle. He was succinct in all his conversations and people believed him.
He was before time and had to wait for half an hour. Greetings and greetings, coach Z7, cold, cold drink, frooti; the vendors lease life, high pitched voices all time calling out their customers and the water vendor with bucket full of bottles, stretching his hands and sweating out, greets him. He comes moving around fast, calling out his customers and the delight on his face, so true, honest and genuine, it made him introspect. Hey brother, how are you? Glancing here and there, few seconds later, how are you? Yes Train got late. They exchanged few words and parted ways.
The other day, he waited for an hour before boarding the train, sharing glances with the people passing by; looking at their faces but it didn’t resemble him. After a few minutes, a voice creaked, water, juice, cold, cold drink and frooti …..He stood up and greeted, Oh the delight on their faces, they even shaked hands …Hey, why the train was late? It’s because of you dear…A snicker, it’s because of you….few smiles... and he walked away. He dropped to his seat and tried to sleep. Life and beautiful people around, so much of warmth and affection, so simple is the living. He feels everything can be sorted if one exercises calm. There is so much good around.
Some were mum; others talked as if they talked after days, and others listened carefully, nodded in agreement for whatever was said. The discussion went on; we discussed country at stretch, the town, newly appointed counselor, political affairs and economy as well. We draw parallels with other towns. We knew nothing of it but all bragged. And the one among them stood up in a flash and started blathering: No, No, No, No, The counselor must recede to our demands, Yes, That’s Ok, but we won’t compromise, we have faced hardships, we have seen good fortune turning away from us and we faced a lot. No, No, No, No, That’s our right; we spilled blood for the town, we love our houses, we love our land…..No I won’t sit back and rest, see unjust happening to me, I will speak…….and yes……….No, No, No……He seemed flustered and capricious. Everyone added something, some praised the counselor and some reserved their comments. In the midst of this, one blurted out: Why are we even discussing this, nobody pays care to what we need, we have been reduced to tatters, the counselor is busy working for his town, he hardly listens to what we say and demand. We must work for our families and keep them happy; we must expect less from the counselor. We must struggle each day. Life awaits us; it’s a long way to go. Everyone pondered; they all looked at each other. The conversations went on.
I could have smelled the sunshine as I was feeling so close to it. It was hot and the wind was blowing hard. I was numb and unmoved, feet and nails blazing with heat. The Z7 coach had turned hostile and was crumbling down by heat. The trees, soil and the earth took it head on, the leaves wilting, changing color and falling away. Something was digging deep, making way into gut as the spasms drove my vexation. The window pane making intermittent sounds braved the strong wind and the torrid heat.
I’m your friend and we must meet, you must complaint to me, the English translation of that song playing in the background. One waives his hands to the passengers with utmost affection, smiles and all, he is waving till we get out of sight, and the other sitting with him takes deep puffs of cigarette, lying flat at the edge of the path. God knows where his brains are, he cussed at all of us. The song at the background grows in, reminds me of the good old days, of lost love, melancholia rings in. Home is hours away.
The studies are going fine and I’m doing well in research. We went to Mansouli for 3 days, beautiful place, sunshine, the wind, trees, shops, books, people are good, a kind lot, so much filled with warmth and affection. Yes, she was with me, maybe we can have this ceremony of engagement that will do well and silence the people around… Yup that will do well. I had a dream last night. Gosh, it was like a dream within a dream. I can’t detach myself from it. I feel like living it. I was flying and flying high. The moment i experienced joy, I was in air, moving around the town, above the wires, trees, buildings and houses. I lived for eternity. It was all joy.
The sheen on her face enthralls me, lifts me up, a new surge of energy. We have decided to enjoy and suffer together for the entire life. She spoke of living together for lot many lives and this life. We rested for this life. We promised each other of love and trust. We promised each other of friendship. We hurried up on marriage as well, maybe after a year or so, maybe in a few months. We spoke of every little thing, each day of our lives, the secrets, the lost love, aspirations, dreams, our favorite places, songs, and writers as well, the books, her fondness for that famous female writer that shines her words onto our faces. I spoke of mine as well, the picture of my favorite writer, holding a cigar in his left hand and his eyes looking back at us. We shared excerpts from the mystery novel released a month back; it spoke of secrets of lives, wisdom and enlightenment and the gateway to happiness and freedom.
I pretended listening to her and looked into her eyes, the eyelashes drifting up and down, her eyes shifting focus, the creases on her face, tufts of hair falling on her face, the wind and our favorite actors and songs. I spoke of my favorite actress, now settled in a far off country, the movies she acted and those songs. She was the most beautiful actress of her times and to mention that role she played in that particular movie, fighting off the evil, that was a movie, a classic.
We shared our pains and struggle, our aspirations for parents, their love and warmth for us, their lives and the days of misery, that one room and father working at some shop in a distant town. Mother sacrificed her life and forgot all the comforts. She lived simple and devoted all her time and every ounce of energy raising me. I wait for that one day, when I would nurse their wounds and scars, will give them their lost times, their life and the comforts. I want to do a lot for them.
We made promises. We embraced each other's sorrows and happiness. We spoke and comforted each other. She could listen to me for hours and years, fondling my ear, twisting and making spirals out of my hair. She would console me and speak of things that woke me, she had boundless wisdom, and to speak of her confidence, she blazed with it all time. She even showed me her writings, a marvel at them. She had so many stories written on that red diary. We spoke of fate, life, dreams, stress and thoughts. Those beaches in other towns and the scenic beauty, people from different continents embracing each other with so much love, the shops at the sea shore, the summer and rains, the trees around and that beautiful island.
The birds among them were parrots, pigeons, a lot many, they were flying in a row, a symmetry, a shape, guided by someone into their lands and houses. It was some drawing, painted on a blue canvas with black green spots in a line. We fixed our gaze at the birds soaring high in the sky. The sky and stars amaze me. To her surprise, he stood up and sang his heart out, singing praises of his love and their bond of eternity. He was loud. He loved singing as well. It was a moment of extreme joy.
I have my own hairstyle. I mix oil and water, make a thin suspension and carve out different styles. It’s a childhood habit. I did received compliments from girls in the school and this encouraged me. I would make out a new style every day. It took me hours to perfect one hairstyle. I would warn my friends to not touch my hair all day. Those were the days of ultimate bliss. Then it came back straight to me, finding way into my heart, Am I going to live longer? I cultivated this fear, the fear of dying young. Please don’t even say a word, How can such a thing come over on you? Holding me tight, stretching and running her hands on my back, she started crying, don’t you utter a single word like this and she went on crying. He hopped onto a different story, another dream, of those far off snow clad mountains. I ran like a mad man, that something which permeated me, lifting me up in a sudden in those early mornings. I would run for miles and never look back. It was so powerful and fleeting.
He shared his dream, that hazy dream, not so much vivid, he fears losing it from his memory. I had a dream, that we all were flying, but it was only possible when we felt extremes of joy. Curving down our legs and pushing our hands below the ground, we could fly over the rice fields, structures, villages, mountains and above everything. Our worries lying flat on the ground, screaming like hell, we were looking at them joyfully rising above all, heading towards the cliff of mountains, then again falling back slowly and then again pushing up. Our lift was proportional to the joy we had in our hearts. We lived for eternity. We started slapping our heads and faces, crying loudly, putting something together in pieces.
The classes and research, it all seemed well, near completion. And those times came rolling again, the days of phobia. Finals were approaching; he felt timid at the onset of it, could not absorb even a single word, went on reading for several times, these were finals and one can’t expect losing at the end. He started shaping his thoughts and making way for his wavering mind. Uncertain of his situation, he starts crying, paper and tears mixed well, he continues reading. The night stretches further, few hours before the finals; he collects himself again and starts afresh. He thinks of consequences, fear of failure, fear of not being there at that position and fear of expectations. He contemplates suicide; he fears and hates it. The exams went well. It all ended well.
The house we saw in other town, it’s the same with our distant relative. It has a giant wooden door painted all black, woven with labyrinths of green, studded with the finest of paints. That big drawing room, glass dining table, the chairs, bedrooms, so big they are, spacious, airy and sun coming in from all sides. The house is big, exactly our type. The parking space and the big car they own. We will have a car, not that big, but a car. The white suits well, a mix with brown; we have to have two more rooms at the top. The garden is at the front with greens and flowers as well. We’ll get that grass cutting machine. I would run it myself, father has his interests in gardening and he will do well. The guest room has to be striking to eyes. I’m asking him to post me the drawings as well. It’s really the thing we should work on, a year with studies and that’s all. We must leave this wretched place, it has been years. We will take our time and I guess it will take us few more years and we all will be sitting in that big house. We have to have plans; we must leave this wretched place. Everybody nods and continues with dinner. Father utters: It’s good you have plans, I feel proud.
The day was dampening, it was moist and air smelled stink. On way, he poised himself on his seat; it was quite different from other days, a few conversations and all. The bottle vendor was absent. Wafts of smoke from the window were mixing up in the air. A group of boys stood at the door smoking endlessly. They had different colors of shirts, those flashy colors and the shoes carrying heaps of dust.
Brother, can you please stop smoking; maybe you can find some other place. Who are you? You gonna fine me, Are you an officer. No, I’m not one, Then I guess, it’s good for you to take some rest and move back…..and out of a sudden, abuses soaked with alcohol and loud shrilling voices stoned the ears. Baffled at the advent of all this, he turned pitch black. People, abuses and violence, air breathed stink. Fright and silence soaked the night.
Asking them to stop smoking was futile and that he knew in his heart. He sat back at the window side and saw swamps, bridges, houses and rivers. A moment after, smoke ticked him again, he persisted with one thought. A moment later, something creeped into him again, he stood up and started moving towards the door. He planted his feet firm and decided to solve this amicably in an astute manner. One has to be very lucid and calm, with all the softness in approach. Tender talking will help. Everybody does understand and we must not strategize.
Gripping his body and making his gait steady and organized, he dropped swiftly and tightened his shoulders to never look frail for even a nanosecond. Moving around a few steps and turning back to his seat, he thought of sitting again. He saw birds soaring skies, evening falling on day and sun going down. A long dark night was waiting at the other end. They continued smoking, nothing changed. The passengers were striking interesting conversations of country politics.
Something struck him again……He was up…..Sir, can you please…..
The guy smoking took hold of him and the other boys circled around. As sound of train on the bridge grew more, he hurled him out of the door and the conversation; teaches me law, the officer, madman, teach in hell……………..The sound of train swelled and engulfed everything in it, the shrieks, the pain, sorrows, smiles, laughs, lives, destiny, dreams, the dead, the immaculate, good and everything. Time grew into months, years, decades and centuries, we never heard of him. He did confront and melt. Some live with the absurd and some escape it. Sky changed color, dawn came upon; train reached its destination.
The other day, a dead body was found mangled around the railway bridge, head smashed, blood dried, skull stretched wide, pink froth covered the nose and mouth. A thousand Kms away from home and that one last glimpse, that something which stuck him at the time of his death snatched the last of his breath. It all went blurred, cloudy and dark. Those few seconds of life dancing in a flash, all that he longed forever in his life, the fear of dying young had come true and those dreams, the things of future and past, the plans, that wooden door, the big house, the garden, lost love, people, the vendor, friends, relations, togetherness, the glistening fingers curling through his hair, the softness of her skin, the longing in her eyes and love, the conversations, warmth and years of struggle, everything was lost. He was alone, all alone, the loneliness that was so painful, the helplessness, disconnect, ephemerality, the chaos embedded deep and the heart wrenching indifference of the world. He had a last loud cry and that one last gaze. It was a starless sky with no moon.
The body was handed over to the authorities at the Government Hospital for identification.
The train chugged on as did the lives of so many.
Sushant Dhar was born in Anantnag, Kashmir and currently lives in Migrant Quarters, Jammu. He writes fiction. His essay ‘Summers of Exile’ was anthologized in ‘A Long Dream of Home’ (Bloomsbury India, 2015).The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org |