What if you could bring back to life
a loved one in small portions?
Would you pick a nose hair
or a toenail or saliva stains
on a glass of chai?
Or would you need something
more wholesome to remember them by?
Many people die, without leaving a trace that they once lived and loved. Even when they do, there is a chance that the world will remember them for the wrong reasons. Like everyone else, I know very little about death.
And like so many of you, I have lost friends, family members and colleagues to diseases, accidents and stupidity. Grandparents to old age. Parrots to a parliament of crows; dogs to reckless car drivers.
I have often wondered though of it were because someone had lost his/her life or since I had lost someone from mine.
A few years ago, while I was stuck at a traffic signal in a noisy part of my city, I saw two old men, clad in graying dhotis, begging for alms. It is a common sight to see people do that in India. However begging is no longer a by-product of nationwide disparities in income. It is an organized racket run by gangsters and businessmen. A cold reminder that unscrupulous NGOs aren’t the only ones milking the Indian poverty brigade for loose change.
One of the old men, taller than the other, seemed upset. He wore a visible scowl on his face. But he looked like he was in charge. He held the other by his hand and took him around, appealing to people’s mercies. His eyes shot daggers whenever they walked away from vehicles.
His companion looked broken. As though he had waved the white flag at the world a long time ago. Before they could approach me, the signal turned green. And I drove away.
I wondered what death might have meant to them. Whether their lives had already given them so much joy and strength that they could easily fight through these bad times. Or if they were merely biding their time, having been crushed by abandonment, until their bodies give up too.
For some reason, they stayed in my head for a long time. At least a few years had gone by, but still I think about them whenever I see old people begging in the streets.
A few months ago, I saw them in the same part of my city. They were trying to cross a busy road. They were dressed a little better, as the rays of the matinee sun bounced off their pale-white dhotis. The tall man looked stoic this time. And the other fellow had a huge smile on his face.
I convinced myself then that their lives were better than ever; that they neither had the reason nor the time to worry about death. Or how are they might be remembered by.
I might have been kidding myself, but don’t we all as far as death is concerned?
This scene is from an utterly brilliant Tamil film called Veedu (House). It was directed by the late Balu Mahendra and featured Chokkalinga Bhagavathar, an unbelievable actor, as its protagonist. It is stunning because of how impeccably simple its treatment of death is. The script, the co-stars and the music are spell-binding too.
(Photographs – Chennai)