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My friend’s father, an old man of irrefutable knowledge, irresistible dynamism and irritating arrogance passed away yesterday and I had been to his house for condolence.

 ‘To his house?’ I hear you asking. V‘How could he own the house when he doesn’t now even have a body of his own and is it possible for a soul which has left the body to own a property in this world?’.

 Give me some time to think hmm, I think I was right.  Won’t his sons shortly say, ‘let us share our father’s house?’   So the house now is his and will continue to be so till the property changes hands.  ‘Changing hands? How, on  earth can it happen when the old man’s  hands will  turn into ashes which will  be swept by the waters of the Krishna or the Godavari river in a matter of hours?’  You ask again. Too many inconvenient questions!

How inhuman am I!  I have come here to share the grief of my friend and his family and convey my condolence to them, accompany them to the cremation ground or go back home and attend to my routine, if going back home to watch the cricket match  is more important than accompanying a family friend in his last journey .  What I am actually doing is watching the movement of every one assembled here and note their facial expression. I have no business to count the number of cell-phone calls the purohit attends while reciting the mantras or look deep into the eyes of the wife of the deceased to see whether there is a shade of happiness in her deliverance from the decades-old relationship with a tough man. Shame on me; I should behave fitting to my age. Wait a minute. The old man’s daughter-in-law comes from inside, looks at me for a moment and instantly breaks down and sobs, intermittently praising her father –in-law’s great humanitarian aspects. She would have had a prolonged crying session at my presence but for the kindness shown to us by a relative who wanted her presence inside the house. But before parting, she calls me aside and remarks, “remember what he said last evening. He would never give a pie for my children as I am from a different caste. Now his entire property is ours!”

The word ‘caste’ catches my attention and I discontinue the call on my cell phone enquiring the latest cricket score. Is there a caste-wise allotment of space in the place where he is now leaving for, or all the divisions last only up to the gate of Death?

An understandable gloom has set in the whole surroundings and almost all adults including me sit or stand keeping our head down, remain silent mostly and talk in a soft tone occasionally.  “Only the kids have taken the death lightly. What is there to worry about death?” I muse observing the merrily playing children around the dead body. The words of wisdom from God Krishna as revealed in the Gita, throng my little brain and I try to impart my knowledge to a lady sitting close to me reading a magazine on fun and fashion. I add approving her action. “You have conquered death. What is there to worry over it?”

Hei, wait a minute. A lazy fly is hovering over the life-less face and hesitantly sitting on the right ear of the dead man, the opening of which is plugged with a cotton wool. I am sad that the six-footer with a steel-like frame, who was a terror till a few moments ago, is lying helplessly tolerating the nuisance of the irritant insect. Someone, by waving a sheet of paper across the face, is trying to ward off the nuisance of the intruder. ‘Nuisance?’ –how? Is the old man affected by the unwanted, untimely attack of the insect and why so much consideration for a body which is to be placed on a platform to be swallowed by the fiery tongues of fire? Now a VIP, gets down from a Government jeep and places a garland on the dead body and I am not able to control my amusement. But, it has served one purpose. The fly flew away.  Flies need only blood and trash. What will they do with flowers?  Only bees need them.

“Fool, the garland is placed as a mark of respect to the good acts of the old man” An explanation appears in another corner of the mind. My doubt doesn’t get dispelled. Were the good acts performed by the body or soul?  If by the body, it should have accepted the honor and asked the official why there was no shawl and cash pocket. It didn’t do that. Then, why this tamasha?

The damn fly is now turning towards me and alas, sitting on my nose. Suddenly, I realize that it is me who is actually lying on the straw bed and not my friend’s father, the old man of irrefutable knowledge, irresistible dynamism and irritating arrogance. My spiritual thoughts on the insignificance of death vaporize and my only anxiety is to make sure that I am not a dead body. I wipe my face to ensure that  that there is no blood stain or trash on my face and slap on my chin to announce to the people around that I can, on my own get rid of the insect and need no help from others. I pull the small copper vessel containing the water of holy Ganges from the hands of the Purohit and throw it at his face after making sure that no fly sits on his face.  I now see the VIP accompanied by an armed guard approaching me with a garland in his hand and I grab it and throw it at his neck after I am convinced that there is no fly sitting on his face. I remove the ties on my hand and legs and run towards my car but I have no patience to open the door and therefore jog, hop and run towards my house which is in the next street. It is locked. I am completely exhausted and stretch my legs on the mini platform of the well.  I look at the water down inside the well and see my own face with a fly on it. I try to escape from there when Ammalu comes from the opposite house and asks me not to enter through the main door but to sit near the side door. “I will pour a bucket of water over your head to purify your body” She says.

While Ammalu pours pots after pots of  cold water on my head, I feel that I am an innocent baby on my mother’s lap, coated with a mild oil, enjoying a warm water bath and not my friend’s father, an old man of irrefutable knowledge, irresistible dynamism, lying dead unable to ward off an insect attacking his face.

“I am alive, I am alive” I say rather loudly.

“What do you mean?” Asks Ammalu. How will she know the joy of a just-escaped from the jaws of Death?

“You are the most charming woman in the world” I answer with a naughty smile.

She knows that it is not all that true. Still, she smiles approvingly.

Hyderabad,

14 December, 2010

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