Thu, May 5, 2011

The intense, almost mystical sound of the second set of prayers wafted through the air, following him through the wind, as if they did not want him to walk away from them. Just a shade of the thought of someone caring for him made him feel strangely happy. For a second. Soon the rational part of his brain kicked in. How much could the fast dispersing sound of prayers really care about him? They were after all waves. Waves created in the air by the reverberations of a piece of diaphragm deep inside the mouth of a tannoy at the mosque. As A would have so nonchalantly pointed out to him had he been with him, they are just a manifestation of a physical phenomenon. Of a physical phenomenon that was simple and simplistic. And the bugger would be immensely convincing, just like Paulo Coelho. Yet, the thought of someone or something caring about him sounded like elixir to him. That would be awesome, he told himself.

He had just left the Friday prayers at the Mosque. He had stayed back to take part in the group prayers although most people of his age had left. They had other things to take care - rush back to work or the mad race to get a seat at one of the movies that had a film release. He did not have such worries. He was after all on a vacation. He had prayed, like he always does. A prayer that S had unknowingly taught him at a corridor of his Alma mater, just minutes before he attended his first job interview.

He had not stayed back for the second prayers. The second set of prayers was for the dead. Death and the thought of it always made him uneasy.

As he made his way back through the cemetery where men and women of all class and color had been buried, a thought struck him. There lay asleep men and women some of whom were rich, some of whom were poor. Some had married many, some had never. Some had been considered elite by their contemporaries, some were barely known outside their circle of friends. Some had fought and voted for the Khaum’s party, some had resisted it with blood and sweat. Some had inflicted pain on others, some had been subject to pain. Some had set the agenda for the community, some had merely followed. Some had planned, ordered and executed excommunications, others had suffered greatly as a result. Yet there they lay, all in identical pits of laterite soil. All at a depth of six feet down, save for the minor undulations caused by the Kuyyuthi’s[1] pickax. All facing the Qibla. Everyone was equal. Everyone was equally dead. Perfect socialism. It lasted for a handful of seconds. And then a volley of guilt struck him. He knew the guilt would last much longer than the thought itself.

Somewhere in there lay buried his grandfather and grandmother whom he had never seen. They had died a generation before he was born, when his father was still a kid. He never felt the urge to seek their grave and pray there. At times like this, when he was walking through the rows of graves, he consoled himself telling himself that he had never met his grandparents and things would be different. But deep in his own heart, he knew that was a lie. For there were other people lying in the graveyard who had cared for him and whom he had cared for. Like his cousin. No, he thought. I don’t want to think about them.

Rational thinking is making my life a misery, he thought. Why could not he just pretend that the sound of the prayers really cared for him?

As the faraway hills in the east and the valley with the paddy fields and the mountain stream came in to view over the slope, he noticed how beautiful the scenery around him was.

It was mid-April and the concreted pathway was lined with shrubs that had died in the intense heat. Death - that word was creeping into his mind too frequently today. It took him a single second to refocus. The dead bodies of the shrubs had a golden shade. They had made somebody smile, albeit postmortem. That is the whole point, is not it?

It had rained the previous night, and now the clouds were coming back. They were not dark enough to make people’s hearts race like a lover in anticipation. It was a bit like the sweet looking lady in the seat two rows in front of him on a bus to Bangalore from Calicut. One appreciated the hairdo, the tunic skirt and the bubble gum chewing. Yet one would not get out of his seat, walk the small distance and say hello. So full of hope and yet brutally devoid of any promise.

People around him looked genuinely happy. Most grown up people were in white, and they walked at an easy pace, chatting about the heat and the recently concluded elections. They were going home to loving wives or adoring mothers who had cooked pots of beef stew for them. What was Fridays in these parts of the world without curried beef. Simple, attainable pleasures of life.

The youngsters followed them. Their pace was a degree slower, and the enthusiasm a degree higher in comparison with the older men’s group. Most of them wore skinny jeans and tight t shirts. With a shudder he realized that he was part of the older men’s group. The white dothi and the white shirt was a perfect fit in a group that was more concerned about election results and inflation. No more talk about IPL scores and cute looking girls for me? He hated even the thought of it. And yet he knew he was a fan of neither IPL nor cute girls.

As he approached the end of the concrete-paved pathway, where a milestone stood heralding the rather boringly obvious name of the road and the League politician who had ordered it’s construction, he realized that he had enjoyed every bit of that walk. The grey clouds that gave every beholder a bolt of hope, the paddy fields and the stream that was always there, the shrubs that were once green and now a golden shade of death, the happy people around him, and even the clean concrete surface of the pathway.

If I could freeze a moment of time and keep it mine forever, this will be it. He thought. Damn, that is not true. There are other moments that would face cryogenics before this one. Yet, going for the extreme and superlative is so easy for me, he thought with a sigh. He had to really struggle to suppress the thought that Sighs were becoming a big part of his life these days.

The clouds were gathering mass and momentum. It was going to rain.

  1. Kuyyuthi (കുയ്യുത്തി / കുഴി കുത്തി) : Malabari word that means ‘gravedigger’.