October 3, 2018:
I walked along the corridor and felt my heart beating hard against my chest. More than a hundred feelings ran under my skin, including an eerie feeling of loss. My maternal grandpa had expired two days before and I had reached Kolkata the following morning for the cremation ceremony. Let’s not use the English terms for the relatives – using “maternal” everytime would be so uncomfortable, and not using it would be confusing. Anyway, I reached the end of the corridor and looked inside the room in front of me. It was total mayhem. It took me a few seconds to adjust to that horrific sight. The ladies in house, including my mom, sat there stiff and numb and cold and starved, had pale looks on their faces with dishevelled hair and were silent as dead. I can’t say I was prepared for this (even though I had thought that I was), because it was way more worse than I had imagined it would be.
Mausi came rushing towards me and embraced me tighter than anyone would do when they meet someone. The next second, however, I got the answer why: she had started crying and was short of breaths. In reply, I did the same to comfort her. What choice did I have anyway? Nani, who was staring into space, saw me and next thing I know is that she opened her arms and started bewailing and lamenting the loss of Nana. I couldn’t see her like this. I just couldn’t. I went into her open arms and tried to console her. But honestly, I failed miserably because I didn’t know what to say. She hadn’t eaten anything since three days and she was getting weaker. Also, she was in a state of shock, obviously.
“Ask him to come back. Ask him to open his eyes. I know he’s not dead. You were his favourite ever, he adored you so much…No, you know what, the doctors killed him. I know they did. He just had cough…”, and she broke down again.
“Please calm down and listen to me, Nani. Yes, he’s not dead. He’s somewhere around here. You just need to sleep and you’ll see him.” I cut in between and this was all that I could say.
She cried some more and then she closed her eyes, becoming silent. No she wasn’t unconscious; she was just weak. Next, mom and other people in the room hugged me tight and each one had their own lamentation. I too had mine but I couldn’t lament in front of them. They’d get weaker. So I controlled myself and didn’t cry at all. I came out of the room and slowly walked ahead. I could not believe that the area around the collar of my shirt was wet with my family’s tears. I saw the other male members in the family, trying to keep themselves distracted with their phones. Sure, their face looked pale. I saw my dad with the phone, too. I was the second last person to reach the town. Mama, Mami and my cousin sister collectively would be the last, since they were coming all the way from Switzerland. I continued walking, stoically, into Nana’s room. I looked around and felt a strange void. He was there on his favourite chair. In a frame. Garlanded. My blood ran cold. I closed the room’s gate and sat on the bed beside the chair. I stared at him for a fair ten seconds before covering my face with my palms and breaking down, finally. My entire childhood flashed before my eyes – Nana had moulded my childhood in the way that is still a dream for some kids. I was “The Richest Kid” around the locality of my Nani Ghar. One request in the morning to Nana, and by evening it was fulfilled. He had given me so much love, care and toys that for the last materialistic stuff, I had a really huge bag. So huge that even I could fir in as a 5-7 year old kid. I remembered how every evening when he returned home from office, he would carry me on his shoulders to the market, either for a walk or for (majorly) buying something I liked. But reality struck me soon: the person who had made my life a heaven was no more. The fact that he was just 69 years and 24 days old still doesn’t sink in. I called one of my friends, Anish, and cried all that I could. I was barely able to speak anything. I just cried. It felt lighter. I then recollected myself, mumbled “Rest in Peace” and walked out.
Moments later, Mama and family arrived and the same thing repeated, The sisters (my mom and both my Mausis) wailed and he consoled. As the events unfolded, it was time bring the dead body, MY Nana’s dead body, from the mortuary. Done, with some heart-stopping moments. Death certificate made, which showed his 69th birthday celebrated just few days ago on 6th September. We could deal with that even. The ceremonial rites succeeded with some throat choking wailing sounds. I still controlled myself. I have known Mama being internally strong since forever. He too hadn’t cried all this time. But once he lifted the cadavre of his own father on his shoulder, he couldn’t abstain himself from crying out loud; and seeing the strongest man I’ve known break down, welled up my eyes.
Moving on, the cadavre was loaded in the hearse and it slowly pushed off, with me cautioning the driver to watch mom’s and Mausi’s foot which could have otherwise come under the rear tyre. They would just not let go of the vehicle. The entire arena at the garden of the apartment was filled with the sounds of mourning. I didn’t know where Nani was. As the vehicle finally departed, Mausi, not knowing where she was going, ran after it and I ran after Mausi. However, I overtook her in three seconds and stopped her. Her legs had given way and she was unable to stand. I somehow managed to save her from falling, even though my legs had given way too. I couldn’t register the fact they took him away forever. She uttered something beyond my ability to understand since she was crying incessantly. My best guess is, she had said “I became an orphan”. Someone took her away from the scene. Mom was sitting on the ground weeping while the neighbours cried with her too, and some consoled. Amidst all these, preparations were done for us to head for the crematorium.
By the time, we, the males only, reached the crematorium, we had become too numb to say anything. Especially Mama. Nobody said a word. What could we say, anyway? They laid down Nana’s body and we waited for our time to cremate him. Every damn thing has a queue nowadays. We sat down beside Nana and prayed for his soul. Adjacent to me was Mama, who kept looking at his father’s closed eyes. He looked and looked and looked, as if it was for the last time he was looking at him. As hard as it is to live with the fact, the conjunction is correct. I embraced Mama and turned to me.
“The last wish of him was to see you in this Durga Puja. It is merely ten days away and…”, he choked. I knew what he was saying. And this became the most hurtful regret of my life. Nana wanted to see me after ten days, in the Puja, but he ditched his plan himself…I couldn’t take any more of the regret and I texted my friend, Neha. She handled this in the best possible way and told (read: wrote) me things I wanted to hear (read: see).
Hours passed and finally it was our time. They set up the logs of wood and the electric furnace. Mercilessly, the beat the bamboo on the side of Nana’s head which broke my heart all the more. And in the blink of eye, Nana was sent into the burning furnace which marked the last time we could see his face. Some people broke down again and I felt dizzy since I too hadn’t eaten a proper meal since two days. I looked at Mama – I could tell that he was trying so hard not to digest the sordid reality. Had I went to him, he would have cried too. Dad saw me and he understood that this time, I was the one who needed a tight hug.
Forty-five minutes later, we were walking behind Mama, who with numb eyes, carried his father’s ash to immerse in the Holy Ganges.
I’m home now. It’s been twenty six hours since everything happened and pictures of last day are still fresh in my mind. In fact, I dreamt those things. But however hard life may be, whatever crisis befalls, life goes on. No, neither am I nor other people have recovered yet, but eventually we will. We’ll get used to this sad truth: He is no more with us.