An Unsung Death

byKanchan Bhattacharya

(note-any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental)

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Death happens

 

Death just happened. It told me of the futility of religion. This man who died needed us not for his living in his own style, free of the bonds that life teaches. He lived for alcohol. The rest was incidental, immaterial. That he was once somebody’s son, someone’s brother, someone’s somebody or the other mattered to him not. Alcohol drove him. His requirements were barest minimum. Simple living… and an alcoholic high! No thinking!

 

Then what did he need us at all for?

 

When the call came, I went out to see him, what he looked like after twenty years of absence from my life! Initially I thought I would be going into a one-roomed tenement. That was not to be. I did not know where he lived, but had a general idea, and confirmed by the Good Samaritan, who took the trouble of finding out one relative of the deceased.

 

The crowd was a motley collection of onlookers, some of his derelict friends. I still could not see where the body was.

 

It was odd. The puzzle was to locate where he, the one who had died, lay?

 

The Good Samaritan arrived.

 

He pointed to a push-cart trolley- an abandoned vendor’s stand. The roof was just a set of canvas strips that kept the rain off. The dead man was lying there in broad daylight, and my eyes had refused to accept that…

 

I did not panic, went close and had a look at the dead man. He had a yellow football shoe on one foot. The other foot was bare, laden with gangrene, a diabetic gangrene. On his face was a mark of diabetes, a white semi-healed patch, eyes still staring absently at the world that had closed out on him. A discarded military jacket was visible, and a few layers of blankets covered him still.

 

This guy whom I had known as a sweet young boy 35 years ago, had a yearlong white beard, emaciated face, and the stench of staying un-bathed for a few years… the crowd told me that he would bathe only when it rained!

 

I asked about his last known public appearance- people said he was lying there on this shed, stirring very little for the last two days.

 

I once knew that he was a man of the Satan. And I felt that Satan had his laugh at long last. But was he really so? The first pangs of conscience hit me- who am I to judge him?

 

I knew that the police had been informed while Good Samaritan was looking for his relatives. I decided not to touch his body at all, and kept off. I asked for an ambulance- promising that I would pay for it. It was because a post mortem was inevitable, and I wanted the cremation to be quick. Then also, added the requirement for the photographer, a press photographer.

 

In due course of time, a duo of policemen arrived on the scene. Then we moved him to the stretcher. Knowing who I was formerly, they were polite and finished the formalities quickly. And then they began the examination of the body and the hunt for evidence of injury, if any. None showed. The pockets were scanned. Nothing came out- not even a coin, nor a rupee! The cops said they had his identity documents.

 

Let me be brief. The body was taken to the Medical College for post-mortem examination. The doctors arrived, and the PM was conducted quickly. Then came the trip to the cremation place. A few sympathizers were with him.

 

There was hardly a thing to do. No priests came despite my frantic requests. We quickly made the wooden pyre bed, placed the body, now mangled in addition to the abandoned tryst with a diabetic and gangrenous death, because of the post-mortem… and covered the body with more wood. They say it takes two and a half quintals of wood to do away with a body, and that exactly is what we used. We had the body in his own blankets, unwashed except for a few drops of Narmada waters, and as a born-Brahmin, despite being an atheist I took on the duties of the priest- the Gayatri Mantra, followed by invoking Yama, invoking his forefathers as witnesses to accept the purified soul, invoking Hari, invoking Agni as someone lit the fire.

 

The rosin helped. In twenty minutes the fire was roaring. The sun was nearly at its Western nadir, barely minutes to darkness as the five souls and I stirred and began the tipping of sandalwood sticks into the fire… there were some moist eyes, not mine… they left soon after, just I stood there.

 

When the moon rose, the pyre was washed in Bengali tradition and the ashes were duly immersed in the Narmada. Someone asked, what is the dignity left to man who chose to die on a trolley? I too wonder why at all did I do what I ended up doing- maybe I did not like him to be eaten by the dogs, perhaps. I wondered whether after death does the body mattered at all to him as much as it matters to the living?

 

One lifetime from birth in 1956 to death in 2012, the last fifteen years on thirty cups of tea, two pieces of samosas, a pint of alcohol or more on pension day, and a bathless bliss. He lived unloved, hated by us all. Yet I had to attend.

 

Religion never figured here.

 

Religion never existed in his mind. All he knew was the solitude of alcoholic evenings, the pain of gangrene, and memories of former siblings, a lost two year old child, the nights of stars and rains, the cold winds, the flapping of the canvas on the trolley he called his home, even as he died- and determination only fools, rogues and proud men have…

 

Here ends a proud man’s saga! An unsung death!

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