Remembering the dead!!

She was 20 when she died. It was a horrible car accident. Her 22 year old boyfriend was speeding up on the highway. Death came to both of them quickly. They didn’t get time to even think. They were gone in a blink of an eye. I was half asleep when I got the message on my phone from an unknown number.  I made frantic calls to confirm the news. Hoping the news wasn’t true with each call I made. Though it was. I didn’t sleep that night and a lot of nights after that.

She and I werent best friends. Though we had spent a lot of time together in a group. She was pretty, funny, totally crazy and extremely helpful. Slowly as we went our different ways we lost connection. There would be a coffee every 3 months,  and that was about it. I was much closer to her mother. She would call me at random asking me how my badminton was shaping up. She would want to know everything and I would tell her everything. She genuinely believed in me and you have to value people like that.

I went early in the morning to her house. This was my first encounter of going to a funeral.  I went in. There were a lot of people there. They didn’t get the body to the house. It wasn’t in the condition. I saw aunty sitting in a corner in absolute silence. Tears welling up in her eyes but  not falling down. I went close to her. She looked up at me. I didn’t know what to say. I felt in loss of words for the first time in my life. ” I should have never let her go that night. ” she said softly. She hugged me tight and cried for a very long time. I tried to maintain my composure. I couldn’t stay there for too long and I didn’t speak a word till I got back home. As soon as I reached home I hugged my mother and cried uncontrollably. My mother didn’t say anything, she let me be. I went sleepless for quite some time.

After that day I didn’t have the courage to go see aunty. The calls stopped coming too. I thought it was convenient that way, anyway. What was I going to say to her? It was an awkward situation for me, so I ran away from it.It had been three years since her death and I saw my friend’s dad on the road. I remembered him as a man with a belly and jet black hair. Always clean shaven, neat and tidy. Though when I saw him that day I saw a different man. The belly was gone, his hair had gone all white and he had a beard. He looked ten times older than his age. That image of his stayed with me. I felt guilty somehow, selfish! I told mother I am going to meet aunty. ” You should have done that long time back. Well better late than never.” 

I went to meet aunty the next day. I must have thought of not ringing that door bell for at least ten minutes before I eventually did. She opened the door. She looked totally surprised and a few seconds went by before she let me in. I think we both needed those few seconds. We sat I looking around and she looking at me. There was silence, absolute silence and it was very uncomfortable. I had to say something, ” I saw uncle yesterday. I couldn’t recognise him at all. He has lost so much weight. ” She didn’t say anything. ” Let me make you some tea, first.” She left the room. There was a picture of my dead friend, right next to my chair. She looked so young, happy and alive. She came back with tea. She sipped some and spoke, ” He has had a tough time dealing with her loss. Much more than me. He loved her much more than anything else. It’s funny he was the one who would always be so conscious about how he looked and I would never be bothered about my looks. Now he has to be reminded to comb his hair. I on the other hand have become conscious of how I look. Hoping  to make him realise he still has a reason to live for and he still has a wife who loves him very much. ”  I smiled. ” I am really sorry I didn’t come earlier aunty. I just didn’t know what I would have said. ” She kept her hand on mine . ” Its alright.” she quipped.

After the initial discomfort we slowly found our peace. We spoke about my friend. I told her how crazy she was, and aunty told me how she drove her totally nuts. We spoke about her goodness, her love for art, and how she would have been a great painter. I felt much lighter when I came home that night and I also learned an important lesson.

In the world we live today, death is slowly just becoming a number. Newspapers, news channels, talk shows all of them give us various statistics of how many people died in a riot, in a fire, in a natural calamity,in an accident,etc  and we listen to it and then change the channel or flip to the next page. The truth though is behind that numbers are real people. People with families ,  their dreams, and a beating heart. This reality hits you hard when you see death up close. You can’t console the families of every person dying in the world. Though what you can do is visit the ones you have known. Don’t be a coward, and don’t let that momentary discomfort you feel about the situation keep you from remembering the dead with the people who it really matters to. Because your awkwardness about the situation is nothing compared to their loss.

Remembering the dead is the only way to keep them and the people who lose them alive. I know this because aunty has started calling me again. She believes in me still and I value her a lot  more than I ever did before. 

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"Alister"

My second day in the school and I was assigned to Alister. I had to work with him in the three hours that I spent there. The teacher in the class told me that Alister would be easier to handle because he was the only guy vocal ,and had a better understanding of things than the other kids in the class. So it was going to be ‘Mission Alister’ for the next month and a half.

Alister is a eleven year old boy. He is unlike any other eleven year olds I know. Alister has a cute face and his hair is cut short. He has a Konkani accent and has a smile which can make an angry teacher melt. He is mischievous and has a really small attention span. On the first day I was told to make him write the alphabet and say the letter loud as he wrote it. I took him to a corner and we started working. The first question he asked me was, ” Ti yellow colour chi teacher kuthe geli? ” ( where is the yellow colour teacher? ) ” Teacher yellow colour chi naste Alister.” I replied smiling. ( a teacher is not of the colour yellow) ” I am your new teacher, chala apan abhyaas chalu karu. ” ( let’s start studying) I would write the letter and he would copy it and say it loud when he did. After writing “a”  he asked me, ” A for Cat ka? ” He had this unique thing he did with his eyebrows and he looked so innocent and genuine I wanted to say ” yes, A for cat” .” Nahi Alister, A for apple, lal colour cha asta na te, te apple.” ( no Alister, A for apple, it’s red in colour) and so we continued.

On the first day with him I could just get to ” e”. Alister was totally distracted. He made me take him to the toilet some ten times and said “c ” when he wrote ” d” the rest of the times. After the initial wonder I felt looking at him I slowly was losing patience. Savita bai was  in the class and she must have realised my irritation. Just when I was about to leave she took me to a corner and told me this, ” You are new. He will take some time to get used to you. You don’t have to take him to pee every time. Alister is smart enough to do it himself, he is not as slow as the others. Be firm with him, don’t melt down because you pity him. He doesn’t need pity. He needs to be a little scared of you.”

The next day I got Alister a chart with alphabets and pictures showing what an apple or a cat really look like. I didn’t make him write anything. I just did things orally and then asked him to point out at an apple on the chart when I said apple aloud. Eight out of ten time he pointed at everything other than an apple . Twice he showed me an apple when I said apple. Both the times I kissed him on the cheek, both the times he pushed me away. Slowly as days passed by Alister got better. The ratio of 2/8 slowly changed to 5/5.

Alister had a ‘ straight face humor’ . He would say the funniest things with unbelievable innocence. For example for once there was pin- drop silence in the class . Alister was sitting next to Aliya and pulling her hair. Alister loved doing that, and Aliya would hate it so she would hit him. He would never hit her back, though he would never stop pulling her hair also. I was sitting next to her. Aliya farted I heard it so did Alister and in his typical way he asked me, ” ha awaaz kuthun ala? ” ( From where did the sound come from?) I bursted out laughing and Aliya giggled. Alister didn’t get the joke. He was looking at me like I was an complete idiot. I realised that the normal rules of the society don’t apply to these studs. They fart when they have to loud and clear. There is another example. Fayaz is the most violent guy in the class. He would hit people and laugh. Once I and Alister were working on the alphabet and Fayaz came and hit him. I shouted at Fayaz, while Alister was looking at me quietly. After a few seconds, he asks me with his eyebrows gone up and a finger pointing at me, ” tujha jhala ka, ata mi tyala jaun maru ka? ” ( are you finished? Can I go hit him now?) I still remember that look on his face and that Konkani accent and I just can’t stop smiling.

Alister slowly started getting used to me. By the end of my time there he could write the alphabet till ” r”. Alister though was great with shapes he could replicate the most complicated figures just by looking at them. I still struggle to draw a star, Alister can draw stars of all shapes pretty well. He always amazed me with this ability.

Alister was unable to feel emotions. Most of the autistic people are. I think it’s a blessing. It’s a cruel world out there especially for them. So in a strange way it’s good that they  neither feel pain nor happiness. I on the other hand feel everything. I slowly became really fond of Alister. When it was my last day and I was seeing off everyone. I went to Alister and asked him, ” A for…?” He took a while ,though he came through, ” Apple” . I hugged him tight he tried to push me away but I still held him and kissed him good-bye. As I looked back once before I left, Alister was pulling Aliya’s hair and she was hitting him. It was strange I felt angry at him. He didn’t say goodbye, he didn’t look back at me, nothing. He just didn’t feel anything while I was struggling to hold  back tears.  Well, such is life.

I have no doubt in my mind that Alister taught me more than I could teach him. I miss that little rascal. For me from now on it’s always going to be ,”A for Alister.”

P.S. Alister is a boy I worked with in an autistic school. I was working voluntarily and lasted for a month and a half. These are my experiences with him :):)

"What’s in a face?"

Your face is responsible for a multi-million dollar industry. There are creams, powders,gels,soaps ,face – washes, etc. They promise you things like a healthier , pimple-free, wrinkle-free, dark-spots free, and fairer skin. There is definitely a big section of our society that is obsessed with  fair skin. I was too when I was 10. I never had a dark skinned friend,then. I had this notion that dark meant poor and dirty. It didn’t matter that I was the darkest amongst all my friends. I was just being a jerk. I grew up, I travelled, I read and I saw a movie in which Morgan Freeman was acting and of course looked into the mirror and I soon realised that the colour of your skin has got nothing to do with the kind of person you are or can be. ( Even though “Fair and Lovely” has been telling me for ages that I am ugly, depressed and unsuccessful only because I am not fair.)
My face or anybody else’s may not be an important factor in deciding mine or their worth but I know of a man for whom his face changed his life forever-  Hari kaka. Hari kaka is a tailor. He has a small shop on a very busy street  in Pune. Some 6 years ago I was desperately trying to get my extra-large playing t-shirts altered to my small size. There were some 8 shops of tailors on the road and everybody told me that they couldn’t do it for various reasons. I finally landed on the last shop which was  Hari kaka’s and for the first time in my life I saw a face that was absolutely scary and hence unforgettable.
Hari kaka’s face is completely disfigured. One side of the face is smashed inward and the eye is almost out and it doesn’t shut. One side of his nose is broken, hence it looks absolutely abnormal and kind of pasted externally to his face. I couldn’t look at him for too long. There was a man, his friend Keshav sitting on the shop and I spoke to him. He asked Hari kaka if he would do it. He looked at me with that one blinking and the other not blinking eye and nodded. I was extremely unsure about giving him my valuable t-shirts, though I was desperate too. So I gave him the t-shirts anyways. 
For the last 6 years now I have been giving all my t-shirts and clothes that need alteration to him and there has never been a mistake. Hari kaka is not a big talker. Though being my curious self on one rainy afternoon I being stranded in his shop , I asked his friend Keshav, about the mystery of that crooked face and Hari kaka.This is what he told me.
“Hari comes from small village on the outskirts of Kolhapur. He was an extremely good looking guy. He was so good looking that when once a film crew came to shoot some scenes in the village, they gave him a small role. He was the village hero. He got married and got a handsome dowry too. His wife was the most educated and pretty looking woman in the village.  Hari loved his wife. He was a great husband. He worked hard for both their future. All was going well and then the accident happened. He suffered physical injuries which healed but his face was completely disfigured. He didn’t have the money for a plastic surgery. So he looks the way he does. After the accident the love between the husband and wife vanished. The only thing he saw in his wife’s eyes was pity and disgust. Months after the accident she ran away with an other guy. Hari was shattered. There was the pain of losing his wife, the insensitive society and an ugly face. He sold everything he owned in the village and came here in the city. He was unknown here and nobody cared how he looked. He has been stitching and staying alone in this small kholi for fifteen years now. “
Whenever I look at Hari kaka there is some amount of sadness that always engulfs me. In that eye that never blinks there must be so much pain,anger and loneliness. I wish in those thousand creams and soaps in the market there was one  that could give him his face back. Though I really wonder if he would use it today. I think it’s too late!
Hari kaka’s answer to the question, “What’s in a face?” is so totally different from mine. When my friend cribs about a pimple on her face I remind her about Hari kaka and she immediately changes the subject.