I don’t want to write about death. Who does? The business is best left to newspapers, God and Pratibha Patil. That last for her amazing powers to grant life to those long dead.
Yet, I must dwell for a brief while on life’s best known secret. If the ringer of the phone that morning sounded ominous, my wife’s choking voice was a harbinger straight from Hades. I knew for sure my father-in-law had gone the way of all sins. Sins of worrying about his tottering business, Sins of fretting about his sons and their recalcitrant wives, and Sins of paying the daily extortion to the practitioners of Medicine. The practitioners, who were not sure which of his organs to blame till the very last day when they chorused the end of his kidneys. And, he was not suffering from diabetes mellitus.
Varanasi is a remote destination from Mumbai both as the crow flies and as the Indian Rail crawls. Most of us readily curse the British for ravaging us for centuries but few stop for a moment to thank them for the amazing infrastructure they managed to pull up within a short span of time, without the cranes, rigs and computers. Yes, the resources were mostly ours but they were not being siphoned away to private accounts. For the disbelievers, the proof of the pudding is in the eating: you are still riding away on those very tracks ninety percent of the times. How I wish those tyrants were still around to speed up the trains or develop a thriving aviation network. Granted, dogs and Indians would have been barred from the Business Class but hey, there are days I’d give my kidney to travel Economy Class, nay, Luggage Class, especially if the lifeless form of a parent is waiting for your last salute. You can call me sick to be wishing slavery upon us for a passing personal matter but tell me, why have we not been able to lay down tracks that can withstand faster trains? Why have we not been able to build highways that can afford constant speeds like 200 kilometers an hour? And I will just stop here.
Falling back on the popular air travel site that promises to ‘make my trip’ was another near-death experience. We were four passengers, including my wife and the twins; they had twelve flights that promised to park us in Varanasi the very next day after a halt in Delhi for a cool tag upwards of Rs. 14,000 per head. But we wanted to be there the same day, didn’t we? Fine, there was this plane that would dump us there in two hours flat! The price? Rs. 19,000 odd per head. Remembering my favourite deities and the departed soul, I pressed the ‘Pay’ button when an outraging sight blasted my eyes. ‘Sorry,’ the portal said, ‘Your fare was revised to Rs. 28, 499 per head!’ Give me a break! Or, better still, Give me the British back as rulers! Don’t we have qualms? Who will now save the Indians from the Indians?
Eventually, we made it to Varanasi in time without having to sell our kidneys and which I am sure is another story. I don’t need to tell you, but standing next to the corpse of a loved one is a heart-rending experience. But, stand we must, in honour of the noble soul whose smile was quicker and simpler than a bird’s flight, whose tongue was sweeter than the cuckoo in spring and whose heart was purer than the murky Ganges to which we consigned his ashes.
May his soul rest in peace.