September 1 to 4, 2021: And Death Will Come
September 1 to 4, 2021: And Death Will Come. Always uninvited. Sometimes inevitable. Sometimes inexplicable. But it leaves a trail. Sometimes a trail of blood. Always a trail of memories. The calls and messages started when I was taking my students on a trek through the Hindu Kush, the phones all beeped at the same time in the classroom on that just a regular Wednesday noon as I discussed the fascinating history of the Indian Sub-Continent. No one checked messages. Then a call from my wife. Or was it a WhatsApp message? My pre-programmed annoying “WhatsApp Message” beeped as we discussed the intricacies of a sociological take on religion. I looked at my phone. Not something teachers do in the classroom, but the messages were coming too fast, from all directions, from so many. Lockdown. A different kind. In the sleepy little wannabe town, I call one of my homes. In what civilized country does a 16-year-old carry a gun into a school? We know the answer. The exceptionalism allows anything. No mask. No vaccine. Guns in school. Highest level of infections in the World. Still holding to the first place. The school where my child studied, a mere 500 meters from my home, as the crow flies and as scared teenager shooters run through the woods. Yellow T-shirt, blue jeans, black shoes, black jacket. “Keep your doors locked, stay inside,” an appeal from a bondhu with a direct connection to the police. My car is parked on the street. Did I lock it? The rains came pouring down as the chopper hovered above my house. Yellow shirt, black jacket, 15, maybe 16 years old. In a civilized country. In a place where nothing really ever happens. Keep your doors locked. And the TV droning in the background, repeating the same words, because there is nothing more to say. Death is announced later in the evening. That was Wednesday. Later the child is apprehended. Is a student of class 9 a child? We had the cane, in the Third World. The worst transgression was fibbing to Mr. Martin and going for a movie in the afternoon while claiming to be at the Birla Science Fair. I was sent to do the fibbing, maybe it was actually class 10, and I got trapped. I was invited to ride with the principal to the science fair. No gun, no grudge settled. As we passed the Twin Church on the right (Jora Girja) he pointed at some boys in black pant and white shirts lined up in front of the cinema hall on the right, “They look like Calcutta Boys’ School,” and I cursed, I am the only one going to the science fair. With the principal. The gun was brought to the school. How many shots? Where in the body? The morbidity of the most exceptional place on earth ricocheted on pointless ramble on TV. And everything returned to normal the next day. The routine vigils and prayers. Political promises. Wait for the next one. We are in a repeat mode, forever, nowhere else but here can we be proud of hiding the heads in the sand. Everything is normal. There is no more Covid in the bubbles we live in. We are back, interruptions over, work as we did before. Wait, what is it that I see in the news? What do I see in my classroom – empty seats? All is well. I yearn for the normality of death. When it comes anticipated. It leaves a trail always, but we saw it coming, we knew it would happen. As it did on Saturday – a WhatsApp message in a group – he is no more, “after a 20-month long fight.” The killers lurk around us, yellow shirt black jacket, the spikes, cancer cells, a rogue blood clot. Too many deaths, too much grief, too much angst. Yet everything must go on. Deep rooted strengths will have to be discovered, some exceptionalism sacrificed, lots of affection to be distributed. Because death will come. You want it or not. In ways that you can not predict. All you need is the strength and realism to say this was meant to be, but came too early, came too painfully. Today, I may disappoint my readers who may not understand the words in Bangla, but I invoke Rabindranath Tagore, “Aaache dukho, aache mrityu (Sorrow persists,/death befalls,/separation singes./Yet there is peace,/yet there is joy,/yet stirs the Infinite within.
Translation of Song
Yet there is peace,
yet there is joy,
yet stirs the Infinite within
Yet there is the eternal flow of life,
beaming sun, smiling moon and stars
Yet arrives spring, bringing to bowers,
a wondrous spray of hues and colours
Where there is an ebb, so is there a tide
When droops a flower, blooms yet another
Where there is neither loss, nor an end, no, not even weariness
At the altar of that abundance, my heart seeks an abode.