Maximum city

People leave the world, all the time.

But do they merely leave the world?

  • They leave an endless void
  • They leave unhealed scars
  • They leave bitter pain

They leave those who love them with an emotion that gnaws at their very being.

I have seen frequent death and departure, from extremely close quarters, very early on in life. I am, therefore, inured to this ultimate truth of life. Whenever I hear of a death, my thoughts veer in a specific direction, treading with measured steps.

  • I think of the individual who is no more; the life that has ceased to be
  •  I experience a sense of loss, irrespective of my relationship with the deceased
  •  I rue about the emotional, physical and financial impact on the immediate family

I cannot stop thinking about the loved ones left behind and what would be in store for them. Do I sound too practical in the matters of death? Are you curious to know what has brought about this monologue?

It has been raining hard here and I have been down with fever. If you are a Sherlock Holmes fan, you would recall his comments about how one thought invariably leads to another.

Rain tapped on my window and I was in a state of delirium. So you see, it was not improbable to reminisce about a specific incident that had occurred many monsoons ago.

I used to live in Mumbai then; this happened one fine day when I was on my way back home from a friend’s place. I had stayed overnight to give his ailing mom company, in his absence.

It rang the minute I stepped into the ubiquitous Mumbai cab. My phone, that is! The call was from a good friend. We used to be so close that she could go months without calling! And, therefore, her call could have been the harbinger of any kind of news – good enough to make my spirits soar or entirely bad to cause trepidation that I would rather live without! I prayed for the former, of course! She started with the usual banter and yet the unusually sombre tone made me skip a beat or two.

She had called that early in the morning to inform me about a colleague’s demise. He was a true gentleman, extremely soft spoken, courteous and always composed. It was hard to believe, for, I had recently congratulated him on his promotion. He had sounded happy at his success. He and his wonderful wife had adopted a baby girl, after years of agony and heartache that couples, desperately wanting to but not having a child, go through. His response to me had been full of zest and excitement about future possibilities.

Conjuring his gentle visage, my customary train of thoughts, mentioned in the beginning, started chugging. Taking the driver to be completely focused on the road, manoeuvring his precious source of livelihood in the traffic snarl, with no time or inclination to eavesdrop, I made no attempts to stifle my post conversation sniffles.

I was distraught by the news, firmly ensconced in the belief that I was on my own, and could not have cared less, therefore. Perhaps it was the early-morning-less traffic-road scenario, or the loudness of my unmuffled grief, that made the driver bring the vehicle to a halt and look over his shoulder. He was sorry for my loss and asked me if I wanted to cry my heart out, call someone, drink water or simply pause and get a grip.

I was surprised, to say the least. The unadulterated, human sympathy sans ulterior motive, that too in a taxi-cab, in the so called & ‘heartless’, uncaring city astounded me. I thanked him, cried unabashedly and reached home, a tad composed. Office was to start in the next one hour. I rushed through my morning routine to make it to work on time.

The news had spread everywhere, of course. A formal, heart-felt condolence mail had already been sent by senior management. By the time I opened my inbox, desultory responses had poured in. I was overwhelmed; my eyes welled up with tears. Seeing this, a team member sitting next to me, with nearly no acquaintance with the deceased, looked up and asked me the reason for my ‘lack of composure’.

My mind oblivious to the actual meaning of his query, viewed it as a continuation of the early morning sympathy. I grabbed at the seeming opportunity and poured it all out in the belief that sharing my grief would reduce it. To my consternation, his response was coated in ‘corporate etiquette’. He politely suggested that I wash my eyes and collect myself. He also very kindly reminded me of an impending meeting.

Numbed by the entire episode, I got up mechanically, to do as recommended. As I splashed my face repeatedly with water, cleaning away all shed of pain from my eyes, I kept comparing the two responses.

Walking to my meeting, composed and camouflaged in corporate correctness, with all evidence of grief carefully scrubbed away, I wondered if it was the fabled Maximum City that was insensitive, or just some denizens thereof.