Voices From Beyond

This is a work of fiction.

I have been lying dead at this Delhi crematorium for over ten hours now. My name is Ram Kumar Chaturvedi. I can see my young sons scampering about trying to arrange for a pandit, a cremation slot and firewood.

It is a miracle that I have reached the cremation ground. It is filled with hundreds of bodies. My sons struggled to get custody of my body and to find an ambulance to get me here. While at the hospital, I could see tears in their eyes as my oxygen cylinder ran out. I gasped for breath and it was over in seconds.

I can hear my elder son pleading with somebody connected with a Union minister’s office – begging him for help in getting my body cremated with dignity. The minister is not accessible – perhaps because there are no elections now. He doesn’t remember or does not bother to remember the support my sons extended to him when the elections were on.

My younger son realises this bitter truth and begins to sob inconsolably. Despite steadily losing their modest garment business post demonetisation and the introduction of the GST, they continued to loyally support a party they felt symbolised “New India”; an India that had begun to grade its citizens. An India that had begun enforcing a homogenous view on what people should eat, what they should wear and who they should love. Late in the day, I tried unsuccessfully to have them see the folly of their ways. They had joined groups that followed a minister who saw every issue through communal eyes and casually mentioned the use of the violence to solve every issue. I suspect they played an inglorious part in the violence that shook Delhi in February 2020 over the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests – all in their effort to gain favour with the minister. My words, however, fell on deaf ears. Eradicating hatred, once set in, is like fighting terminal cancer – the chances are slim to none.

The body next to me begins to stir. It’s that of a woman. She smiles and introduces herself as Shabnam. She wonders where she is. I tell her. I notice she is all alone.

Also read: COVID-19 Deaths in India Are Rising the Fastest In the World: Data

She narrates her story. She lost her husband and her sons in the violence of February 2020 in Delhi. They had a small shop repairing household electrical goods. Her family had advised them to vacate their home and move elsewhere. Before they could mobilise themselves, a marauding mob, led by two young boys chanting religious slogans, surrounded her mohalla. The men of her family lost their lives in the effort to save their shop that was set on fire. She was a helpless witness to their deaths. Some of her neighbours escaped only to be hauled up by the police as “instigators of violence” and slapped with grave charges. She had barely any time to grieve before she found herself accompanying her neighbours to various authorities and helping in their legal defense from her meagre savings. And then COVID-19 struck, and slowly, one by one, she lost many of her friends, relatives and neighbours.

I asked her about her last moments. She remembered being in an autorickshaw – filled with pictures of goddesses Laxmi and Durga – being taken from hospital to hospital and being turned away. Her last memories were of the driver crying for help, seeing her gasping and finally succumbing. And now here she was – in a crematorium instead of a graveyard. Lying there – unknown, unclaimed.

I hear my sons coming back. They have been unsuccessful. Their voices ring of anguish, resentment and defeat. Their New India has let them down.

I want Shabnam to meet them. And to regard them as her own. I turn to talk to her. She is watching them with horror on her face. And then it dawned on me… the two boys, leading a marauding mob!

I remember Mahatma Gandhi’s advice to the mobs at Noakhali during the partition violence in Bengal, “If you are a Muslim who has killed a Hindu, then adopt a Hindu child to raise it as your own to atone for it. If you have killed a Muslim, then adopt a Muslim one”. I pray to be reborn a Muslim in my next life.

Chandru Chawla has a normal day time job and writes at night to keep his insanity intact.

Featured image: Derek Monteiro is a laidback artist, poet and composer, who dabbles in jazz when bored.