Do Not Ask for Whom the Bell Tolls

I woke up to Onam day, Sep 16, with the news of an accident. Joychen called to say my brother-in-law Avirachan was badly injured in a car accident. The initial shudder did not give way to depressing thoughts. I labour under the impression that deaths and misfortunes only befall others and those who are close to me are the protected lot. The subsequent conversations however convinced me something was seriously amiss. So I decided I would go to see him at the Calicut Medical College where he was admitted.

The 15 hour bus ride was literally a pain in the back and butt. After a quick shower and lunch I left for the hospital along with Joychen. As we were entering the hospital premises, Vijayan’s call came to Joychen. The message was, it was all over. There was no tremor in Joychen’s tone or face, as he said, so it is over? He had expected the inevitable all along.

Soon enough, we were in the hospital around 1.30 pm. Walking into the hospital teeming with people, the sight of Beana weeping in a quiet corner was where my gaze first fell. All I could do was put my arm around her. Words are redundant at such times.

Then there were frantic attempts to get the post-mortem done the same day, so that the burial could happen the next day. For that to materialise, it was necessary that the police inspector under whose jurisdiction the accident happened, register an FIR. However much people tried to pull the strings at various places, nothing worked and the postmortem was done only the next day. Many people placed in senior and influential positions turned up as if from nowhere to help.

The next day, by the time the postmortem was completed it was noon. A few of us followed the ambulance with Avirachan’s body, in a car. Beana, Celine and Renny had left early in the morning itself to be with the kids. We rode through some of the most beautiful places in Kerala. We took our time to reach, had our lunch and delicious snacks in two places along the way. Yes, I have to admit, despite the bereavement, my tongue pined for some of the famous Kerala delicacies.

It took more than 7 hours to reach Avirachan’s brother’s house in Balal, where the body was kept – Avirachan’s house is on a hill which is not easily accessible by large vehicles.

What struck me as we reached the church compound near the house where Avirachan’s body was resting, was the crowd of people and number of cars. By then darkness had pervaded the village and it rained intermittently. Hundreds of people were waiting outside the house to pay their last respects.

I went in after the visitors had thinned a bit and saw the body of Avirachan. He looked graceful and at peace. My sisters, nieces, Beana and her kids were sitting around the body, praying. Beana and her kids – Tresa, Divya and Diya – looked devastated, pain written all over their faces.

The funeral was on the next day. I hardly bothered about my birthday though I got a few calls. The turn out of people surprised me no end. Here was a funeral of a man living in one of the most remote villages in Kerala and yet there were about 2500 people who turned up for the funeral. People said that even for the annual church festival, they have not seen so many people.

What endeared Avirachan to everyone was his sense of proportion and balance. He got along well with everyone, the rich and the poor. When he lived I did not have the proper measure of him, though I always valued the weight of his words. A few moments that day and after that I wished I had valued him much more. Do I recognize greatness only after people are no more?

I felt the inclination to slow down, observe the people who interact with me and appreciate them for their worth and greatness. There is an abundance of goodness I encounter  in my dealings with people everyday. I should slow down to observe and value acts of kindness from people. I consider myself blessed to have so many people who add freshness, kindness and genuine love in my life.

Death is a great teacher. Steven Covey suggests very strongly to imagine being dead, in a coffin. And then to imagine what different people – wife, children, family, friends, neighbours etc., would say about my life. Boy, this is a sobering thought. What would these people say about me as I lie in a coffin? What do I need to do so that they utter those very same words I dearly wish to hear?

We trundle along in life fully knowing there are many tomorrows waiting for us to unfold. If instead, how would I live my life if I knew this new day is going to be my last? I would savor every moment, every sight, every movement, every breath, every person that crossed my path and would think the tenderest of thoughts every moment of the day I am left with. I would slow down, take time to smile, to hold another’s hands, shower attention and kindness even on strangers, speak to my dear ones with attention and love…..

It is important to really value and count my time on earth, because like the poet John Donne says, “…never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”


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