Many-Splendoured Love/After I Leave

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After I Leave

It was not easy to figure when it was morning today, because the sky was darkened with rain-clouds. Oh well, it is always like this here, Keshav.bhai knew that. But still, he looked up to the sky, shook his head, and asked wordlessly,“Why would you make it so totally dark, eh? And that too on a Sunday morning?”

There was a roll of distant thunder, as if the clouds gave him an answer; and then the sky broke open with a fury, as if it was angry about what Keshav.bhai had said. In fact, he liked such show-offs by the sky. He quickly went in, made a cup of tea and when he came out on the balcony it was still raining.

“It is so good to sip hot tea while listening to the sound of torrents of rain, isn’t it?”, he would always say to Veena.ben. “Oh no, nothing is better than a light drizzle, ok?”, she would always retort.

By now, in general, Keshav.bhai had consoled his mind, and he tried not to let the eyes tear up when having a cup of tea every day. It was very difficult for him in the beginning. Tea tasted like poison, and many times tears dripped into the brew also. As was his habit, he would shake his head and say to the wife that was absent now, “Look, Veeni, You taught me to make a cup of tea right in time, isn’t it? - as if you knew that I would need to know that.”

Veena.ben and Keshav.bhai had come to settle down in America at quite a late age. Their only son Hemen had gone to Michigan with an intention to study firther. “I will certainly return to Ahmedabad”, he had assured the parents. At that time he did think that way, but then, as it must have happened with thousands of other sons, Hemen too found a good job, fell in love with a lovely Latina, got married, and then where was the question of going back to Ahmedbad at all? During this whole process, that matter was forgotten almost totally.

But surely, it was not that he had forgotten his Mom and Dad. He called them for a visit to America, and did not rest till he managed to get Visas for them to stay there permanently. During that time, after looking for a place with good weather all year round, Hemen and Marisol had transeferred to the city of Jacksonville in the State of Florida. The parents could have stayed there with them, but Keshav.bhai chose to go stay nearTampa city, where his best friend Dhimantbhai and his wife Sushi.ben lived. He knew that in this age, even in India, one can not make too many claims on one’s son. He understood that it was wise to stay at a short distance.

Both the sons of Dhimant.bhai - Suresh and Sudhir - owned two motels. They gladly found some work for Keshav.uncle. He would attend to one motel or the other, as needed. Keshav.bhai learnt to drive, could comfortably go near by, and had no complaints about life. It may have taken more time for Veena.ben’s mind to feel content. She would keep saying, “ I do want to die only in India, OK?” She would get Keshav.bhai to promise her, and would say that she wanted to go on the last pyre only in the garden-like funeral place in the town of Jamnagar.

“What do you mean ‘last pyre’? How often have you gone up on a pyre?”, Keshav.bhai would say irritably. “Oh, women have to get on pyres every day of their lives. Do you think a pyre means one that burns just a body? What about the heart that keeps burning every day? Is that any different?” Dhimant.bhai would say, “Keshavlal, you would not win an argument. Now she is an American. Has learnt a lot. And look at my wife Sushi ---” But Sushi.ben would not let him go on any further!

What happened was what Gods must have wanted. Veena.ben passed away in a short illness. Suddenly, and that too in America. Keshav.bhai could not keep his promise. For a long time his heart felt guilty about that. “Veeni, I will certainly take your ashed to India, OK?”, he kept saying that in his mind. He and Dhimant.bhai had thought of going to India together, but it had not been possible so far.

Almost as if there were more hours to the day now, Keshav.bhai had started going to the local hospital as a volunteer as well, after he finished at the motels - twice a week, three times a week when possible. He would get to talk with the nurses, as well as with Indian doctors when possible. Many times he would sit with patients who were left alone, to give them company. There is so much to learn in this world, he would feel.

One evening Keshav.bhai got a call from Sudhir. “Uncle, Would you come to Pappa’s room quickly? We need you right away.”

At that time Keshav.bhai was in the hospital. He immediately took the lift from the third floor to the sixth floor. His childhood friend Dhimant himself was lying in a private room as a patient for last few days. About three years ago Dhimant.bhai had a stent put in his heart. Since then he had been well enough. But recently he had felt palpitations, and was admitted to the hospital. After some tests, the doctors were saying, “We are observing him.”

From then on Keshav.bhai spent all his time with Dhimant.bhai. Did not talk much, but softly he would sing Zaverchand Meghani’s songs that Dhimant.bhai liked. He always praised Keshav.bhai’s voice. He would say, “You really are blessed by Gods. What a voice they have given you.” Even now a slight smile would spread on his pale face. Raising his fingers a little, he would indicate “Very nice, Keshavlal.”

For last two days Dhimant.bhai was feeling better, and chatted a little. He had also started teasing his wife sweetly, like before. He told Keshav.bhai, “Soon I will stop being a patient. I will be going home soon. You can give your time to other patients now. I don’t mind.”

So once again Keshav.bhai had started giving some time to the other patients. That evening he was on the third floor, and he got a call from Sudhir. Hurriedly he went to Dhimantbhai’s room, and could not believe the scene there. Both the sons and their wives were standing wordlessly by the door. Inside the room there was the heavy dark atmosphere of Death. Near the bed Sushi.ben was slumped like a lideless statue. Keshav.bhai’s friend, who had been with him all his life, had gone far far away without saying goodbye.

“O Dhimant, what is this you have done? Your whole life you remained slow, and stayed behind me. All our lives we teased you as “Slow Dhimant”, and how you have cheated me now. Should one cheat a friend like this? You were in such a hurry to go ahead of me?” Keshav.bhai was shaking his head, his hands; no words were coming out of his mouth.

When he started pulling at Dhimant.bhai’s arms, Suresh, as he had just stepped into the room, took hold of him firmly, and said with force, “Uncle, what are you doing? Get hold of yourself, Uncle.”

Sudhir led him out of the room, and said, “Uncle, We need to talk to you about a very impotant matter. And you must give us courage. If you break down like this, then who would help us?”

Both the daughters-in-law took Sushi.ben out of the room.

Keshav.bhai was still not able to speak. Perhaps even when Veena.ben passed away he did not get such a huge shock. Dhimant was like his twin self. How will he survive without him? And where was any point in surviving now either?

Suresh had gone and got a glass of water for Keshav.bhai. Both brothers seemed agitated about something. They said again, “Uncle, We have a problem. We need your advice.”

Like countless Indians living abroad Dhiumant.bhai also wanted to die in India. And if that does not happen, then he wished that his dead body be taken to India and get cremated there. He had expressed this wish only to Sushi.ben, and both the sons were not prepared to believe that. “Mom is also in shock, Uncle. Like you, she also does not know what she is saying.”

Suresh said, “Just like that - is it possible to take the dead body to India in a plane? Hours and hours like that - in fact, it could be more than two days even.”

This shook Keshav.bhai up, like he got an enormous electric shock. Now a loud sound came out of his throat. “What are you saying, Boy? What do you mean ‘dead body’? Meaning, he is still your father, ok?”

“Uncle, sorry, Suresh is also in shock”, Sudhir tried to pacify him.

“Look, Sudhr, Can’t we take him to India if we put him properly in a coffin, and buy three seats togehter,? Have you tried to find out? What are the rules - from Customs, both the Governments? Have you any idea about all this?”

“No, Uncle, we have not found any of this out as yet, but to do all this how much expense there would be, do you realize?”

“You are more concerned with money than your own father?,” again Keshav.bhai’s vouice came out harshly.

“So weren’t you more concenred with money yourself? When Veena.aunty died, why didn’t you take her body to India? Must have been the expense, for you too”, Suresh could not help saying.

Keshav.bhai was stunned. Some unexplainable jolt shook up his heart. He was sure that Suresh had no idea about Veena.ben’s last desire, and still he said something like this. That was true - he had not fulfilled that wish of hers. But was that just because of the thought of the expense? No, no, it was not that. He would certainly have spent that money, but Veena.ben’s departure had shattered him badly. How could he have taken Veena.ben’s body to India?

Besides, some sort of medical problem also had been detected in her body. If there was a concern about infection, it could not be taken in a plane to India, nor anywhere else.

Sudhir was saying, “Uncle, it is also not possible to go for so long, leaving the motels unattended. You know that, right?”

“Yes, sure, you are right”, Keshav.bhai said plainly, and raising his hands in a gesture of blessings, he walked out from there.

Afterwards he had tried to find out, thinking that one should at least know about it. The process of taking a body on a plane would require procuring several certificates, filling out many forms, permission from the Indian Government, permission from the U.S. Government. One could not be sure the permission will be given or not, and of course, it will take a lot of time, effort and expense.

But even after doing all this, no, the coffin absolutely could not be placed on passenger seats. Even after it was embalmed, it would have to be put only in the cargo-hold, with all other ordinary baggage.

This matter could be understood, and still, to Keshav.bhai it appeared like an insult to the departed loved one. And who would carry it up, and who would bring it down? And who knew how? The handlers might bang it down or throw it around also. No, it was wise not to have sent Veeni that way. And now Dhimant. Just thinking about his closest friend’s body getting banged down and thrown around choked Keshav.bhai.

His son Hemen and daughter-in-law Marisol came specially from Jacksonville to attend the religious function arranged for Dhimant Uncle. At that time, both of them tried to convince Keshav.bhai. “Dad, You do not look well at all. Now you are left alone here in Tampa. Now come to Jacksonville and live with us, Dad.”

But Keshav.bhai would not agree with that. “I will get better, son. Do not worry for me. When I feel the need for that, I would be the one to inform you both, all right?”

To bear with Veena.ben’s absence he had worked very hard mentally. Now that hard work helped him to tolerate Dhiman.bhai’s loss. But the songs his friend loved were not coming out of his throat any more. Something was constantly bothering his mind, and was churning around in his brain. For days and endless days, when he could not understand the reason for this, how could he find a solution for it?

For now Keshav.bhai continued to do his work at the motels. He did not want to add to the sadness of his friend’s family at this time. And he had started going to the hospital almost every day now. He was very helpful to the Indian patients, and all other patients thought of him as a compassionate friend also. Looking at all different situations in everybody’s lives, he had started believing that what Veeni said was really true. In reality, human beings do have to get on the pyre on daily basis, one way or the other.

One day, from a terminal patient and his family, he happened to hear words like “Donate for Science”. And when he found out the meaning of the phrase, it was as if all churning in his mind stopped right then. Where there was constant cloudiness, now there was clarity. He finally understood the reason for all the confusion within his heart, and got a solution for it at the same time.

The reason for all this mental aggrevation for so long was that after his own death Keshav.bhai did not want to bother his only son in any way. There was no question about his wanting to die or get cremated in India, but even so, he did not wish to leave a shadow of a doubt in anyone’s mind about that. So there was a solution, now, right here, he felt.

Afterwards he came to know another term for it - something like ‘Donating for Charity’. Very good, he said to himself, and felt relieved. The inner burden had vanished. After a long time. he felt like humming the old favourite tunes.

Moreover, Veena.ben’s ashes were still here. Even for that, he thought of such a nice idea that again he said “very good” to himself. He also felt that Veeni would really like that idea even better than taking the ashes to India.

Donating the body was as easy to do here in USA, as difficult it was to transport it to India. In no time he procured all necessary information. And he started finishing all paper-work regarding this. He filled up the forms for the hospital, and registered there for the donatuon of his body.

Then patiently and carefully he wrote a Will. He made about four copies of it, and got them all notarized. It was not to be given to Hemen at this time, but Keshav.bhai wanted to make sure that Hemen could get it without any hassle. He wanted to leave the copies in the house in such a way as well.

There were two main clauses in the Will. He had made sure that both were possible. One was that, “My body should be donated to the hospital after I leave”, and the second was that, “ After the hospital cremates it my ashes should be mixed with Veena’s ashes, and if it is possible to sprinkle them over fields ( Look, Veeni, You yourself would become the drizzle you liked so much) that should be done; and if not, then the ashes should be taken to the sea-shore and let them go far away with waves ( If not the thunder of the clouds, at least the sound of the ocean wiill be with us).

Good. That’s all.