Let those wails echo in your head forever… or until you’re done.

A middle aged lady — about 45 or so I’d say, begs the men lifting her husband’s remains to let her have a last look at his face. To let her show it to her kid who’s on a video call, sitting in Bangalore, probably frozen in place by fear as his father suffered, and succumbed to Covid in Durgapur, West Bengal.

They don’t budge. The body remains in its zippered bag — almost like a suit bag, the kind you put away your special tailored suits in, only to realize ten years down that they don’t fit anymore.

A small effort, a short flick of a wrist, and they could have given her that glimpse. But no, they wouldn’t. I thought it was a COVID safety protocol thing. But their barked response made it clear — they didn’t have time for all the farewells. She should have done it earlier.

She complied. She sobbed as she accompanied the body making its way up the stairs, and to the electric ‘furnace’ (that its the only way to describe what it was), I made my way down , having just seen off my uncle. A father figure, and someone I respected and admired deeply.

As we waited down the steps, waiting for some sign that the body we’d just consigned to flames was indeed completely consumed, I could hear her sobs turn to wails.. The sound of a life and home being destroyed. The sound of a marriage and partnership being vaporized… the sound of the beginning of a life spent waiting for the end, alone.

That is IF she herself would survive the next few months.

The usual condolences in our culture usually go along very similar lines — It’s Gods Will, and cannot be challenged or changed. … He/She’s gone now, learn to live for the rest of the family. Be brave.. your parents / kids / family needs you.

Yes, we will be brave. We will go on, and we will ensure that the family doesn’t see us suffering or struggling.

But I will still challenge HIS will. And before that, I’d like to challenge those who ensure HIS will was done… those who put us in harms way, and brought a Nation to its knees.

That includes everyone — those who ignored the early signs, took it too lightly, didn’t plan , and when they did , celebrated their victory too early. Those who sold quack medicine, and those who advertised it to their millions of groups in WhatsApp. It also includes the fellow who wouldn’t wear a mask, the chaps who knew they had it yet kept quite about it, going about spreading it rather than owning up.

It includes those all those who had the power to keep their OWN self safe, yet chose not to. And it goes on to encompass those who had the power to work towards keeping the Nation safe, yet froze.

Freezing, be it when you’re a deer in the headlights , or a soldier in the crosshairs of an enemy soldier, is not a crime. Its a brief.. a very brief momentary lapse as the brain adjusts to the new reality. When that brief lapse becomes anything but brief, expect disaster.

I will also keep those wails in my head. For I do not think it is in my ability to forget them that easy. I will keep them as echoes, and revisit them whenever I feel complacency creeping in…. to remind me what it sounds like when life ends.

RSA

25th May, 2021. Durgapur, West Bengal, India