Fiction: Airavata (Padmanabh Trivedi)

Padmanabh Trivedi

I was young, perhaps too young to understand death. The phenomenon had never touched me with gravity. Back in my village people used to die who I had nothing to do with except when they died, and that too, only because I found it funny to see the crying faces of the adults who I had rarely seen crying.  

Well, one day I grew up to realize the meaning of death.

I was very fond of my grandmother-dadi. She was my favorite person because she never got angry with me, always gave me a rupee or two for the ice-cream cakes the vendors sold in the village and, moreover, she had exclusive stories to tell.

We would share the same cot on the roof in summer nights. I still remember her smell. She had hollowed-out cheeks, wrinkled skin and slightly leaned body because of her age. I had hundreds of curiosities and at night the clear sky was one of them. I’d gaze the sky and ask about stars which, as she explained, were our ancestors after passing away. And in clearer sky, the serpentine cloud-like haze engulfing stars was my utmost curiosity.

Once I asked her,

“What’s that, dadi?”

“That’s the path of Airavata.” she told convincing.

“What’s Airavata?” I added.

“It’s the elephant which Lord Indra rides.” she said with patience.

I kept silent for a few moments calculating the possibility of Airavata walking on the translucent streak of cloud and asked, “Dadi, what if it falls upon us?” on which she laughed and said “No, it won’t. It has divine power.” ‘Divine power’ was enough to put me at ease.

Sharing cot with her was a good feeling. I felt protected. But at the same time I’d imagine when she’d die, this cot will be all mine. It was a thrilling imagination to me.

Later on, I often saw her crying alone. When I asked my mother why she cried alone she’d say with a deep sigh, “Mausi’s -her sister- death has caused her this pain.”

Her sister used to stay with us after her husband abandoned her and married someone else. Recently she had died of heart-attack when I was at my aunt’s home for summer vacations. I thought I had missed the excitement of her demise.

After that, dadi looked sadder and thinner. Her complexion started getting pale. One day, she fell very ill. Papa took her to hospital. After three days he brought her home. He was very serious and after some time everyone was as much serious. They talked in hushed voices when dadi was lying on the same cot.

I mustered up courage to quench my curiosity with mother about what’s going on.

She cried hugging me, “Dadi, is with us only for three more months. Serve her well, beta.”

I couldn’t understand but later on from a neighbour I got to know she’d been diagnosed with the third stage of pancreatic cancer. It was serious and exciting too for me and the word ‘cancer’ sounded fascinating. For the first time, someone close to me would die and I’d see everything.

I started observing and serving her the best I could. One day, I asked her “dadi, will you give me one hundred rupees note when baba- my grandpa- brings his pension this time?”

She replied with a strange tinge of love and pain on her face, “Yes, I will.” She hugged me. I think tears had welled in her eyes.

This was a huge promise to me. I’d never ever owned one hundred rupees note in my life so far. I’d started dreaming how I’d utilize it. I’d buy a purse and keep it in that or I’ll buy the most expensive toy with that and so on and so forth.

One day I was playing marbles with my neighbour fellows suddenly their parents called them telling, “Look after the home, we’re going. Dadi is about to die.”

It was a thrill and shock to me. I also rushed along with them. Surrounded by my family, dadi was vomiting blood. She was brought to her death bed on the ground. She was in her senses. She held my hand and kept gazing at me for a while with tears in her eyes and I was looking at her and worrying about my hundred rupees note. This promise was not made before anyone. Why would anyone give me so much money then? I wished she could survive to give me money, and then she could die.

Well, the destiny had its own way. Suddenly, her eyes left open, her movements stopped. All snapped bewailing in chorus. I was sad for the loss of my promised money. People were noticing me not crying. I wished I could cry. But how could I cry without tears. I’d look funny. So I kept silence and tried to stay unnoticed while observing everything. But unlike before, I did not feel laughing observing everyone’s contorted faces.

I observed the entire funeral rites. After her cremation, the relatives left and the evening came. I claimed my heirness to the cot and, against my anticipation, nobody objected.

I lied alone on the cot, stretched my limbs across with the pomp of authority. It was a summer night and the sky was clear dark with twinkling stars. I saw that serpentine cloud again. I wondered again but dadi was not around to say anything to. With a start, gloom came over me. I shrank my limbs slowly, changed side. But she was not there to put my hand on or lie hugging. I wondered she will never ever come back. I felt my eyes watering. The cot was too much for me now. I got up and went to my mother’s cot. I hugged her tightly for solace. I had no word for what I was feeling. Now I can say I was missing her. After some time, I faced upward again and asked mother, “Amma, which star is dadi?” and Amma started crying. And I got silent. I felt like dadi is lying in her cot but the cot was empty. I never ever lied on that again. I felt relieved when my brother took that over.

Since that night, whenever I see the clear sky in summer night against all scientific truths, Airavata walks on that serpentine cloud and she’s a bright star for me at least, for a moment at least.

***


Bio: Padmnabh Trivedi is a lecturer in a Government Polytechnic, UP and a research scholar in IIT Roorkee, India. He writes both in English and Hindi languags. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @tpadmanabh

2 comments :

  1. Dr. Bhushan SharmaMay 8, 2023 at 7:16 AM

    Airavata is a classic peace of writing with true expression of feelings. The author has outpoured his heart and soul.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Very touching. I also went into the past for a long time.

    ReplyDelete

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