You could read this as a depressing note. I wouldn’t blame you if you did.
Because this note is about death (yes, again I’m writing about death – as if I can’t let go of it, ever). And death is never fun and writing about death is never fun either. It’s especially depressing if it’s about premature death. It’s about people I knew — so many of them — who died early; and they didn’t have to. They could’ve easily lived, and I could’ve easily been with them for some more years, and I didn’t have to feel so miserable that they didn’t live, and that I didn’t have the simple, ordinary pleasure of a simple, ordinary man to spend time with them and see them growing old, and grow old with some others who I wanted to grow old with.
But this is also a note to let my steam go, as if in a psychological therapy session. If you read it that way, it may not sound nearly as depressing.
In this little note of reflection, I’m trying to find reasons why they had to die so early and why I didn’t get the simple privilege of life to spend a little more time with them. Obviously, as you can see, I am hurting. And I don’t want to hurt so much.
You could call this a philosophical reflection. After all, discussing death is often philosophical. Talking about death with a heavy heart must always have an element of philosophy. An afterthought of dying early, prematurely, when these men and women were in the middle of us…with a full life that there was supposed to be…a life that was taken away from them…and a life that was taken away from us — must be philosophical analysis. If not a scholarly analysis, then at least it’s some emotion-framed rambling that may or may not make sense to others. But for someone like me who cannot simply either forget these deaths or brush them aside as harsh but unavoidable reality — this discussion is important.
Like they say in compassionate, educated discourses, it’s critical to close the chapter. Without closing these chapters, life hurts more and life hurts always. And you can’t hurt incessantly. You must move on. I have hurt incessantly, and I want to move on.
I could’ve titled this note “Why So Many I Knew Left So Early” instead of the title I chose — that would’ve been simpler, more prosaic and less emotional. People always charge me that I charge with emotion too much and it affects them negatively. They tell me I need to be more progressive and objective and less sentimental and old-fashioned. (In fact, they tell me that I should not dwell on the subject of death so much.)
But my dilemma about the title was that if I chose “Why So Many I Knew Left So Early!” as the title, it might have sounded as if I was merely complaining about these deaths. Or, come to think of it, it may have read (without the note of exclamation at the end) as if I was actually narrating the reasons about the deaths with absolutely confirmation that I indeed knew the reasons behind these early deaths. Choosing the title would always be quite difficult for such a note – a note that most people would not want to read more than once and if they read it at all, it would be quick and cursory only because the readers simply could not not avoid the urge to know what I had to say (thank you, brothers and sisters from all over the world).
No-name bloggers like with no pedigree or media or publishing house sponsorship have even more difficulty to choose the title of the blog and its length or format because there is always fear that these global, friendly readers might get turned off by depressing subjects and lengthy discussions, and may not return (and I want you all to return, believe me!).
Then, I couldn’t simply be disingenuous about what I had to say about these deaths. I neither knew the real reasons they had to leave so early, nor did I mean to complain-only about these untimely deaths. Of course, I knew why they died if you asked me the physical reasons behind them — like, my mother’s ovarian cancer when she was forty-two, or my childhood friend Subroto’s untreated clinical depression and his suicide at the age of forty-six just a few days after his father’s death, my brother in-law Ashim’s death at forty when a drunk driver hit his bicycle on the morning of Holi a few years ago, my big-brother-like maternal uncle Buddha’s death at the age of thirty-five when someone shot him in the head and left his body on his office floor, death of my wife’s most jovial uncle at the age of fifty or so when he had his early-morning breakfast and left for his neighborhood tea shop only to be electrocuted of live wire submerged in waterlogged street, my mother’s closest sister who loved me just like her own child died of meningitis when she was perhaps thirty or so leaving behind three little children, or my mother’s oldest brother Biswanath who out of poverty had a severe, untreated anxiety disorder only to die of a cerebral aneurism when he was in his forties and had to leave four young children behind, etc. I always knew the physical facts behind the deaths. I also saw some of them dying close up — like my mother and my uncle Biswanath; I remember seeing this uncle in his death bed at the Calcutta Medical College hospital emergency ward, breathing his last out of a bunch of tubes.
I could’ve seen them growing old and dying at a mature, normal age. That did not happen.
Or, two of my Scottish classmates Anjan and Nikhil — whom I met through Subroto — died so suddenly when Anjan, then a newly-graduated doctor, fell on the street one fine morning and died of a massive stroke. Nikhil was killed with his whole family — his parents, wife and child — when he was driving back to Calcutta from Delhi and an out-of-control supply truck crushed the entire family to death.
Then I can think of some other deaths that I never thought would affect me at all because they were neither my friends nor relatives; they were only people I knew from a distance. But looking back, they all touched me deeply one way or the other. Like, the death of a young, happy boy Suranjan whom I saw the day before his last, who was playing basketball in our Scottish Church School’s courtyard when a mismanaged, poorly-built chunk of cement that held the basketball basket fell on him and one other kid to kill them instantly. Or, the other young man from Buddha’s alley whose name I cannot remember now — whom I saw acting in an amateur play with Buddha who a phenomenal actor and director, just days before his death; one morning, on his way to work, he fell off an overcrowded no-door Calcutta bus pedestal and got run over by the dilapidated, double-decker bus. He was the only earning member of his large family with a number of unmarried sisters. We were in college at that time and had enough courage and desire to go see the remnants of his body and blood strewn on Beadon Street.
Or, like, when I was five or six years old, a young man Ranjit, I think sixteen or seventeen years of age, who happened to be the elder brother of a boy I used to play alley football and cricket with, hanged himself to death (or did he take poison?). I was the only child then: my sister wasn’t born yet. My parents were so concerned that the incident next door might hit me hard — they did not let me see the dead body laying on a wooden cot before the funeral procession. I remember I only heard some subdued wailing of Ranjit’s poor mother. Or maybe, I’m only imagining. I was too small. That I think was my very first encounter with untimely, shocking death.
Why did Ranjit kill himself? I don’t know. Maybe, he failed in love? Maybe, he failed in his high school exam and could not find a way out of their poverty; I knew for the fact that they were extremely poor. His younger brother Rabin who played ball with us, I remember, would always be overly cautious that the ball we played with would be lost and then he’d have to come up with the money-share for the lost, thirty-paisa ball. Therefore, every time he bowled in a game of cricket, he would yell, “I’m not responsible if the ball’s lost!”
I still remember that so vividly!
In a few years, when I was a high school student and doing well in my exams and all, I saw Rabin working as a part-time usher at our local, North Calcutta theater halls where my parents would take me for a weekday evening, discount show of Satyajit Ray or Charlie Chaplin.
Rabin never finished school.
Ranjit killed himself. Many years later, Ganesh, another friend from the same North Calcutta alley who set up a small grocery shop in our Calcutta neighborhood to make ends meet, only never to be able to make ends meet, killed himself. On top of their humiliating poverty, he also had to come up with expenses for his old parents’ health care, costs that recently went completely out of control in post-socialism India. I was not in Calcutta when Ganesh died; I was already in the U.S. studying journalism at Columbia University (and already considering myself to be a part of the elite U.S. media). It was incidentally about the same time when Subroto stood in front of a speedy commuter train only to be cut up in half.
Ganesh, Subroto and I played and gossiped together back in those romantic Calcutta days. We could grow old together. That didn’t happen either.
Didn’t I say I must tell these stories to close some chapters?
Help me do it.
Brooklyn, New York