Published on April 20th, 20130
One final goodbye…
Humra Quraishi revisits death through an unsaid goodbye to her own little brother Farid, whom she lost in early childhood.
Each time I’m at a graveyard, I’m reminded of what Khushwant Singh has been saying – words to the effect that in his younger days, he made it a point to visit cremation grounds, for they had a certain effect on him. To quote him, “Earlier, I visited cremation grounds; it had a certain cleansing effect on me. Today, close to 99 years of age, I think of death, think of it very often. I think of all my friends gone, and wonder where have they gone?
“My contemporaries here or in Pakistan or in the UK are all dead. I wonder why we don’t discuss death in our homes. After all, death is one of those realities that none can escape – khuda mein shak ho to ho, maut mein nahin koi shak (You may doubt the existence of God, but you can’t doubt the very certainty of death.)” He added, “There’s this particular verse written by Asadullah Khan Ghalib: Rau mein hai raksh-e-umarkahaan deykheeye thammey?/ Nahin haath baag par hai na pa hai rakaab mein (Age travels at a galloping pace/ who knows where it will stop/ we do not have the reins in our hands/ we do not have our feet in the stirrups).”
And there’s this Persian couplet by Allama Iqbal, which says that when the time comes to depart, a man should go without any bitterness or regret, or carry grievances.
A few years ago, Khushwant penned his own epitaph thus:
“Here lies one who spared neither man nor God /
Waste not your tears on him, he was a sod/
Writing nasty things he regarded as great fun/
Thank the Lord he is dead, this son of a gun.”
Last month, my cousin Obaid Wajid got crushed under an oil tanker in our ancestral qasba, Aonla in Uttar Pradesh. I have been reflecting and introspecting on this reality – the reality of death. For me, the first connection with death and graveyards was forged when one of my younger brothers, Farid, died as a baby. From that day, I started trying to grasp the deadly reality of that final parting.
For me, visiting graveyards could be one of the ways of lessening my own pain. One of those earliest painful memories which lies tucked tightly in my mind is that of my baby brother Farid’s fragile form wrapped in a white cotton sheet, being taken to the graveyard. He’d died a baby, and though years have passed, even as I write these words, that particular afternoon stands still. I can see it clearly through my moist eyes…it was the mid-1960s, Farid was born in Jhansi. He lived for just a few months. That afternoon, I’d come back from school, but before I could enter the outer verandah, I saw a big crowd gathered on the lawns. After I elbowed my way in, I stood still. My little brother Farid was no longer lying in his cot, but his body was all wrapped in a cotton sheet.
My parents and relatives carried his little body towards the cars for his last rites. The next minute, the house stood vacant. The maid told my dazed younger sisters and me, “Farid baba has gone towards the skies.”
I wanted to run towards the graveyard, but hadn’t a clue on locating it. Our cook sabotaged any such ideas by narrating scary stories of qabristans. My sisters and I sat lost and forlorn. On the one hand we’d kept staring at the sky, certain we could spot our brother. And then we waited desperately for our parents to return.
When they returned, their sobs and cries came afresh, agonising. All I did was gaze at his empty cot, crying that entire night. In the morning, instead of walking down to school, I walked around Jhansi town, trying to locate my baby brother’s grave. I wanted to give him one final hug, kissing his little nose and holding his hand tight in mine…when I finally reached that graveyard, the caretakers were baffled to see me, a young girl of ten, asking to see the grave of her brother. Within minutes they shooed me out, saying that children were not allowed inside the graveyard.
I waited for adulthood to arrive. And I revisited Jhansi. That nagging quest had to be completed. Once again I looked for my brother’s grave, but I drew a blank. The keepers of the place exclaimed, “A child’s kutccha grave! There are hundreds of graves here. More qabristans have come up!”
I gave up, sad and forlorn, for I couldn’t say that I had finally bidden good bye to my little brother Farid.
(Picture courtesy thejakartapost.com. Image is used for representational purpose only)