The universe, like a giant balloon, expands every day, every moment. If you come to think of it, the edge of the universe is in fact the very brink of our imagination too. Hence, whilst sinking on our pensive chairs, we often tend to feel the inhibition of this expanding yet entrapping balloon.
The years flow in accordance with the mortal dimensions of time. Lives and relations drift apart into mundane, conformal corners. The deepest wound and the saddest thought fade into the immense abyss of a numb mechanical existence.
The winter clouds of Kolkata told little about what was about to come. The climate outside – like a sugar-coated bitter pill was rolling upon his innocent tongue – waiting to dole out its true taste. Seats inside the flight were as cozy as ever, passengers flaunted themselves like a usual routine. Yet nothing could hold his attention for a second. The pensive spirit inside had paid its episodic visit once again.
Flipping through the drab magazine he had scooped out from the pocket of the seat in front, he wondered till when the magazine had been lying where it did, how many fingers must have turned those half-a-hundred pages to know nothing about the content but killing time nevertheless.
He pondered about the magazine – he pondered about himself.
The hostess’s façade was sterner than usual, the urge to walk down the arrival gate of the airport was stronger, and the sun’s rays falling mercilessly on his temple was tauter than what it had been the last time he visited. The faint aura of the City of Joy had already begun to tickle his senses.
But, as a doctor, he didn't have much space for tickles or tremors. On any other day, it wouldn’t be a concern. But that day was different.
Mr. Abhishek Sarkar or “Sir”, as he had always called him, was dying. Alzheimer's and a tumour in the brain. Time had been cruel to this kind heart. The man with the most zestful mind had half the memories of his life snatched mercilessly away from him through a process indecipherable even to the best of sciences. He smiled blankly at all that was gone, frowned at what was still there and smiled again, only helplessly this time, at what was about to come.
Anirudh had come to Kolkata, as one who was supposed to convince Sir for a surgery. One last attempt to pull off something spectacular and perhaps divine. More unfortunate perhaps was that Sir hadn't forgotten him. Anirudh was still a part of the remnants and ruins of his memory. He would talk to none but him. He remembered all the conversations that ever happened between them. It was Anirudh, who had first told him about the Alzheimer's.
When he first arrived at his place after what seemed to have been ages, he took a moment's pause. A deep breath.
The calling bell was answered unexpectedly quick. They stood facing each other. Sir ushered him in. Anirudh's eyes, in a failed attempt to hide his anxiety, inspected through the drawing room.
Perhaps foreseeing the intricacy of the imminent discussion, Anirudh was interrupted even before he started.
"Do you mind heading somewhere for lunch?"
"Yes, why not? Sure…!" Anirudh confirmed.
It was very strange of him to feel so nervous, for he was never the one with much hesitation about anything whatsoever.
Nonetheless, the rest of the afternoon was spent feeding on rice, dal and spicy fish curry. The issue in hand was subtly side-lined by the long-awaited rendezvous. On the other hand, it was rather the scent of intoxicating delicacies and the aroma of those poor deceived beings, which filled the ambiance. Two men shared sighs of sadness, sighs of satisfaction and sighs of somber satire as the world seemed like a cruel place to live in!
Time flew like the Arctic tern. Talking about nothing, and keeping silent occasionally, it was 8:00pm already. The evening sun had long sunk deep into the grimness of it all, a grimness where none would look for it!
“Where do you want to go?” A cabbie asked on the way.
The two gentlemen stepped into the cab.
The familiar deserted streets made the drive swift. The cab stopped at one end of Esplanade. Stepping out of the cab, they leaned against the moist skin of the cab door.
“This serene divinity of night at Esplanade – you sense it?”
He nodded his approval, smiling faintly under the soft drizzles.
“These veins of life in their royal blue, the celestials bowing down before these pensive minds…!”
Aniruddh said nothing but only listened.
“And those stalls by the footpath! Their immense homeliness hum songs of today and tomorrow and that of the days of yore. They complete the incomplete in me, in you, and in everyone else. They speak for each one who walk these streets. Yet, the emptiness… the emptiness within childish desires aiming for just a little more!”
"The surgery Sir, please?" Aniruddh asked as his eyes filled with tears.
He only heard what he feared.
"No, Anirudh. Don't you want to save me?" He smiled. "Then let me go. More than life, I need to live…doesn’t matter on which side of time."
Witnessing each changing facet on his face, as if memorising every minute detail of it, Sir rested his eyes on him for a long time. And then suddenly he said, “It’s getting too late. I must get going.”
Aniruddh stood there, devoid of words that could come to aid. He stared at the nothingness that Sir was slowly, however relaxed, walking into. The nothingness into which even the last shadow of the elderly person was eventually going to ebb away.
It only turned out to be sooner than expected.
The very next evening, he was rushed to the hospital. A brain stroke and the doctor had his call.
"Time of death 08:09 pm." He proceeded to write the death certificate.
Not many were there to claim the body. None to be precise. The body was sent to the morgue.
Dr. Anirudh was allowed to pay a visit. The slab-like a drawer of frozen life was pulled out, only a little though. He didn't look. He only let the icy vapours of his teacher's soul numb his vision.
He pushed back the slab and looked away. He couldn't cry.
While dying his teacher taught him one last lesson, he thought. The lesson of time.
Standing in the numbing cold of the morgue he had learnt that outside the insensate pages of medical science, survival is never synonymous with life. And that the shiny scalpel can only do so much to keep the strum going. He walked away from there, unmindfully, taking slow steps devoid of destination.
He didn’t know when he had entered the auditorium of the medical college, where the two exchanged notes from two different sides of the table once upon a time.
The night owed a lot to the darkness of the blackboard. And the men owed that solitude to each other just like Sir had said… “doesn’t matter from which side of time”.
Author: Pratik Chakraborty
A performing magician, a engineering aspirant, an incessant thinker. The veins of my life have indeed
sieved as intricately as this. I like to start each morning at the foot of a hill with a bunch of spare
parts hoping to build an airplane. Even if it does work out, more often than not it doesn’t turn out
the way I had hoped it would. But I like to think that that’s life. My grandfather, a Professor of
Political Science and a prominent Communist of his day was one of the most prominent men in the
city those days. Thereafter, My family sunk in orthodoxy would never mind me dating Mozart or
taking Jhumpa Lahiri out for dinner – for the situation only turns around when the prospect of
marriage is up and Newton and Hawkings are the only options I am given.
Yet, to think is to breathe. And I figure I have a long span of breathing to do.