Approaching Storm: Beach near Newport by Martin Johnson Heade (sourced from Wikimedia commons)
Flushed with our success on finding the undertaker and having a fruitful conversation with her, we scheduled another meeting with her at her place. We wanted to dig deeper into her psyche, we wanted to pursue the interesting tidbits and strands of information revealed in our previous conversation.
We reached her place at the appointed time. Today there was even a cat in her courtyard, quietly skirting and jumping around. She was feeding her parrot when we arrived. This time instead of sitting in the living room, she made us sit in one of the smaller rooms, which was visible on the right side of the courtyard when you enter the house. The room was a high ceilinged one. The types which had existed before the matchbox sized rooms became mainstream. You would recognise it from its wooden beams on the ceiling and the natural cooling and insulation such a construction facilitated. The furniture was the basic, a high bed, a low cupboard to one side and an aluminium almirah on the other side.
The man who had led us inside the house the first day got us some tea, chips and biscuits. I would admit, and so did my group members, that the man never quite fit into the family picture. He was always hovering yet we could discern he was not living there, even though the undertaker had said he was a cousin. We however had felt no need to probe and were indifferent, but now I feel even if we didn’t probe, we should have kept an eye, should have kept a note and should have realised that instant why some things were not right.
The undertaker then entered and after the initial courtesies and questions on how we were doing and about our families, she proceeded to show us pictures of her as a young girl, her parents and family and her wedding pictures. While explaining about the pictures, there she was again, the enlivened girl, as she regaled her with her childhood stories. She was like this young grandma surrounded by enraptured girls, hanging onto her each word. I would say we hung onto her words too much, becoming blind to the things around us.
She had been looking rather tired and forlorn. We couldn’t help but ask her the matter. She then started explaining how the tenant living above her house was giving them troubles. Apparently the tenant had been the same for many years. The undertaker’s parents had rented out the room to a couple who had a daughter. Now the daughter had grown up but would create troubles in paying the rent every month. She had been accusing the undertaker of stealing some stuff and keeping a constant eye on her. She would even file police complaints, with the result that the undertaker had to deal with regular police visits over petty issues. The undertaker mentioned money was always a problem in the house, and with the tenant and rent issue, the finances only got exacerbated. Her husband too had been trying to reason with the tenant, but to no avail. At that moment another string of her visitors entered the house. It was a young girl of our age.
The girl had just returned from her college and decided to pay a visit to the undertaker and chat with her. On spotting us she was delighted. The undertaker left us girls in the room as we introduced ourselves to the girl. The girl was extremely petite and slim, she had long smooth hair that was tied up in a pony tail. She was dressed just like a regular college going girl in Delhi, in a jeans and a shirt. When she talked, she talked openly, enunciating every letter and word. Her diction was flawless and I could not help but wonder that she would make an excellent debater or maybe an anchor. She had a certain forceful style of talking, which would make anyone difficult to wriggle out incase you did not want to talk to her anymore. After our introduction and telling her why we had been looking for the undertaker, she requested us if she could tell us a story. Not really having an option, we told her to go ahead, we are listening.
She said a few years ago she had been under extreme depression. She was unable to sleep and everyday seemed to become darker and bleaker, with absolutely no hope in sight. It got worse and worser over months. Reading the hanuman chalisa everyday or even the Gita did not help her in her misery. Then she said one night, a small gnome like figure came to her, told her she was following the wrong person, reading the wrong scriptures and handed her the Bible! The gnome figure apparently told her it will be Jesus who will ultimately help her see the light. Since she was utterly miserable she decided to give it a shot. And after that she claimed, she has not been the same person. She discovered Jesus indeed was the one true light and the truth. Following him is the only way one could become enlightened and be on the right path. At one point she also mentioned how Gita (the Hindu holy book) was completely atrocious, and that it was the Bible which was the right book.
I think in the hour that she talked, and it was really difficult to stop her from talking, it was only about Jesus and imploring us to follow Jesus too. She mentioned how once a beggar asked her for money and she told him she could only offer him Jesus’s love! Now needless to say, all of us at the first instance were completely caught off-guard by the turn in her story. Then throughout her monologue on Jesus we all vacillated between pure annoyance, exasperation, anger and amusement. We would frequently exchange glances with each other, wondering when will this girl ever stop and realise that her story was clearly NOT working on us. I am not a particularly religious person, and neither were my group members, but firstly, we certainly did not appreciate someone pouncing on us as a predator, secondly, Gita, Bible or the Koran are equally important and hold value for their respective religion, to say some religious book is atrocious was quite unwarranted, especially if you have not read any of them, and lastly, the gumption of someone like the girl to assume that we would fall under her spell, fall for her story!! We also hadn’t quite appreciated the way the undertaker had disappeared in the meanwhile.
The undertaker reappeared just as the girl finished her ‘story’. The girl smiled at us and then said she had to rush home to finish her college assignments. In the meanwhile she said we could ask the undertaker for her contact details if we wanted to talk to her further. Well heck no! I think the next time any of us spot that girl we will take a 180 degree turn and walk or run away before she can catch us. The undertaker then looked at us and gave us an apologetic smile. It appeared she knew this would happen and had happened before. Till now she had appeared to us an independent woman, making her own decisions and striding on her own. But after her recounting of the tenant problem and unable to stop the girl from launching into us, it appeared perhaps our first impression about her was indeed the last impression. We had out of courtesy and politeness remained quiet in front of the girl, but she as the owner of the house could have perhaps told the girl to tell her story some other day. Perhaps as you read it, you might think it not a big deal, we did not think that much of it either. But when you look at things occurred from a vantage point, like now as I am replaying this incident in my head, I think the signs were already there. We had perhaps been too naive and excited to make notice of them.
Another thing she mentioned which made us uneasy was that she explicitly told us not to tell her husband that we would be making a short documentary on her. Whenever she spoke of her husband, and she hardly did, it was always unsure, and a bit terrified too. We were left baffled. If we were to shoot inside her house and her husband was there, he was bound to know that something is happening. It had been getting rather late and we had to leave, but we left on an uneasy note. We decided then that we should schedule another meeting, talk and bring clarity as to why she did not want the husband knowing, since that might create problems for us.
Little did we know that during the next meeting problems would not only emerge, but also erupt!