The heavy rains outside roused me before my alarm went off. Annoyed at the weather of the Netherlands and cursing furiously, I decided to check the number of likes on my latest instagram image, yes, yes, I am quite addicted to that thing, ridiculous really. Anyways, but before I could check my instagram, my eyes went to today’s date. It was the 11th of August, 2016. Suddenly it was all clear, I looked outside again to see the rain pouring cats and dogs, and instead of cursing, I muttered a prayer and smiled.
Six years ago, on this very date, it had been pouring cats and dogs in Delhi. My tears, or rather our tears had merged with the rains as we saw our dear friend one last time at the crematorium. I remember days after it wandering like a zombie. It was difficult to understand how one day a person could be just talking, laughing with you, and another day just drop dead. Or how deaths of different people might affect you differently. When I was merely 10 years old, I distinctly remember seeing my grandfather breathing his last in front of my eyes. I couldn’t sleep for days after that. Being young, and having a hyperactive imagination, I was haunted by fears of my grandfather appearing out of nowhere. Our old house with long corridors and cavernous roofs didn’t help much either. During the deep recesses of night whenever I felt the urge to relieve, I would often wake up my mother or cousin sister to accompany me to the washroom. The long corridor was too terrifying to traverse.
5-6 years later, post the death of my grandfather, what was to baffle me even more was when a close family friend committed suicide. The van driver while picking me up from school informed me that a tragedy had occurred in the building I lived, that someone had taken their own life, I immediately knew who it was. The person in question also happened to be my mother’s close friend. Rushing home, my first thought was if my mother was ok. Till date my mother hasn’t been able to understand how I knew who it was, or how I was so calm or how I had known. Years later I still don’t know. Sixth sense, premonition, intuition? It could be anything. But the enormity of someone taking their own life struck me days later. The person leaves behind so many unanswered questions, and their family and friends forever wondering. I visited the place where it all happened, it was difficult to not try and reconstruct how it might have happened. It gave me goosebumps, and till date I have never visited that place again. It holds such terrible sadness and memories.
Staring at the rains I realised death can evolve a person in so many ways. Perhaps my above encounters with death, or perhaps how death despite being heart-wrenching is one event so tangible, such a surety, and a given no matter what, that the certainty of it calms me down. Perhaps that is why cemeteries attract me immensely. Recently when I made a trip to Paris, my favourite part was its famous La Pere Lachaise cemetery. For me discovering the famous graves was not why I ventured into it, walking into its labyrinth, I felt at one and calm with the dead. But perhaps what has always struck me is also the interplay of both life and death. Old graves have moss growing on it, whereas some have fresh flowers kept by some mourning relative or friend or lover. Life and death find themselves on one common ground, where time and space seem to collapse, and where people just become people; the living united in their mourning, whereas the death united, as they mingle and perish with the earth. Walking with my friend, she asked me what it is that drew me to cemeteries. I had never been asked this question before, and so even though I tried to explain her, I don’t think I was successful. Cemeteries have also often made me feel insignificant. Sometimes we overvalue ourselves, strutting our pretentiousness, all of which comes to naught eventually. Sounds philosophical doesn’t it? But then I guess it is, and also true to an extent.
La Pere Lachaise Cemetery
You might be wondering why such a morose post maybe? Death, cemeteries, ghosts, premonition! haha. I don’t think so. I would say more reflective? Especially since in a span of two weeks another person asked me what drew me to cemeteries. When I was studying my masters in communication in Jamia, it was my fascination for cemeteries and ghosts that led me to my ghost sister! Well technically I mean soul sister, but since she is as weird as moi, I call her my ghost sister. We were delighted to find each other, and we never had to explain explicitly to each other, intuitively and instinctively we understood each other’s fascination and bewilderment with all things dead. Often we would visit the many cemeteries in Delhi, discuss its histories, try discovering the oldest grave, compare old graves’ designs to new ones or just sit and gaze. She took me to her favourite cemetery and grave, a grave so old that a tree had grown from it, with its roots struggling to break apart from the tombstone. And it was there, that I felt nothing personified the inextricable link of life and death such as that tree and grave.
Living in Rotterdam, only after a year did I discover a beautiful cemetery near my place. I often go there to walk around, sit and read a book. I have often elicited curious stares, a lone girl sitting at a cemetery reading a book. Not the most common sight or the preferred place to read a book! Oh did I mention how my ghost sister and I are planning a research project on cemeteries as well? Quite macabre huh? haha. Well that is us, united in our ‘gravely’ meanderings. On the other hand, my friend’s death 6 years ago united the other bunch of us. 7 of us to be precise.
Even in death some people leave indelible marks. She is literally the fevicol that holds us all together. Despite being vastly different individuals, we have managed to hold onto each other. So even though at that time her death made me question and wonder why, I now know why. She left us with a wonderful bond of sisterhood and friendship, and an important lesson on letting go as well. Since the year she died to now, each of us wherever we have been, it has always rained. Some might say a mere coincidence, and maybe it is. But then you sometimes make a decision to choose what you want to believe. I choose to believe that in her own way, causing rains wherever we might be, is a sign from her side that wherever each of us are, it is the right place. And that things are well and alright.