Less than a month ago, I had in one of my posts briefly sifted through the uncertainty that is life in the clutches of death, the pain and confusion that the sudden demise of someone we love/loved leaves us with, and the ever elusive concept of time. Hence, it was not at all in my plan to touch upon this topic again this soon, lest it should add a very morbid feel to this blog of mine that is struggling to keep a happy face as it is.
But that’s the thing about death. It hardly ever confirms to our schedules and has always taken the liberty to visit unannounced. Try as hard as we may, but there really is no preparing for its ruthlessness and vulgarity. And when the Reaper leaves carrying the soul of that fine man or woman, who was until that very moment a part of our lives, we are left feeling vulnerable. The realization that ‘there is no telling when your appointment is’, makes us introspect. It is that moment when you want to revalue all that you possess and all that you have experienced, and draw up a quick balance sheet. Your assets and your liabilities, they are seen in a different light in that hour of unholiness.
It all started when two weeks ago, I sat rampaging through a very old collection of books I own, long forgotten. These were the ones I had decided to leave behind after my marriage. It was a practical decision as it occurred to us that hauling them all across the ocean to India would incur me more than what I had spent on them in the first place. Hence an arrangement was made that each time I came visiting I would select a few to fly back home with me. This now has become a ritual of sorts that I quite enjoy.
Hence back to the foot of the cupboard, where I sat scavenging through the old pile in search of the ones that I could choose to stay with me for the next leg of this journey.
From the lot emerged a very old, shabby, almost torn, set of pages that used to be a book once upon a time. The tattered yellow pages hurled abuses at me for abandoning it all these years. It looked vaguely familiar and I was sure that it belonged to someone else. It took me a while to recollect that it once belonged to a colleague and friend who had lent it when I expressed interest in learning the tricks to sketching portraits.
It has been so many years since I took time to sketch and shade anything beautiful or worthwhile and I was no longer interested in nurturing the amateur artist in me. Moreover, I hated it when people borrowed books and never returned. Finding myself guilty of holding on to a borrowed book for six years, without even using it well, I wanted to set it right and return the book to its rightful owner. I did not know where he was now, but I decided that I would find out. It would be valued more in an artist’s collection, I was sure.
I soon fished him out of my Facebook friends list and messaged him. Just a Hello and brief one sided pleasantries. I noticed that almost two years ago he had typed out a few ‘Hellos’ and ‘How are yous’ himself, but I had not replied. I probably had many reasons why I did not, but it nevertheless made me feel guilty of not keeping in touch.
A week passed and no replies. I assumed he must be too busy to check his social profiles. Or was he now taking turn to ignore my messages? I couldn’t be sure.
It wasn’t until a couple of days ago, during a meet-up with another old colleague of mine who still works with the same paper, I remembered about this incident and casually inquired if the artist friend was still with the firm.
“Din’t you know? He passed away less than a year ago.”
I stood there in her kitchen, where she was preparing a sumptous meal for me, feeling sick to the stomach.
It had come as a surprise to everyone apparently. He had been in the pink of his health and was troubled with nothing else apart from occasional high blood pressure, a very common health condition in this day and age. But nothing life-threatening, they said. And so when he fell prey to a rare type of brain hemorrhage that left him with just a few hours to struggle and give up, putting an end to all that he was, people could hardly believe. They were saddened and equally riddled by his sudden demise.
Back home that night I opened my Facebook chat window again and saw the messages I had typed out a week ago, still unseen. Something akin to guilt pricked me right then. I wasn’t sure if it ebbed from the fact that I had failed to keep in touch with him over the years. Or due to the fact that I had withheld one of his books all these years, with little care or acknowledgement. Or was it just the feeling of uncertainty that Death never fails to leave behind? Was I now experiencing the fragility of life as his family and friends would have felt a year ago? I was uncomfortable.
He was hardly my close friend. Just someone I would put under the acquaintance tab. And yet his sudden demise left me feeling I ought to have talked more when there was time. Maybe I would have too had I continued working there. But when life takes us on different roads, you embrace the good changes and travel happily, sometimes forgetting the people who had shared that stretch of the road with you.
If his passing could guilt me into these feelings, I shudder to think what would be, had it been someone who had been really close to me. The words unsaid, the gratitude unexpressed and the apologies not made would haunt me forever.
I picked up his book again and leafed through the pages, as curiously as I did the first time I saw it. He had been a really talented artist, one of the best I had seen. Although he took his work seriously and probably gave his best, he was known to be a bit of a rebel at work, opposing the sometimes ridiculously strict codes of publishing established there. I guess I never told him that it was a quality I quietly admired. I also remember, we shared a love for cats.
His book goes back to the cupboard. But it now holds more value than it ever did.
Such is the death of an artist. It is one which adds beauty to his creations and poignance to his messages.
And as Goodbye, I quote Shelly:
How wonderful is Death,
Death, and his brother Sleep!
One, pale as yonder waning moon
With lips of lurid blue;
The other, rosy as the morn
When throned on ocean’s wave
It blushes o’er the world;
Yet both so passing wonderful!