Monday, July 12, 2010

Death that skyrockets value of Life

He was pacing up and down, since an hour. He had heard the priest read about Jesus sweating blood at the Gethsamene. He had then wondered if that was possible. He felt his face burning now, an unbearable pain as if someone had scraped his skin on gravel.
It was because of her, his nagging wife, he was doing this. She was worried about her daughters lying on the street. Yes, his daughters had grown up; despite all his prayers they looked unattractive but still didn’t fail to escape the eyes of vultures. Your business has boomed since your daughters bloomed, his neighbours said. Bastards, they who had no daughters never had to spend sleepless nights. What worried him more than the metal sheet walls of his dingy house was that he could no longer secure his family from the menacing policemen and rogues on streets. He tried to believe his daughters were not acting promiscuous, like his wife had once. He never asked her how she managed to secure a four cents plot for nothing. He never dared to ask how she managed to get a wrist watch by just cleaning vessels and sweeping houses. He never dared to ask his daughters how they found fashionable clothes too. But he felt insecure when hands groped them in darkness and once he even found his daughter on the street early morning dishevelled.
His solace was his mother. She was blind and deaf but she spoke a lot to him. She spoke about olden days when they were not on streets and when they ate like kings. He believed it all and liked listening to her make believe stories. Her ailments were a big reason for quarrel between his wife, daughters and him. He could not afford her medicines alone. Neither could he take care of an old woman alone. Every time he tried he invited their scorn and was proved useless.
He was used to the fights over deserting his mother but he knew there was no where he could leave her as he was her only son. Mother being deaf was a boon as she never heard the quarrels that happened over her. Her being blind was even greater blessing for she didn’t feel hurt like him seeing her daughter in law and granddaughters walk waywardly. But sometimes he felt she understood.
Things were going out of control for quite some period now. The contractor had assessed him weak to work on site. He could not carry loads any longer and knew no other job. He tried cycle rickshaws but could not pull any load any longer. He was soon left to take care of his home when the women in the family earned. This revolutionised their lives totally. There were new men coming home for dinner in whose presence he was asked to sit inside with his mother. He did not protest because he was too weak to and did not feel like mostly.
Recently they were being nice to his mother, these men, even came in to hold her hand. They looked like doctors when they checked her eyes and pulse and this made him happy. And to his surprise his wife cooked something his mother loved “dal kichdi”; though in the past she always fed her daughters and gave gruel to his mother.
“That boy is very nice and planning to marry our daughter”, she told, rather informed me. “He is an attendant at the municipality hospital’s mortuary”. She said it with pride as if he was a doctor. He had no rights to comment and he did not comment either. “Don’t you love your daughter?” she asked him. What a ruthless question, he thought. Though he had nothing to give his daughters and was not able to fulfil many of their desires he still loved both his daughters. “Well then you need to send her off decently and that needs money”, she said.
She knew he didn’t have any money so why was she talking this way, he wondered. “Well you could make some money, if you cooperated”, she said.
“Dont beat around the bush I am a simple man, not as clever as you are. Please tell me what’s in your mind” he begged.
“The boy was saying medical colleges hire unclaimed dead bodies for a nice amount”. I was scared, did she want me dead? But then she continued, “Amma is of no use, the amount we spend on her treatment is what prevented us from saving anything for our daughter. The boy said her pulse is dropping and she could die any moment so there’s nothing wrong if we help her die without suffering is it? I was too numb to reply. I am not saying because she is your mother If I had a mother, she herself would sacrifice herself for my daughter. What more can a mother do?”
She hated his mother but he knew that. But had he not hated taking care of her too? He never thought this day would come. His mother never would have thought of this day when she gave birth to a son.
“We can give her an oil bath and feed her with 3 or 4 tender coconuts. She will die in 2 days peacefully. It is a practice in many places here, you know that don’t you?” she asked.
“Have you decided it?” he asked accusingly but she took it as a sign of his acceptance. She ran to confirm the news to her daughters. He saw their faces beaming in the neon lights. No one had been attached to that old woman who sang lullabyes to them, fed and cleaned them as kids.
He gave two coconuts to her. He knew his end would be the same, with his son-in-law as the fixer of dead bodies. Maybe his wife does not realise her end would be no different. Amma’s body will be certified unknown and he cannot even perform the death rites. She will be on a table in some college where students will tear and stitch her up. She looked fresh from the oil bath and her skin glistened in the sun. He hesitated handing over the last coconut. She looked into his eyes though blind he felt she could see him.She gestured him for the last one. Does she know it? He tried reading her mind through those eyes, pale and unflinching. “Poverty has no ethics”, she had told him once.

500 dead bodies are required annually for medical colleges (allopathy, ayurvedic, homeopathy, sidha and yunani; private as well as public) in Kerala. Despite governments notifying unclaimed bodies over a year can only be purchased, for a prescribed rate, there are lobbies selling bodies indiscriminately. A research conducted recently reveals the elderly in old age homes and in poor families fall prey to this lobby. Elderly considerd useless are now being valued after death. Inspired by a feature in Malayala Manorama.


Who said...

remember telling you that death does no good to anybody...looks like I stand corrected!!

The quirk said...

Ironical yet true