A metro conductor was rammed by a lorry while on his vehicle in Hyderabad, last Sunday. He died.
22 people, most of them teenage girls, lost their lives in a devastating fire at a tuition centre in Surat.
More than 250 people were killed in 8 explosions, rocking Sri Lanka off its roots, with 6 of them targeted within its capital.
A UN report said that since March 2015, more than 7000 civilians have been killed in the world’s worst man-made humanitarian disaster, in Yemen. However, another international group pegged the number at more than 67,000.
The natural course of emotional reaction while reading the above 4 paragraphs would begin with a nonchalant-but-acknowledging glance at the conductor’s passing, and compound and culminate with silent curse words, accompanied by grave bobbing of the head at the heart-wrenching crisis in Yemen.
If your reaction was on the lines of what I’ve mentioned (or if it was even the same, unnervingly), congrats! You’re amongst the top 0.01% of people around the world who’d think that that reaction was unordinary, and I’d be lauding you. It was anything but.
Where did that dark, remorseful pit, which yawned wider and wider as you read through the 4 paragraphs, go? Where’s all that sympathy which was bubbling out of it like steam? Where did the images of desperate children rummaging through the ruins of their homes, clawing, digging, scraping through, to find any traces of their parents, vanish off to?!
And this is what happens every single time, at every single instance whenever we come across death. And it’s fingerprints.
Let’s talk more.
To you, I may not necessarily, or even existentially, matter. I could be just another dot on the surface of our planet- a pale, throbbing, jittery dot floating amongst the hundreds near me, amongst the millions in my city, amongst the billions in my country. Our sole connection would be these words- a virtual string, its fibres branching out to anyone who stumbles across this article, establishing a start and an endpoint for the brief period of reading time, during which you gain access to my thoughts, my presumptions, my fears and everything I’ve decided to lay out for you to feast upon. However, beyond this tiny window of interaction, who am I to you? What else can you make of me? Will you remind me to wake up at 7 AM in the morning for my class? Will you nag me to have that soggy rice for lunch? Will you let tears streak your face when I graduate? Will you throw yellow rice at me when I take the last phera? Will you break down and fall on your knees, when I get rammed by a lorry?
…I know. You won’t.
And that’s okay. Trust me. Having your mind constantly buzzing with worry, anxiety, concern, and dread is…tiring. Sapping. And breaking your head over someone you’ve barely come to know through these words, that’s unnecessary. Illogical. You’re fraught with enough of your own problems- assignments, club tasks, parents questioning your life choices, your next Masters, your relationships. However, there is one thing we, as humans, as sentient beings capable of sympathizing, empathizing, understanding, ourselves and others, can, and should do- acknowledge death. Not only our own, not only our loved ones’, but of others too.
The metro conductor was a nobody to me. He may have driven the very train I had boarded to catch up with my friends, and I wouldn’t have known. However, for him, his rivulet of life had been halted. That pale dot, which stood for his breathing, his happiness, his guilt, his excitement, his journey, his life – was smothered out of existence. Gone. Erased from the billion others throbbing around him. As if his existence didn’t matter. To anyone.
Did you feel anything when he died? Did the air around you become less suffocating? Were you able to feel an ease in your shoulders? Perhaps not. Obviously not. Why would it? Why would his fall affect you in any physically tangible way? After all, there wasn’t any “string” connecting you to him, was there?
18 of the 22 people who were either charred, suffocated, or had to jump to their deaths in the Surat fire, were girls. Most of them had assembled there, awaiting their 12th Board results. The youngest of the victims was a two and a half year old. Two and a half. For her, the ball of life hadn’t even begun rolling. Heck, the ball wasn’t even fully formed yet. The pale dot had barely begun throbbing, growing, acclimatizing to the hundreds around it, when it got smothered. Nipped at the bud. A branch of life flourishing only in our minds. A kernel of growth, of dreams, of aspirations, of laughter, of ecstasy, of anger, of exuberance, nothing now but an imagined memory. The world has been pulled away from beneath her parents’ feet. She was their world. Now, just a lifeless remnant.
Others were students just preparing to kickstart their lives. The ball ready to roll down the most crucial, engaging, life-defining hill – disintegrated. Decimated. Reduced to a rubble of memories brutally snapped at the 17 year mark. All the obstacles down the hill, the hurdles, the thickets, the valleys of lush proliferation, of gloomy skies, of rejuvenating nights, of desolate mornings, left untouched, unmarked.
250 people in Sri Lanka, tens of thousands in Yemen. The numbers have exponentiated now, but has our acknowledgment? Do we pause to deliberate on them? Have our morals and dignity for each other stooped so low that the smothering of pale, throbbing dots of life, representing years’ worth of existence, or stories, of emotions, of mysteries, of dreams, is represented pathetically by dots of black ink on paper, or dots of colors on this screen? Families have been wrenched apart from their bases; a sister lost the very drive of her life, the force tugging at her to not give up – her younger brother; a husband holds a stiff, cold corpse which once ruffled his hair and pressed his hand over her swollen belly- which once he used to call his “wife”; a grandfather hefting a mangled body too small to be unnervingly still, with broken spectacles dangling from his side like his heart crumbling under the brute reality; a teenager awakening to sirens and wails in a church, only to discover he couldn’t shake hands ever again; a lone two-year old kid screaming, shoving and pounding at his father’s head jutting out from the debris, eyes never closing; a numb, bloodied, detached observant gazing the chaos unfolding, wondering how a pleasant Easter had carted along with it people who abhorred life.
All those pale dots, hundreds upon thousands of them, winked out of existence. Just like that.
Did we feel their absence? Physically? Tangibly? Apart from the brief period of being aghast at the horrific revelation, have we ever stopped once, in our lives, to think about all the stories which have been barred from progressing? To think about all the tales left untold? To think about perhaps the largest “open-ended” mysteries, ever? To think about distraught faces, maligned smiles, cursing glances and silent cries? To think about futures that’ll never be realized; about dreams that’ll never come to fruition; about the father who won’t be, anymore; about the kids won’t be clamouring in the streets, anymore?
Death isn’t cruel. Ho, no no. It follows one simple straightforward policy- end. To slam that full stop onto someone, to bar that rivulet from trickling further, to smother that pale dot. How it’s slammed, how it’s barred, now that’s what stirs within us a pot of hot, waxy emotional distress that we’re quick to shake off of our hands like a dog shakes water off its fur. We know people die- from not just these accidents or disasters, but from a million other causes – every single day. We come across such stories everywhere, in the paper, on TV, in the media. “Hundreds killed in the earthquake…”, “Fire ravages through homes..”, and the like. What we don’t come across, is the stories of the pale dots – raw, appalling stories injected with anguish and agony we fail to acknowledge.
Stories left incomplete.
Stories which you can’t take a pen and set about writing the end of.
Stories which will remain as…stories.