Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Only True Love

"What!" Preethi asked in shock. "But Madhu was not even fifty yet, was she?" she asked Karan, her husband of 50 years.

Karan too reeled under the shock as he reread the message. Madhu, one of their chirpy neighbours, had passed away in her sleep apparently. Her children were still in college. Madhu's husband Ravi was running his own business. The two were in the forefront of any cultural events in the building, singing duets, organising tambola, putting up a skit... She walked regularly and seemed eternally cheerful and friendly.


And yet, her heart had given way. And because she was diabetic, it had killed her silently.

As they got ready to offer their condolence to the family, Preethi expressed her anguish. "This is so unfair! Older people, sick people, continue to suffer! But a healthy woman like Madhu is snatched away suddenly!" Till they reached Madhu's house, Preethi agonised about the plight of the family. "They need Madhu! Who will guide Madhu's daughter when she gets married? The boy is still so young! Ravi is so dependent on Madhu for everything! What a lovely pair they made... I don't know what to say!"

Preethi's eyes filled up when she saw a stoic Ravi receiving friends and family, answering their queries patiently, shrugging his shoulders to express his helplessness, his eyes wandering to his children who seemed a bit dazed and lost.

Preethi clutched Ravi's hand and said, "I am shocked, Ravi! I am 73, have completed my duties, and I am still alive! She was so young, so full of energy! Older people like me, who are just waiting for the end, are still alive! Why should a young girl like Madhu go like this!"

Ravi looked down modestly, not knowing how to respond.

The thought bothered Preethi. Not that this was the first time she was seeing a younger person die. But as she grew older, her guilt increased, as if somehow she had snatched time from them and was continuing to burden the earth.

She was startled to see a shadow looming. "Come," it said gravely and she sensed it stretching its hand towards her, sucking her breath out.

"No!" she exclaimed and tried to step back.

"You are waiting for me, aren't you? I shall not make you wait any longer... Come..." It seemed to move closer. She willed it to stop.

"I am in no hurry! There is so much left to do still!"

"I thought you had completed your duties...?"

"Y-yes... some of them. But I am healthy, and have still energy left to take on some more!"

"But younger people are dying... The healthy are dying... So..."

"Look, you work that out. But I think I am not yet ready," she said defiantly. "I have to see my grandchildren grow up... I..." she started sharing her plans.

The voice rumbled, amused. "I was on my way to pick up the life of a 10-year-old... But I heard you and I agree with you, it is unfair to snatch a young child's life when the older people are still here."

Preethi, still frozen to the spot, begged, "That's horrible... 10 year old, no, no! But why me... There are others who are older than me! Why, I have an aunt...!" She stopped, feeling guilty for having thought that. "There are people who are unwell and wish their lives would end."

Again that rumble, which Preethi realised was a laugh. "The more you talk, the more breath you lose and come closer to dying... I can wait."

"No, please!" Preethi exclaimed and held her breath. Feeling herself choking, she jerked awake. Oh lord, she had dozed off and had had the worst nightmare.

She loved life, she was not ready to die, she realised! When she offered condolences at a death, she was careful of what she said. Those who went had to go. While she lived, she wished to make the most of it.

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