There are these particular types of guest that we all hate. The kinds that we know can drop by anytime, the kinds who will inevitably drop by sometime soon. They are never invited and always feared. They are the kinds that make you lock the door and leave your house to avoid them only to return some time later and find them sitting on the stairs of your porch, waiting for you. And you realize you have been trapped. They enter your house even before you have time to hide your valuable things away, lest they might touch and break them or even worse steal them. You watch helplessly as they amble through the hallway as if your house belongs to them. You just stand there wishing that they had never come and now hoping that they never leave, because they never leave alone, they always take away something valuable to you.
I have somehow grown up in a household where death was such a guest. He had already called to tell us that he has left his house for ours. We knew he was on his way, we knew it was the time to start preparing for his arrival yet we didn’t know how to, and till the end, we were never prepared enough.
I remember how every tick of the clock felt like the sound of the guns going off at some unknown distance and you can’t help but stay stuck to your place with your heart screaming against the knowledge of the bullet hitting you anytime. I remember our senseless talks, where hollow words were uttered only to avoid the maddening and intimidating silence. But somehow any foreign sound scared us just that much. Any sound would have us jumping from the edge of our chairs where we helplessly waited for our uninvited guest. “Is it him?”, “Is he already here?”, these are questions that would suddenly stab us all but no one would dare whisper them, lest the bad luck would fall. Even movements scared us, just as much as immobility did. We never knew if movement meant the soldiers marching towards frontline to fight another battle or if it meant the people finally coming out because it was safe enough to. It was like being trapped in a war zone. We never knew if the silence was the one that is found before the bombarding or the one that is followed by church bells, we never know if immobility was inactivity of life or perhaps the arrival of death.
Growing up in such a household had given death a different meaning for me. I have feared it so much that now it doesn’t scare me. I don’t avoid it anymore, I have accepted it. I have seen its power. I have seen how inevitable a part of life it is. It’s no longer an uninvited guest for me; instead, I have made a room for him to stay. And just like that, even graveyards are not what they mostly are to people, it’s like a horizon for me, a place where two worlds meet- a place where life and death have made peace and have found a common ground. Graveyards started intriguing me ever since death introduced me to it the first time after finally making his visit to our place one fine winter morning at 6:37.
Every visit to the graveyard had added a new meaning to it, sometimes it offered solace, sometimes it hit me hard with the truth I was happier pretending never happened, sometimes it seemed like a much needed full stop after a long sentence, sometimes it added a sublime meaning to life while sometimes it meant nothing at all. I guess it was this effect of graveyards to my artistic side that finally led me to the Jhansi commonwealth graveyard.
As I stood there in front of those broken, forsaken and unclaimed graves of those foreigners who once looted and ruled our country, I realize how much life and story this world has in it to offer. I realize how impossible it is to define people collectively by placing them under one category. As these grave stones lent them a name and distant identity, all of a sudden those inanimate foreigners turned into animated people. They started falling out of that collective term of “foreigners” and became people, each with their own story and life that is too much to be put under just one umbrella. Each one of us is too much in our own self to ever be put under one “category” hoping it will do definitive justice to all.
With my 6-year-old cousin Hazel toddling beside me, I tried to absorb all that those graves were throwing at me, the place had in it to suffocate you with untold history, un-cherished beauty, and stolen lives. Somehow the graves in this graveyard were more deadly than other, with cracked, shattered and faded gravestone; headstone tarnished and broken with time; with colors washed away, it was painted by ignorance with just gray and black. Yet the ambiance was not depressing but intriguing. It doesn’t choke you with the past but overwhelms you with history too desperate to be told; history, that conceives stories of their life and not tragedies of their death. Not often do you find a graveyard that narrates expositions of life and not the dissolution of it.