If you ever walk to the western-most corner of South Park Street Cemetery, you will find a grave hidden in plain sight behind towering monoliths, lying in the shade of a Royal Poinciana tree. Its bright red petals will be scattered over the yellowed marble top on a summer day, like drops of blood. The black stone inscriptions will read my namesake’s name, and a carefully etched prayer.
Thrive in peace, my loved one, in forms unknown to the living...'
When I first stumbled over this unknown woman’s grave, who had lived and died over a hundred years before me, I had wondered how beautiful a resting place it was. How carefully it must have been handpicked by someone who loved her.
Of course, I didn’t have a clue then that in a few years, my bones would be turning to dust thousands of miles away at the bottom of a nameless ravine. That my earthy grave would have no lovely words; just a pool of stale rainwater, crawling moss and darkness.
As haunting as my end may sound, my beginnings were not that bad. Isn’t it so in most cases?
One of the first things I learned upon dying was that in death, you get to recollect memories you never knew about in life. Like, now, I remember the day I came to be.
First came the colours. A bright shade of blue. Like a morning sky of Sarat, announcing the coming of Durga. That changed to a baby pink, which then quickly became crimson. I was there, in my mother’s womb.
I later connected the dots to realise that this must have happened around the time Amrita turned eighteen. And considering that my following memory was that of a pungent and acidic smell, I believe she must have then been in her chemistry lab. I now wonder if that is what triggered my strong detest for that subject.
A couple of months later, on a monsoon morning in 1991, when Amrita left her home under the pretext of going to school with a few clothes tucked into her school bag, my world opened up to sounds for the first time. A chaotic orchestra of chattering mobs, yelling hawkers and booming train announcements.
In the midst of that pandemonium, I heard my first words in a soft but clear voice – a voice that had no strength of a baritone but, in my head, would always be what Feluda sounded like. The voice that would ring in my ears in my dying moments when I fell through the void before breaking my neck.
“We’ll be fine,” my father had whispered to my mother, holding her close as they boarded the train that would take them away from their families. “Everything will be fine.”
And so they left. A petite, pregnant teenager, who looked paler than she already was, holding tightly the hand of a six-foot tall, bearded and muscular Arunodoy Ray, who could fool people into believing that he was a grownup, although he was barely eighteen himself. Together, they would land in Siliguri, get married in a small temple, and flee to a fringe town named Nibirganj in the outskirts of Sikkim, where I would be born seven months later.
Ironically enough, my parents’ first date had been a secret trip to New Market’s New Empire cinema hall to watch the 1980s sensation, Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak. Their teenage brains had gobbled everything the movie had to offer, down to the point where they were convinced they would rather die than part ways. And they believed things could come down to that, considering Amrita’s Brahmin parents disapproved of my dad’s Catholic family...and vice versa.
Their story of running away for love was my favourite fairy tale growing up. Baba would tell it with all sorts of dramatic punctuation, and I would wait, patiently, for the bit where their families came knocking at their door with the police in tow.
Amrita, then-heavily pregnant, had turned away from her pleading mother and threat-sprouting father. My dad’s parents, taking the diplomatic approach, had first tried bribery, then resorted to scare him about his dim future prospects without a degree. But when neither of them refused to budge, and the police had just begun implementing their practised technique of physical violence, Jethumoni had stepped in to save the day.
Naren Chandra Neogi was not my father’s older brother by blood, of course. But I had been taught from childhood to address him as family, to revere the man who had granted my teen parents refuge, given my high school dropout dad a job, and protected them from the world using his position as the district judge and (as Baba liked to say) his Sunny Deol-esque presence.
Jethumoni would also go on to be the reason why I’m dead. But Baba doesn’t see it. Just like he didn’t see when my mother began to miss her home.
Love, especially first love, can be a strong drug. It can make you stupid. I remember being dense enough to think that a slap was a mistake that would never happen again. For my poor teenage mother, it was thinking that she would find her happily-ever-after in the tiny outhouse that Jethumoni had given them to stay.
An only daughter in a rich man’s house, Amrita had been raised with all the comforts that an upper middle-class home could offer in the 80s. Servants, money, clothes...a private bedroom with colour TV and air-conditioning. This woman then made a choice that had left her biting down on a pillow through blinding pregnancy pains, on a rickety old bed her broke husband had purchased second-hand.
Then when I came, on a blizzard night in December, Amrita rolled her face away from the nurse holding me out and cried for her mother.
Eight days later, on New Year’s Eve, she would pack up her school bag once again and tiptoe her way out of her ill-perceived love nest at the break of dawn. I don’t have a memory of seeing her leave, but I remember her smell fading away.
Years later, when I would see her again, she would smell different. That would be the smell of an expensive home, where she raises her two legitimate children with a new, engineer husband.
My mother didn’t kill me, don’t worry. She doesn’t even know that I’m dead.
My murderer was someone I trusted. In my last moments, he had placed a kiss on my cheek, like Judas did Jesus’, and thrown me over a cliff where no one would find me. And he believes he’s gotten away with it.
But we will see.