Vijayalakshmi Sridhar | October 2022
It was the rain-falling like needles that lashed the hills, broke the mountain streams and turned the trail slick. Or it could have been the bus driver’s carelessness-you know, the drifting of the mind when all his focus was needed at the wheel on the dangerously twisting bends he needed to manoeuvre the tourist bus through.
But rain brought on everything. That day it was the heaviest Kedarnath had ever seen in twenty long years. The wetness had made the ground, the boulders come apart, blocking the way, blurring the corners. The bus tires had lost grip and the bus had tipped off the trail and into the valley, crumbling like a toasted papad, wrenching all the forty pilgrims into the pit.
“Two bodies-one male and one female. Can you confirm from the pictures we just sent you and share proof of your relation to the deceased?”
A loud thunder clapped in the background as the rescue officer conveyed the news, leaving me dry and empty on the other side. Instead of the mountains, the rain could have come here, drenching the water-scarce plains.
When you arrived, you looked serene-face unblemished, your nose pin and thaali intact, lips stretched in the semblance of a smile. Appa’s mouth was open in an “ah” as if he was caught by surprise at his rushed end, not ready to go yet. I was told that you were the only two people whose bodies could be retrieved from the wreckage.
“Punya atma.” Friends and relatives fell at your dead feet, struck by your well-timed deaths: gone as a couple, together, on a pilgrimage, telling me without telling me that I was the hapless leftover.
A light drizzle picked up as we drove with you in zipped bags. I knelt on the ground before we took you inside the crematorium, opened the bags to let the rain wash your faces-not the culprit, roller-coaster shower that took you but a gentle spray that soaked your lips with its delicious ‘panakam,’ your last drink on earth.
When our turn came, the undertaker told me to take one last look at your faces. When I did all I could see was the ‘Kanti,’ on them- the golden glow, in the light of the electric pyre waiting to consume your bodies. I was supposed to give you the last light but here you were, handing me both the light and heat. I stood there as a deep howling took root in me knocking me in several successive thunderclaps, the rain in me getting closer and closer to pour.
From a young age, Vijayalakshmi Sridhar has grown up with stories- both telling and listening to them. Her fiction explores the angst in human relationships.
Photo via Unsplash
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