Perception of Death

This story is written by one of my friends, Ananthakrishnan, who is lazy to maintain his own blog. You can find him on twitter/instagram @ankris147.
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It wasn’t a typical sultry summer afternoon today at the Aksa beach. The cloud cover was just the right amount to light up the afternoon and shield the beach sand from getting too hot. Kritika was sitting down on a sheet of newspaper that she had laid out on the sand to protect her salwar from getting dirty while she watched Vishal play volleyball with his friends. This was how they spent most of their Saturday afternoons. Kritika would listen to music and let her thoughts wander, while Vishal played volleyball. When he was done playing, the two of them would walk on the shore holding each other’s hands till the sun sank into the horizon.
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Kritika was in 4th grade when her family had decided to move to Mumbai. They were originally from Ahmednagar, a city about 120 km northeast of Pune. Her father had got a promotion and a transfer to the headquarters of the State Bank of India, and this had prompted the move. Kritika’s mother was never really an advocate of moving to the big city. She felt Mumbaikars failed to uphold the traditional values of the Marathi way of life. She disliked the Marathi dialect Mumbaikars used, and claimed that the sanctity of the language was lost. Kritika and her elder brother Arjun were oblivious to any of this and their father was more concerned about his career and the family’s livelihood.
Kritika met Vishal after she switched schools in 9th grade. She was never very proactive when it came to making friends. She often found it difficult to relate to other people’s thought process. Moreover, she savored solitude over most things. This didn’t mean she never interacted with others. She took part in social events and discussions with ease. Vishal didn’t seem different from most people to her. However, she was able to establish a connection with him at some level. A connection she failed to create with her brother, or even her mother for that matter. Kritika and Vishal have come a long way since meeting each other six years ago. They grew very fond of each other over this period of time and believed that they knew each other’s character inside out.
They couldn’t meet each other as often, once out of school. Kritika decided to pursue a degree in Engineering while Vishal decided to pursue Commerce. Saturdays were their time together. They met at either of their homes for lunch and went to the beach afterwards. On some days, they would go for a movie before heading to the beach in the evening. On other days they would come straight to the beach and Vishal would play volleyball with his friends. Kritika enjoyed watching him play while she listened to music and sat down on the beach. But today was different. An air of melancholy surrounded her. She was lost in deep thought.
Earlier this morning, Vishal had phoned up Kritika with some terrible news. He had come to know of his childhood best friend Matthew’s tragic demise in a skiing accident. Kritika had met Matthew on several occasions with Vishal. It didn’t surprise her that she couldn’t connect with Matthew the way Vishal could. The two of them had a lot of things in common, probably because they grew up in the same neighborhood. Kritika believed that a person’s character is molded by his peers and that Family can have a great influence on various aspects of an individual’s character. A person’s interests are influenced primarily by the people in their age group or ones they spend the most time with. Like with every rule, there were many exceptions to this one too. Kritika herself was a great example. She neither shared any of the interests of her friends nor any characteristics of her family.
Matthew had moved to the United States after finishing school. His entire family was now there, as were most of his relatives. The funeral was to be held in two days’ time in Connecticut. Vishal’s voice shook over the phone and he sounded shocked and devastated. Kritika wasn’t sure how to make him feel better. She asked him to come over to her house so that they could talk. While she waited for Vishal to come over, she tried to think about what Matthew’s death meant to her. He wasn’t someone close to her, but they had met on numerous occasions. She figured that she actually felt indifferent about his death. His death didn’t have any impact on her. An array of emotions started to flood her mind. It was not right of her to be impassive about someone’s death. She felt guilty. She wasn’t sure why she couldn’t mourn Matthew’s death. She thought it could be because she never connected much with Matthew. But then there were many people she didn’t’ connect with. Her own family, for example. She wondered if she would mourn her parents’ death. A shiver went down her spine. She suddenly remembered her mother’s proud face when she scored good marks in her school board exams. She remembered her dad teaching her how to ride a bicycle. She was sure she would mourn their death. Maybe she didn’t feel the same about Matthew because she was never really close to him. Or maybe to mourn one’s death, they would have to make some impact on your life.
It was almost lunchtime when Vishal reached Kritika’s house. He seemed very sad, but he wasn’t as devastated as she had imagined he would be. The conversation at the lunch table was minimal. Kritika’s mother tried to lighten the mood by trying to indulge Vishal in a conversation, but her efforts weren’t very fruitful. After lunch, Kritika and Vishal left for the beach. As usual, Vishal’s friends invited him to play volleyball. To Kritika’s surprise, Vishal didn’t show any hesitation to join them. Kritika took seat on the beach and started watching the game.
Kritika was listening to music on her phone while going over an article about mouth ulcers. She had developed one about three days ago and kept feeling it with her tongue while she read through the article. About fifteen minutes passed since Vishal started playing. She noticed that Vishal was not in the mood as he was at lunch. He seemed to be completely involved in the game. Teasing his opponents, laughing out loud and savoring every point his team earned. Kritika was baffled. How did the thought of Matthew’s death disappear from his head so quickly? Vishal seemed very sad about half an hour ago, but now was enjoying himself as if nothing has happened. Was he just trying to shut out his emotions by trying to focus on the game? Or did he really forget that his childhood friend had just died? Matthew certainly meant a lot to Vishal. Kritika was sure about that fact. He certainly had a great influence on Vishal’s life. The two of them would surely have more memories together than she and Vishal had. Maybe Vishal was just trying to deny that anything had happened.
About an hour passed. Vishal was done with his game. He bought an ice-cream for Kritika and a milkshake for himself. His mood seemed to have flipped. He was back to the jovial person Kritika knew. Her suspicion of his denial to the fact started to fade. His happiness seemed real. He seemed to have forgotten about his friend. Kritika’s thoughts started to wander again. How could Vishal forget about his friend’s death so quickly? Maybe proximity played an important role in mourning someone’s death.
Kritika’s thoughts went to the demise of her paternal grandfather. She was in 7th grade at that time. Her grandfather was a very healthy man even at the age of 74. He had been hospitalized for having felt numbness in his feet. The doctors took time to figure out the reason was a stroke and that there was a blood clot in his brain. Three days later, he had died. Kritika’s father was at the hospital when her grandfather passed away. Kritika had to travel with her mother and brother to Ahmednagar in a taxi. Neither Kritika nor her brother knew how to react. Their mother wasn’t reacting much to the death either as they travelled to Ahmednagar. It was evening by the time they reached Ahmednagar. Kritika woke up to a familiar neighborhood. She used to visit her grandparents during her holidays. The mood however, seemed very different from her usual visits. The roads near her grandparents’ house were well lit with fluorescent lamps hoisted on temporary posts. She could see plenty of people standing outside the house and many more inside. Her brother was asleep. Kritika looked at her mother and saw that her expressions had changed. She could see that her mother’s eyes had become moist. As the taxi came to a stop, Kritika’s mother let out all her emotion with a loud cry. She opened the car door and ran into the house crying. Kritika got shocked and started crying herself. Her brother had woken up by then. Kritika’s uncle stepped out and took the two of them into the house.
She was at her grandparents’ house for several days until the funeral was over and things settled. Kritika spent a lot of time with her grandmother during this time. She listened to many stories of her grandparents’ adventurous life from her grandmother. She had felt sad. Everyone was sad. Not just for a few hours, but for several days. It was very different from what she had seen with Vishal. Maybe proximity does play a significant role in grieving someone’s death. Vishal was very far from where Matthew was. Maybe this was why he could get over his friend’s death so quickly. Then she remembered, her father didn’t show a great deal of emotion at her grandfather’s death. She vividly remembered her mother crying, but her father hadn’t cried much, except shedding a few tears at the funeral. Was it something to do with men? Are men emotionally stronger than women? If men are stronger, does it mean that they don’t feel sad at someone’s death? Or is it that they just don’t show it? Several questions of the sort filled up Kritika’s head. She could remember that her father was not laughing and playing volleyball when her grandfather died, so what is it with Vishal then? Was he insensitive? Or was his sensitivity short lived? Maybe if Matthew had died here, Vishal might have reacted differently.
The clouds obliterated the view of the round setting sun. They started walking toward the water together, hand in hand as the day came to an end. The perception of death still troubled Kritika’s mind as the water gently brushed their feet. She wondered if Vishal would mourn her death.

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