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AS IN THE FALLING OF AN EYELID
A NOVEL SET IN INDIA

BY R.N. MITRA

Read an excerpt
SYNOPSIS:

It is the long existing duet of faith and reality. Man is condemned to live a life which has been called an incurable disease. Who regulates it . . . one’s own work or the mysterious Fate . . . ? Set in India, where some say Civilization dawned with the birth of the RgVeda, the first ancient scripture, where Politics is intertwined with corruption and fatalism, our Hero faces the question with no answers. Not what but why is Life?

Extract from “As In The Falling of An Eyelid”

	Arvind looks at the sight around him and finds it stirs no feelings of sadness inside of his empty heart. He is burning with hate. 
It is a scene from hell, all right. The Nigambodh ghat, the place for cremation of dead bodies. It is on the banks of the sacred Jamuna river, which has shrunk to a thin, marasmic stream by the abuse heaped upon it by the community. It is no good blaming the monsoon that comes every year, deluging the area. Yes, some years it is more, some years, it brings in less than average rainfall. No, it is Man who has caused the river to slowly decay and now it lies mortally wounded by the barrage of garbage from the city and its inhabitants and in that particular area by the ashes of the dead. Although you will get no one, even the most educated person to admit that. “Oh, ashes get dissolved. The fine bone dust settles to the bottom. They don’t affect the flow of the water. It is self cleaning.”
Funeral pyres, consisting of blocks of wood purchased by a voucher from the government run store at the middle of the cremation ground, are burning on all sides. The men, darkly burnt by the sun, whose job is to help the family in this final terrible rite, stand by in totally indifferent postures. They work in the stench and heat all day, all year. They see hundreds, perhaps thousands of dead burnt. They have lost their empathy. They just look for some extra money from vulnerable family members, who with eyes filmed by tears, hand out hundred rupee notes instead of ten. And they urge, “More, sir, more. For the sake of the peace of the soul of the departed.”
At places, the poorer people have not bought enough wood, and parts of their beloved dead are smoldering helplessly. The helper prods the dead bones with a stick, muttering, “Burn, burn.”
The priests stand by, ready to offer prayers for a fee, and like the low caste helpers, with one eye on the quality of clothes of the mourners. “Give us what you want, but not less than . . .”
Arvind cannot see much. His anger is unabated. It is a fury of a waterfall. As it descends lower, it gathers momentum. His are the only eyes not blinded by tears. He simply is in a rage. His limbs scarcely move, for they are heavy with fatigue. He is barefooted and does not feel the rough earth under him. His uncle has an arm around him. “It’s all in God’s hands, Arvind. It’s Karma.” His mother sits at home, and her words to him, “I told you no good would come out of it,” still burns a hole in his heart. His father simply clasps him in his embrace. He says nothing and Arvind knows that he is grieving.
He cannot protest his uncle’s words. We have no power over what happens to us. What’s the use of that? That is what everyone will say from now on. Karma. It does not assuage grief. Nothing can. It can bring peace, when one lets it. Who he can have revenge on? He needs blood to wash away his unspent tears. He is going to get back at everyone. 
 One part of his mind is still wishing to turn back the clock. All this cannot be happening; it is a nightmare. He will wake up soon. And she will be there. Smiling, talking to him, and thinking of what they would name the baby. All she could think of was the baby. She had been so radiant. Arvind lets his mind dwell on it and finds that it would drive him crazy so he quickly averts his thoughts. He concentrates on the present. The funeral pyre is starting to burn. The body of his beloved wife, with her, their unborn child, is slowly turning to ashes. 
Whose karma? A truck speeding skidded and caught the small Maruti car in its slide and slammed it against a giant tree, instantly crushing the driver against the steering wheel, and squeezed out her life. 
Whose karma?
The unborn child’s?
Everyone knew it would be a son. 
Why such certainty?
Your grandson will be a great man.
It had been so written. What greatness? Who knew? A scientist, a physician or a leader of the vast country? Character, charisma or a commander of destinies?

Arvind stumbles out of the cremation ground, as his uncle deals with the importunate beggars. There will be small ceremony in the evening. Perhaps in the temple to pray for the departed souls.
The body will burn. Next day, he or someone else will come and pick up some ashes. Then the final immersion in the holy waters of the river. A river that is not flowing as effortlessly as before. Arvind sees a parallel with his life.


For more information, please e-mail R.N. Mitra

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