City of Death

In this city of ours, every day we are travelling alongside death. Often we don’t stop to give him a second glance, only because his face is so familiar, so routine that we don’t need to stop and consider his presence. It is a part of our daily travails, this everyday glimpse of the unknown; only it is wrapped up so it does not incite fear, as it normally would. And the death we travel with, well it is hardly one thing, or one person.

The tank full of oil hurtling alongside the Anwar Shah mini in its rabid dash to go faster is death. The pretty green tree with a long branch half broken, hanging over the road, is death. The milkman wobbling precariously on a cycle with 2 huge cans of milk on either side, cold perspiration dripping the silvery cylinders, is death. The child with a bag larger than her draped awkwardly on her shoulders, who is hardly old enough to know the meaning of death, cannot realize that in this crazy city, she too is death. On cool autumn evenings when the natural light too soon gives way to Corporation granted neon lights, the harsh brightness giving a plastic sheen to the trees bordering the dark, shadowy road along Maidan, the blinking dividers in the centre of the road often become death. A rain-drenched College Street, with a faintly damp musty odour rising from the book stalls, trams skidding out of control on the raindrop-hugging tracks, a lonely youth who is innocent of any crime besides those of stealing his brother’s chocolate or asking for the answer to question 29 in a Math exam – a set up for death.

Death is stalking, walking, always on the hunt, and we are taught from the minute our eyes open how to evade this worst of fates. Yet our teachers never mention that death has a Ph.D in stealth and disguise, that he can be and is mostly present in things we see every day, every hour, as per schedule, so much that it becomes ordinary, something to be ignored or more appropriately, something that just doesn’t engage us anymore.

How many of us still notice that swooping feeling when a 234 rushes down the Dhakuria flyover too fast? Do we notice the auto ever so slowly but surely inching forward in a tight traffic jam, squeezing itself into the most unlikely corners? Or do we notice those “thela” cars or cycle vans carrying long rods of some metal, hanging miles out from either side of the van? And even if we do see these, notice these, we do not recognize these as death. For death, after all is horrible, gruesome, terrifying, something that our daily milkman most certainly is not. Gopal, the guava man, who assures us the guavas are essentially home-grown, in his own trees, and then uses an old rusty, grimy knife to chop it up for us – how can he be a messenger of the dark, villainous Yama? Ah, in this capacity does death trick us.

To be our friend, our mundane, our daily, only to make us his own, at his leisure, for his pleasure.

 

– Upasruti Biswas

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