Friday, November 8, 2013

Peace In The Midst of Tragedy

Though not a born romantic, I have seen, read and heard my fair share of romantic stories to have had developed my own version of how an ideal romantic day should be. It had roses, picnic baskets, walking hand in hand, and every other clich├ęd idea I had picked up during my impressionable years.
The fact that mine is a love marriage, much against the wishes of my family, thanks to our different religions, added enough melodrama. The stories and movies I had seen cemented the concept of filmy displays of love in my mind as well.
Marrying your best friend comes with its own perks, but it has its cons too, which I realized a few months into my marriage. We knew each other inside out, tested each other’s patience and had the regular set of minor conflicts to major verbal spars that happened in any household.  Add to it our inability to be emotionally expressive and stubbornness when it comes to our opinions, and you get the basic idea. 

There were days when we looked at one another and wondered how we had ever gone from friends to lovers, and if it had been a wise thing to get married after all. As years went by, we mellowed down with age. There weren’t any over the top displays of affection or fierce fights…we were friends, and we continued to be friends first and foremost. 

Yet, my Platinum Day of Love came unexpectedly, and in the middle of a loss that I mourned. And to be precise, this day came on April 26th, 2011 for me.And it is about this day I would like to write as my submission for Platinum Day of Love contest. 

Now, to give a little background information; my family has been Sai devotees since a long time. And when I say a long time, I mean from the time my father was a child. Over the years, my mother became a devotee as well, and we as a family, have been devotees since quite a long time.
 Coming back, I stay in Bangalore with my husband, close to Puttaparthi where Sathya Sai Ashram is located. On April 24th, we received the news of Sathya Sai Baba’s demise on our way back home from our cousin’s place. I got to know that his body would be placed on public display for the devotees’ view for two days, following which the burial would be carried out.
Knowing that I was a devotee, H offered to drive me to Puttaparthi on Sunday, 24th April though it was Easter. I’d like to point out at this juncture that he had never shared my enthusiasm or devotion when it comes to Sai baba. I was confused and refused, not sure if I wanted to travel 155 kilometers to see Swami’s lifeless body. I knew that the body would be placed on display on Monday and Tuesday in order to accommodate the devotees who would be coming to Ashram to have one last glance.
However, by the time Monday had come and left, I was left with a strong urge to visit Sathya Sai Ashram just to catch a final glimpse of someone I considered a part of my family. My family was bereft and so was I and I decided to continue with my plan and visit the ashram on Tuesday. I insisted that my husband take me to the Ashram. Knowing that it being the final day of mourning, the crowd would be massive and probably uncontrollable, my husband didn’t warm up to the idea and asked me to consider my decision. I insisted stubbornly that I had to go, and he finally relented saying that we were going “at my risk”. He said that the crowd could get uncontrollable and I wasn’t sure what I was getting into.
I was hurt by the thought he had placed the blame on me even before something had happened, and held on to my decision to go. Finally having decided it was pointless to argue, it was decided that we start at 6 in the morning. We reached Sai ashram at around 9:30 am in the morning but were unable to park anywhere close to the Ashram like we normally did. We had to park our car in a ground located approximately 3.5 kilometers away from the ashram and walk to the Ashram.
Since Ashram normally did not allow mobiles to be carried inside, we had decided to leave our phones back in the car. We walked all the way from the ground to the Ashram and reached a spot where women and men were asked to form separate queues that would be allowed inside the Ashram.  H decided that we will meet each other at a restaurant we had visited at on one of our previous visits, in case we lost sight of one another once we joined the queue.
And as expected, once we became a part of the jostling crowd that formed the queue, we could no longer locate one another. The queue moved at a snail’s pace and the crowd started getting restless. I still remember being sandwiched between women, unable to breath due to the number of people around me jostling, pushing and shoving. The claustrophobic in me found the experience a tad difficult as breathlessness set in. With the sun straight above our head, our throats parched and feet tired from all the walking, we continued waiting and walking through the sandy dust filled roads onto the Ashram gates.
There wasn’t water to be drunk, there wasn’t shade to rest in, and everyone else somehow seemed to be in a rush to reach the gates first, even if we weren’t going anywhere right then thanks to the closely controlled long queue before us. Once we reached closer to the Ashram gates, things got a little better though, and we were asked to line up outside the gate while the volunteers offered food, water and refreshments to anyone who needed it.
I remember entering the gate at close to 1 and being guided into the hall where the body was placed on display. We were allowed a quick look that lasted for a few mere seconds before asking to move forward. Once I was done with the darshan, I got out of the ashram and tried to reach the meeting point I had decided on with H. This was at around 3:00 PM in the afternoon.  By this time, I was tired, hungry and emotionally and physically drained out by the experience. My feet hurt and head throbbed, and the only thing I wanted to do was to reach H. I had an overwhelming need to be near him, and somehow felt that he would make me feel better.
When I tried to move in the direction of the restaurant, I was stopped by a lady constable who informed that I couldn’t go there because the road and the area had been blocked for public. I tried to explain to her that my husband was waiting for me in the barricaded area, but she refused to listen and guided me in the opposite direction. I tried to get directions from a few people, and tried to get to the restaurant through the sub lanes and in roads but after a few minutes realized that I was lost. I had no idea where I was going, and had no means to contact H, the one person who’d know what to do. I tried borrowing someone’s phone and calling him in the hope that he might have reached our car somehow but didn’t get an answer. This only meant that he was somewhere around; just that I didn’t know how to reach him.
I kept wandering around, trying to use my sense of direction to get to the meeting point with no luck. Finally, I retraced my steps and reached the gates of Ashram I had exited earlier.
 I made a second attempt to cross the barricade and move to the area where the restaurant was located. I was stopped once again by a young constable who seemed to be giving me a piece of his mind, thankfully in a language I couldn’t grasp. I tried to explain that my husband was waiting for me but he wouldn’t hear of it. I was almost on the verge of tears when I saw his superior officer walking up to him to enquire about the situation that involved a very frazzled looking me trying to explain my plight using English, broken Tamil and flailing hands. I repeatedly told both the officer and the constable that I was supposed to meet my husband somewhere in the area that had been barricaded off, I had no mobile and had no way of contacting him. I don’t know what the superior saw in my face but he asked the constable to let me through.
I ran as much as I could, with my blistered and tired legs, trying to locate the restaurant and started looking around for H. For a second I couldn’t locate him, and I could feel a panic attack starting up inside me. That’s when I saw H sitting on the side on the footpath pavement, waiting patiently for me, looking at me, perhaps with a little hidden amusement in his eyes.
I had never felt the sudden gush of relief and calmness that engulfed me in the moment I saw him sitting there. I have never felt safer, happier or more emotional than in that one second, when I finally spotted him. As I walked up to him, I knew that I had started crying, big fat tears rolling down my cheeks, as I babbled on about how I had not been allowed to come to this spot, how I had almost got lost and how I didn’t know what to do, hugging him awkwardly all the time.
I remember that we walked all the way back, another 3.5 kilometers, my hands safely held within his. My blisters wouldn’t allow me to walk for a long time, and we had to stop every ten minutes or so. He kept checking if I wanted water, food packets or fruits being offered by the volunteers. He kept asking me if I wanted to wait for some more time before continuing with our walk. He kept making sure that I was fine, physically and emotionally. I answered mostly with the nod of my head because of the overwhelming flow of emotions within me.
On one side,  I was upset and broken over the loss, but on the other side, I was glad that I had found someone who would stand by me, support me in all my craziest moments, take my nagging and accusations and still find ways to make me comfortable and happy.
Once I reached home, I simply thanked him for taking me to the ashram but have never told him how it felt when I saw him sitting there, waiting for me.
So, that friends, was my Platinum day of love, the day when I realized that what I shared with this man was something as precious as Platinum, if not more. His love, and understanding, had not faded away with six years of marriage, and his care fit and formed the perfect band around my heart. It’s been two years now but I will never forget the sense of peace that seeing his face in the crowd brought me, and that is enough for me to know that I have found my best friend, the biggest support and better half, all rolled into one.