The way leading to the prayer hall was uphill. S lived on a hill in the city, one of its kind. As I climbed up, I reminded myself this was for S – a dear friend, a bhaiya from another maiya.
The path had many tall trees. I heard bird sounds I didn’t recognise, saw dried leaves fallen down despite the rains. Dried leaves made me think of dad – he was the same age as S’s father. I passed the dried leaves slowly leaving them behind. Just across the corner I sighted the prayer hall.
As I walked up, my breath grew ragged. It wasn’t that far up, just the excess weight I had put on thanks to my old love Baskin Robbins & new found fling in Sbarro’s. My breathing was telling me, I have to end my new affair asap, possibly even think of divorcing the steady one as well. Might not be too long otherwise before someone else is doing this walk for me. although I doubt there is any uphill cemetery in this city.
The path gave way to a bunch of cottages – old style, tapering thatched roofs, pillars and all. I made out a couple of prayer halls amongst them. Just the seats, the ceilings & sombre people gave them away. Couldn’t find S, so I called. In a bit he came from another side – the one I was least expecting.
It took you some time to reach, S commented as we hugged each other.
Festival-people-traffic, were the sum of words I could muster after the walk that best described my journey here. S nodded in understanding. It was an unusual S that I was encountering, one with a black cap, not really a skull cap. I’m guessing it’s a prayer thing – one I had never imagined S to wear.
I met mom at home. at my reference to his mother, he merely nodded again. Your aunt is there, I added.
So am I.
A smile curled up on S’s lips as I said that. I told him we exchanged notes on fad diets, bad knees & the perils of travelling to Sakinaka. I felt S relax a little as he heard my nonsense.
Where have they kept his body?
In there, he pointed to another building right next to the prayer hall.
Is that a morgue?
Nah – it’s a holding place till they take the body for the last rites. Right now, they are just saying prayers for him.
You pray there as well?
S nodded a yes. We spoke some more. He asked me to leave. I knew the ride back was going to be tedious. I didn’t argue said goodbye & turned to leave.
Aiy come back, S called out.
I turned. He hugged me, relaxed and easy. We both needed that.
On my way back I thought of S. He is an agnostic, yet I knew he would pray for his father. Like I would, when it was my father’s time. I wasn’t an agnostic, I prayed – but my prayers were different from my father’s. Just like S’s prayers would be different.
The dried leaves I encountered on my way up were nowhere to be found as I made my exit.