When your friend turns immortal

Though I called Ashwa a friend, I had never seen his face, never needed to. We had met at Bedardi Bar and usually hung out on slow nights, drinking in silence. Our relationship had always been more about silence than conversation.

‘You know how precious death is?’

He asked, looking at the gyrating crowd around us. ‘It’s a nectar, a blessing, to die. To give up life, its memories, the baggage. To start afresh. You wouldn’t understand, Anantya. You with your moment’s breath, so full of life, wouldn’t understand. Death begets life. The fear of death clutches at your heart’ – he made a claw of his hand – ‘so that blood flows faster, pumping through your veins, making you run, feel the wind in your hair … without it, there’s nothing, nothing. There’s nothing but a long, long lonely stretch of road. There’s nothing but emptiness—’

The kravyad couple above us screeched, burst uncontrollable fireballs at each other.

‘Dude, don’t talk in freakish metaphors,’ I answered.

‘What the hell happened to Guru B? How did you know—’

Ssss. Maaki had picked up a fire extinguisher and sprayed the kravyads.

‘It doesn’t matter!’ said Ashwa, lifting his head to glare at me. ‘We should all go! Die!’

‘Who?’ I asked.

‘All of us. All. Our souls they’re so threadbare, so torn, so tired. How can freedom from life be wrong for us? I don’t want to wait anymore for death to choose me. is my dharma, what’s my duty? Can I never choose right? How can something that feels so right, so natural, so much like breathing again, like freedom, cause this pain?’

He clutched my arm.

Continue reading “When your friend turns immortal”

Why are we so afraid of dying?

When I wrote this blog on death, sometime last year, I was sitting in a cancer treatment hospital. It was clean, official and bustling. It even had a coffee shop where doctors and families of patients and patients themselves came to get a caffeine shot before they head back to the patient they were overseeing. Like any normal office or mall, except it wasn’t.

There was a silent sea of fear that moved in waves, it moved from faces and bodies that walked and talked and saw reports and desperately waited for the doctors to arrive. The trepidation remained behind floundering smiles, a squeeze of a hand or an awkward attempt to fill a silence with an anecdote. Behind every silent glance, itching fingers that opened a touchscreen phone again and again, to look at it blankly, or a bored face waiting for yet another day to get over, there was fear. For all of them had someone from their family, someone who they loved, strapped in one of those rooms above, fighting with death.

There was guilt in those faces that waited, guilt for the fact that they were healthy while their child, spouse or parent was battling with that dreaded disease. The anecdotes that floated in the coffee shop were about doctors,  other deaths, other cancers and newly learnt medical jargon. And everywhere hung the unknown questions. What will happen today? God, please don’t let her go away.


I’ve written about it many times before (here in relation to immortality which I explored in the second part of Anantya’s series and here where I spoke about rituals around death, maybe a little unfairly), to the point of being morbid myself. But for most part, it’s in a scholarly way. Not like people through of it in this hospital (or any other place where they see death up close). Why is life so short and death so sudden and mysterious? Why can’t you connect with someone who you spend your life with in death? Why do they suddenly disappear? What happens when we die? Where do we go? Do the unbelievers who don’t have any multistoried apartments booked in any of the offered heavens go to hell? Is hell a desert or darkness with nothingness? What’s that fear? Is it the fear of unknown or the fear of things we cannot control, or a fear that someone might not be there for you, leaving an emotional or financial vacuum behind that will never be filled? A hole in your heart? What is the fear??

Everyone is waiting, either to take their loved ones back home, party and survive for a few more decades, or to get that final shock. But it’s the fear that gets to us all. The fear of death of our loved ones. The fear that we’ll lose them. For that’s something we’ve not understood or fully realized. That’s something that we cannot prepare ourselves for, that’s something we cannot provide for them. That’s a journey which everyone takes alone.

Death. Cannot be controlled, hand held, or won over. Everyone loses to her in the end. Everyone fails to find answers about her. She’s mysterious, alluring, fearful and scary. And her stroke is powerful. Nothing will save you from her. Nothing. Nada.

Image source

Why tantriks sit on top of a dead body on a new moon night and meditate

I don’t like death. I cringe everyday when I read about it in the newspaper. It happens to a stranger, unexpected, when you’re just eating a burger in a café. It happens after a prolonged, wearisome illness. It shockingly and violently happened to those little innocent children in Peshawar last month. I cringe every time I read about death, in newspapers, on social media. There’s no escaping it.

When I shifted to a new city, away from my family, each time the phone would ring, my first thought would be of something bad that has happened to my family back home, usually death in all its possible scenarios. Always anticipating bad news.

Near my house, I once saw a man lying askew in a corner. He smelt rotten; flies hovered over him. The cops didn’t touch the cadaver, as if the dead can cause death to the living, waiting for the hearse, the corpse pickers, the professionals to come and pick them up. For we all feel like that, that somehow death would catch us unaware, like a really bad cold.

Then I visited the Manikarnikaghat in Banaras, one of the main banks of the River Ganges, where about five to ten dead bodies are burnt every minute, and I was strangely attracted and repulsed by the place. I stood there, tightly hugging myself, looking at people in the business of cremation and how they went about their work – fetching logs, putting them efficiently on to the silk covered body, smashing the spine to break the corpse if it didn’t burn well – all with an ease of writing emails or throwing garbage. And I saw the others, the living, who stood on the sidelines as well, some involved, some bystanders like me, standing there. As if we were watching someone fight, or as if it was an accident on the road. Death both fascinates and repulses the living. It also causes fear and all kinds of superstitions.

While researching on my tantric fantasy, Cult of Chaos, I came across a dreadful tantrik ritual related to death, which was both awful and intriguing. Called Shava Sadhana, it is whispered about in conversations as if the very act of talking about it might bring in bad luck (and fatality) to the person. It’s practiced in a graveyard, on a new moon night. The sadhaka (the one meditating) is supposed to go through rigid rituals and then sit on top of a corpse all night, meditating all alone. Not any corpse, it has to be a fresh, complete, and unharmed one.

There’s a reason here for doing something that is obviously shocking. Tantrism believes that you have to set yourself free from the shackles of society, and its morality and religion. Started in medieval times in protest to the puritanical Brahminical religion which was ridden with racism, casteism and dogma, the tantrik activity accepted anyone into their folds as a student and encouraged them to unlearn everything they had learnt growing up in a society and become like an infant again. Like a baby who can eat her own shit or human meat without any judgment, drink her own pee and doesn’t think of nakedness as anything but there.

Shava Sadhana is in many ways the culmination of the tantric philosophy. It’s about touching and exploring that one thing you so fear – death – and the one thing you feel is impure – a dead body. All night, sitting on top of a corpse, realising you’re alone in your death, that dying is the supreme truth. That all of us have to go through it. Alone. And in that way, try and purge your fear of death.

I recreated the ritual in a scene in my tantrik fantasy, Cult of Chaos. Even though I took a lot of liberties in terms of rituals, there was one feeling that I got from it, which I think was true to the ritual. When Anantya Tantrist, the tantrik detective in the book, sat with a corpse touching her naked body, she (and I with her) felt alive. We touched the clammy, cold flesh of the dead and we could feel the blood pounding in our veins and hearts, could feel the way our lungs filled with oxygen, could feel life coursing its way through us. Being with a corpse also made her (and me with her) realise the ultimate truth – that she’s mortal and she’s going to pop off soon enough. As will I.

As will all of those I know. For all humans go that way. Experiencing the ritual, the scene, with my character was so powerful that it still remains with me. It is one of the most brutally truthful scenes I’ve written. My fears of death are still very much alive, especially death of my loved ones, but I can see it not as a disease that can somehow, somewhere be avoided, but as the truth, that will come to us all one day. No matter how much we fear it.

Cult of Chaos, Harper Collins; Rs 350.

First published in Dailyo.in

Death and the desire for immortality

I so don’t like Death. I cringe everyday when I read about it in the newspaper. It happens to a stranger, unexpected when she’s just eating her food. It happens when someone is happy and shopping. It happens after a prolonged, wearisome illness. Every time I read it, I imagine scenes of violent (and can I add rather imaginative) deaths in which I imagine the people I love (not me, for that’s one thing I am not scared of, weirdly). I am not masochistic, I can’t help seeing these images. And they leave my heart palpitating with fear. Makes me cringe. Every time.

I don’t like to talk to Death. I ignore it when it is walking around my house. I wash my hands, again and again and I mutter mantras to protect myself from it. I pray that it would not happen to me or the ones I love. I don’t talk about it to anyone. If there’s a death in someone’s house, I don’t even go there. What if I or someone I love catches that disease? For Death for me (and if you let yourself accept it, for you too) is a disease. It’s a disease that cWilliam_Blake_Satan_in_Gloryatches all of us humans in the end. It’s there, hiding behind in the ends and beginnings of every story, every myth, every philosophy discussion that has happened and will happen. We live to question or solve the idea of death. Death is at all our doors, all the time. And it doesn’t need an invitation to come inside. (My fingers are crossed so that I can ward off Death as I write this blog, for some primal me fears that it will come because I am talking about it).

Death is the reason that immortality is such a fascinating idea to me. Escaping the clutches of Death! Living on forever, without the fear of dying! The very idea to live forever! As a brain in a box of metal, or a Russian avatar, or as a spiritual immortal canoodling with hot naked bodies in a fancy heaven, immortality is a soma which I want to drink from, given a chance. Do you desire it? How much would you want to sacrifice, to give away in your desire of it?



A few days ago, I created a character who is an immortal in the new book I have been working on. I won’t tell you who he is, but let me tell you one thing I realised as I was working on him. In all his dialogues, in the way he carried himself, the way he spoke, the way he just didn’t laugh anymore, but stared, the way he didn’t gobble up his drink, but just took a sip, as if he had all the time in the world—he just seemed so weary. That was one emotion that I could smell from him. He felt so tired. So weary of living. So exhausted with the idea of continuing to live, on and on, without refreshing himself, ever.

I was surprised at this. After all, he had a boon to live forever! Why wasn’t he enjoying it? Why did it sound more like a curse to me? I hadnt planned on making him to tired, but that’s what I could smell while writing about him.

My immortal character has made me thankful that I would die sometime in the future (small cringe). I don’t want to live through a lot of things—like world wars, famines, deaths all around me. I don’t want to live as the world completely changes around me—adapting again and again to these changes and continuing to learn, adapt, make new friends, see old ones die and wither away. I don’t want to live carrying all experiences —failures, hopes, dreams, successes, sorrow, happiness—as a burden on my bent back.

Nopes, I don’t want to do that.

So bye, bye immortality. I would rather start afresh. Feel differently? Tell me about it!

Rituals of death and dead cultures

Being pissed off at something makes me write. I am pissed off at many things right now. Mostly, I can direct all my anger, frustration and irritation at one word: RITUALS.

Rituals are like flies in India. They are everywhere, they survive, they hop around your food, your mouth, your eyes, sitting, peeing, pooping on your face. They are mostly irritating and sometimes make you feel like you might want to swat your own face to get rid of them. But you can’t really. You might swat, stand up, shrug, dance, frit, fly, run, walk all you want, the flies will come back and sit on you everywhere to poop and pee.

If you have lived in India long enough (and I have since I was born) chances are you have met Mr Ritual. Indians love him (and I am using gender-specific pronoun here). That is why, everytime there is a festival, someone is born (is it a boy! oh, no it’s a girl), someone reaches a certain age (puberty, let’s celebrate blood), someone gets married, someone gets kids, someone celebrates, someone conducts a pooja (5gm cloves, 3 pieces of beetle nuts and two tilaks please), on vrats, on days you eat, on days you fast, on special days, or on when you die. There’s a ritual for everything. There are rules you have to follow to appease gods, ancestors, deities, families, husband’s families, and innumerable other people (and some gods) who you don’t really want to even know.

Since these rituals have been made by prissy, patriarchally-oriented granddaddies of our culture (Manu, some of the rishis and oodles of other brahmins, dads and granddads after them) and are delicately conserved by the female part of the family, they are usually regressive in nature, especially for the women of the family. They want to keep women of the family in purdah, busy in either making food or cleaning, or making food, or bathing themselves, or did I mention making food? These rituals also demand that the daughters-in-law and wives in a household of traditional loving Indian family, demand money/gifts/stuff from their own families of before marriage. And these rituals demand from the men of the family to do vague things like mantra, poojas—actions which are robotic and laid down in the holy books – through which they can appease gods, ancestors and family members and make their stand in society.

In other words, all these little rituals keep everyone busy and safely away from questioning. Safely away to ask why is everyone so busy in rituals? Why are these fly-like rituals everywhere, surrounding us in a flurry of things-to-do lists? Why don’t people in India look behind these rituals and see what they are trying to tell their gods through them? Why does no one see the suffering, the stuffiness, the prissiness of it all?

So I reached a conclusion. And I learnt it from flies. Flies who are wiser than us, and everywhere. They don’t change their lifestyle. You can swat them all you want, hunt them down with spears, guns, bombs or even hatchets. There will be simply more in number than you can attack. India’s too hot (and too stuck up) a country to not have flies and rituals.

The question is, have flies become so much a part of you that you would not even notice their existence? Have you become immune to the fact that they are nothing but flies?

I always thought that emotions cannot be told in mere prose. Here’s a poem I wrote for the occasion.



Continue reading “Rituals of death and dead cultures”