Near the High Court one sun-splashed afternoon, a BEST bus had run over a young man. He was sprawled on the road in a pool of blood, his head at an awkward angle that spoke of the suddenness of his end. His wife lay on his body, weeping quietly. A few feet away, two small children stood crying. The empty bus loomed over them all, silently unaware of the destruction it had wrought in this Bombay family's life.
I have the scene snapshotted on my mind, sadly frozen in the fraction of a second it took to pass.
I remember that morning: the headlines spoke of the murder of a tourist in Kashmir, also of a politician who had killed his wife and fed her body to crocodiles. (Yes).
Now this man outside the High Court. There would be no headline for him, not even a mention in the news. Yet there he was, just as dead as the tourist or the politician's wife.
My taxi driver that afternoon summed it up. Glancing at me in his mirror as we passed the freeze-frame, he said with a chuckle: "Yehi hai zindagi!" "That's life!"
It was death, but it was life, and life goes on.
A few years later, I was in Orissa after the cyclone slammed into the state. For a couple of days, I joined a team that was burning bodies. Horrible hard work that needed muscles and strong stomachs; luckily this team had both in plenty. There were so many bodies to be buried that the work eventually became routine.
Almost routine. The second morning, we found the body that left all these strong young men stunned and teary. Just a small black mound of cloth, hair and skin. Lying in the middle of a dirt-track as if flung. A baby, just months old.
But the tears lasted only a few minutes. There was work to be done. They got back to it, diligent and efficient. Life goes on.
Why do accidents happen, asks my buddy Shivam, and why do people die?
Perhaps it's a hard thing to say to you as you grieve for a young cousin and the father of a friend. People die, Shivam, because life goes on. Some die, others live. For me, the answer is just that simple and inexorable. Yet for me, that's the nugget, the only nugget, that makes death comprehensible. I wish you courage.
Back at home on that evening years ago, I was still brooding over a bright red death outside the High Court. Soon afterwards, I got the news. My sister had a baby girl. Life, after everything we throw at it, goes on.