The Death Bed : A Tale
Author: Anjali Thapa


Wintry raindrops keep descending on the roofs of the sublime temples. Gaunt and golden monkeys, now less mischevious, hide themselves under the temple beams. It is one of the regular winter nights in Kathmandu, when most people have fried cauliflower and potato for dinner. The waifs and the strays are trying to grasp a good night’s rest after a meagre meal.

Gomadevi is in her death- bed, reclining on a coverless pillow. The zeal, the zest to live, seems to flicker like the light of the burning oil-lamp near her. Everything looks transient. Transient like the soot the lamp is liberating. Transient like the rain which is about to come to a halt any moment. Transient like the body Goma’s soul is about to bid adieu to. Goma is being taken to Pashupatinath Aryaghat. Tika Prasad, her son, is sitting traumatised near her feet. He has brought his mother to Kathmandu all the way from Paanchkhaal.

The weather and the exhausting journey, one may assume, have failed to come between Goma and her wish to die in Pashupatinath. Sitting and watching his dying mother has paralysed Tika in a way. Someone has philosophised – truth changes with time. But death … death is the one and only truth till date. Batuli, Tika’s wife, solaces her mother-in-law, gently massaging her forehead. Habitually she dissects… first with her eyes, then with her hands… the gold chain and the gold bangles; the old woman is wearing. Badri, Shyam and Gopal, Tika’s cousins, squat blank-faced near the steps. Except for their whispering into each other’s ears and the rain, a deafening silence dwells there.

Mitthu, an old ally, enters and sits near the dying woman. She whispers into her ear asking her to say ‘ Krshna’. A dying person who is able to pronounce the name of ‘ Krshna’ is said to reach golak or heaven. No matter how hard she tries, Mitthu is unsuccessful in making her do so. Goma’s mind is already occupied with worldly things. Her lands in the Terai and the mountains, her houses, her children, her cattle … people who had borrowed money from her, bills she was to pay, her heartthrob- her grandson, Mohan… the list is endless. And yes, Gayatri , the widow of her eldest son, Hari. The woman she had wronged so much. At this point her heart aches. She inefficiently tries to escape this recollection, but to no avail. This one time she abhorrs herself intensely, yet, incessantly. Her wealth, her riches, her pride, all appear red-faced dwarves in front of this. They grin and simply hang their heads in shame.

She had never tried to perceive the world with her own perspective, with her own eyes. Because people said they saw Gayatri walking hand in hand with Kale Kaptan, Goma took no time in labelling her an adultress. Because she could not bear a son, she was considered ominous. Because her family was not as well-heeled as Hari’s and belonged to a lower caste, she became everybody’s whore. After being disowned by her in-laws, Gayatri had drowned herself in Sunkoshi River.

Remembering all this, Goma feels as if she had stopped breathing. She feels she had died that very moment. A contorted expression inhabits her face. Batuli stops massaging her forehead. Black pearls of remorse stream out of her sunken eyes. How she wishes she could turn back time, fall at Gayatri’s feet and ask her for forgiveness. She was her ‘ Krishna’.

‘ Krshna forgives all. Chanting his name will cleanse all your sins,’ a Brahmin holy-man, clad in saffron says. With him is the ghate baidya, a traditional doctor for the dying. Somehow this is not convincing to Goma. She is unable to relate scriptures to reality. For the first time she realizes that what she had been doing all those years, with so much devotedness and constancy, were just raw theories. Writings where God, the benovelent one, is depicted as a relentless lawmaker. Scriptures which boast of sexism and caste hierarchy. Could this be our best friend Krshna ? Since ages, people have been memorising lines of philosophy- of a religious saga without putting it into practice. For the first time Goma is not influenced by anybody or anything. To her, her sins are unforgiveable. She is the best judge she can find for herself. Those who have not loved his beings have not loved God. A heart once broken cannot be mended. Even if it may be sometimes, cracks show up everytime one gets closer to it. This, Goma has realised. A quick flashback of the past has killed her spiritual self. Her sins had already killed her. The approaching physical death would be nothing compared to this.


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