Monday, Dec 05, 2022

A Cat Has Nine Lives, I Had My Eight

The extraordinary story of cheating death, again and again and again and again...

A Cat Has Nine Lives, I Had My Eight
'A cat has nine lives, I had my eight'.(Representational image)
A Cat Has Nine Lives, I Had My Eight

You that in far-off countries of the sky can dwell secure, look back upon me here; for I am weary of this frail world’s decay.

~Murasaki Shikibu, The Tale of Genji

 I gave birth to my death. Eight times. I wait for the day when I am not here to count anymore.

Age 1

A cord was wrapped around my throat, but the doctor had proclaimed the chord wouldn't have killed me. I was born with my fists out. Against. It was raining, is what my mother remembers. There were lots of smutty clouds in the sky, and yet the stars were visible when the contractions started. Mother was young. She is believed to have been dreaming, because she was muttering throughout the bullock ride to the unnamed hospital. She was in enormous pain because when I had announced my birth, I must have been in terrible pain. I was too pained to have uttered a sound. Or a shriek. Through a dramatic drop in the stillness of birth at a rustic hospital which had grunting and gurgling buffaloes swanking its entrances. I do not remember.

Mother says I was playing with my aunt who dropped me from the third floor of a four-storey house in the evening heat of Gaya’s tranquil, days after my birth, exactly a year after, on my birthday. And I somewhat remember it every time I trip and fall. Every time I am up on heights. When I am nearer to the sky, away from the earth.

I hung from a tree branch, I did not smash on to the ground, no bleeding, no fractured skulls. The branch would have broken if I were two or three. My little body hanging on to dear life was the first time when I knew I was born. My mother’s womb must have felt unadventurous. No scratch. No memory carved on the skin but I think I met death, briefly.

Age 2

I have no anamnesis of my friendship with death, which met me again. This time, I was kicked by a cow, lifting her foot up underneath, high up with a quick hop in the air. I broke my jaw. I broke my confidence as a child when I was found, three hours later, lying in a ditch, strange. Now to remember that kicking cows can kill feels surreal. An uncle who had only studied till matriculation and failed that too, twice—used to tend to many cows once upon a time. Good old days. He used to nurse the cows till weaning and then the grand-uncle used to take on the task of milking and monetising.

These days of living in metros, when I chance upon a herd which looks not so friendly, impatient, shifting their feet, I grow uneasy. Sweating. Blurry-eyed, just like when I was two, kicked and crouched. Uncle had proclaimed that the reason for the cow almost murdering me was that it was moody, lactating, and prone to getting irritated easily when she was lactating during the months ensuing. Since... I have known how to pet, stroke and scratch a cow behind the ears, forgetting what I never remembered. Mother did. Father did. Through them, a relationship was forged between me and the cows through the cheating of death.

Death must have known me a bit by then.

Age 3

It is hard to fathom how a boiler with boiling oil can almost fall on you but when you are three, that is not what you thought if it almost did. I thought of death the very first time then-

Leo. Born in July. The end of-

Steam scalds more than boiling water. And boiling water burns sensitive skin or the areas where the skin is most sensitive. Medical news today says, some common causes of boiling water burns include:

spilling boiling water while pouring coffee or tea

forgetting that a kettle or pot contains boiling water

playing near stoves or hot water.

Three times almost. Almost three times boiling water fell on me. Almost. That’s important now, because I worship the sun, I sometimes ask forgiveness from the sun for hating it. For hating heat. For hating that I am Indian because it is so hot in India. I ask if I am really Indian? Was I really born here? Here where I don’t feel the belonging when the sun is above my head when the heat reminds me of scalding. Winters are my favourite because it is exactly once that I have seen snow and never seen it falling. I have read a hundred times how it is when the snow falls- the landscapes and assembled an image of a variety of cold from Fargo, from Alaskan reality shows, and Men vs Wild. I have read about how magical it is when the sun is not foreseeable. Where the ice cuts in the thick of the night. Thin wisps of cold cover the area around the mouth, chapping the lips, closing the pores on the skin. Less acne, that means.

Scalded areas and years under running cold water

Gently pat the skin dry after cooling

Evaluate the burn.

Age 4

Father was walking me home, the last of the sun lingered in the sky. An electric pole fell. Two centimeters in and we were dead. Were.

I was born again, on the road of a village skyline where bodies melt away in ditches if not found. And for many years, there were no poles. No electricity.

But then also, there were no deaths due to shocks, due to faulty wire lines, due to poles falling down on beings who walk the earth, wishing upon the good sky. Evaluate the burn. Incredibly, since there was light, like Ram walking in Ayodhya after 20 years of exile, every day was a celebration but not to those who were impaled. What saves me and not them, I will always think of-

An electric pole can snap due to a variety of factors, including Natural rot and decay over time, damage from extreme weather, overloading, and just because an act of God is why we have an act anyways. An act of God, I would have been no more. Death is not a c*#*. You cannot despise it and hate it every time. Cunt. A high voltage situation. What I remember is that I did not evaluate death much. I was being saved by death itself, it seems.

 Age 5

There is a place called Chora Bihar where only dacoits lived. Death must have missed me again on that fateful day when we encountered some Dacoits who let us go without hurting. I persisted in death. An end occurs when those who are meant to peter out have petered out like the scores of vehicles that went ahead of us but were nowhere to be seen now. Their occupants sometimes laid slain on the roads. I saw death closely. Death could not capture me more than the life in me, so I hold this experience closely. I only remember my mother removing her gold jewelry and hiding it in crevices where even we could not see. Where death could not be.

After looting, the dacoits fled firing in the air. And we could only hear the firing for KMS and KMS, even after crossing Chora Bihar where only dacoits lived.

Death chose to leave me alone.

I feel less alive when I am not acknowledging death, as it should be. Every moment that one lives, somehow death lives too. Each day which fastens its seat belt also beckons the brakes failing, a high-speed chase at times, times and time again. Talking about death is not the same as talking about death at 28. But talking about death now is evaluating it, somehow. Evaluating every moment of the day. Evaluating if days are more or death is close.

Age 6

I was revisited by death. In its old avatar. Like a task not completed, I was again down two storeys, into a ditch, my hand broken. Thrown off by a girl whom I called friend, up till then. Must have been Yama. Fractured hand trying to protect this brain, which had just comprehended the aftermath of not getting killed, hours later, another bullock ride into town’s only hospital. I still remember the faces of death then. Doctor and mother's faces intermingled into something nobody could save me. I was not saved by the bell of the bullock. I was left to fend off death for hours before I was found, unconscious. That is why my parents are so afraid of what might happen to me-

The call I got in 2011 just after the gang rape of Nirbhaya broke across the nation, just before it was dusk, asking me if I was home. If I was going out late anywhere. I was out alone for the first time in my life and I felt alive but they felt death.

The look on my father’s face when he bid me goodbye. Actually, every time he bids me goodbye, it’s the same face that I see again and again. I don’t get tired of it. But it reminds me how it is to birth a girl and see her gone, almost. What if how they are- always wary, cautious, and afraid of risks- what if this is what happens with almost?

Age 7

Datura intake can lead to death. I am a Shiv Bhakt now because Shiv pardoned me that day when I accidentally ate Datura seeds and pods. Thinking that I was invincible in my adventure and ignorance. This is how children under seven die, I was told, then. Years later, I have read multiple accounts in various literature dealing with death that it's common knowledge not to ingest Datura which is poisonous and some literature also stated that it is difficult to revive a Datura affliction. Death loves poison. I knew then, I was vulnerable, even in nature. Men were dangerous, but so was nature.

Hare hanni hanni hare

Hare hanni ni hanni hare

Hare hanni hanni hare

Hare hanni ni hanni hare

Bel leaves, Dhatura, Fresh fruits, and flowers to the Lord Shiva every Mahashivratri since. The same day as my re-birth.

Death kindly left me with lessons and lessons of the same lesson, again and again- what maybe Shankaracharya propounded once-

Age 8

Imagine getting crushed between two vehicles, none of which were meant to kill me. But they almost did. I saw my father weeping in the middle of the street. The only time he did weep. Giving up was death. Death was giving up. But I was pulled from above, by a man unknown. Must be God, I thought. I don't drive now. I call myself vehicularly handicapped but maybe it is just deja vu of a different kind of death. I don't want to die in a vehicle I had promised myself.

These days I feel like running really fast, leaving behind a cloud of dust and formations as they show in cartoons. Perishable but memorable. I have memorised a lot of references on death as if it is motivational. Sorin Cerin said that to search for the stranger inside you, forgotten even by your death would be it. I have yet to meet this stranger.

They have cut down the tree where I was born the very first time. On every birthday, I sow a tree. I call it Death. Death 1…. Death 2… Death 3…. I could move in with death, this stranger whom I have known all my life. After 8, I was never as close to death as I was when I was 1 maybe. Fear is brave for me. I tried to kill myself but I survived. Being born is not the opposite of death. It is an extension. The charm of death now seems exuberant enough to be appreciated like birth is the manifestation of death.

death is a branch breaking for me. death is a fact for me. death is my story. death is vehicles on the road. death is boiling water. death is Datura.

If someone else created Shiva, they would have the ability to destroy Shiva. However, because Shiva is Swayambhu (He created Himself) so no one can destroy Him, that’s what my great grandfather told me once when I had met him twice, without any dialogue. I will always remember that these words offer me solace and similarity in not dying even after finding death.

I cheated death 8 times I think or did I miss death now because of — how I know it feels to be born, again and again.

(Views expressed are personal)


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