Behind the ancient wrought-iron gates, the night was eerily tranquil. Rows of tombstones were standing erect in quietude, to the left and right, in front and behind, like the sea of the dead. Their moss-laden, engraved epitaphs bathed in the light spilt from an ashen moon. Most of the gravestones were crumbled with the weathering of centuries, overgrown and unkempt, for now, even their mourners had joined them underground. Trees leaned towards the stones, branches reached out to each other, as if comforting the departed bodies, lying all alone, in the graves. But, who would comfort the insatiate souls trapped outside, in this abandoned graveyard? Especially when the soul might have dropped at a wrong address. Would the poor spirit remain detained in this forsaken land forever!
All these thoughts tensed the already frazzled Pramod Mishra more. This was wrong. He wasn’t supposed to be here. If at all, he should have been burned, but these idiots! They buried him in a hurry.
He was impatiently pacing up and down along the muddy path, around a freshly dug and hurriedly covered grave. It was as if, he was confined within some invisible boundary. Some unknown power was preventing him to leave the place. Whoever said that souls were free and body, the cage, surely never experienced death, he thought bitterly. And once again the fear of being stuck here eternally, grasped him unaware.
Dying was quite easy. Just like that his soul left the body and came outside. The weight, which had well crossed the century mark on the scoreboard, in the other side of this world, suddenly vanished. Pramod was now light as a feather and could fly. But, as already stated, only within a periphery. His pass to complete freedom was yet to arrive.
He was going to Heaven, Pramod was sure about it. The pious and restricted life he had led, would leave no chance for God to think otherwise. The only tension he had, was whether the swargdoot* would come inside this deserted burial ground. He would have never stepped inside one himself if he had a say. But, who would listen to a dead man?
Hours passed by. No one arrived. Habitually he tried to check the time on his wristwatch and found it missing. The bastards must have stolen it before burying him. But, even without the watch, he could feel much time had passed. And his morale was getting low with the passage of each minute.
Just when Pramod was losing all the hope, he had a company. A lanky fellow, in a baggy t-shirt and a trouser, carrying a backpack, appeared from nowhere. Looking like the Swiggy delivery boys, without uttering a single word, the stranger just opened his bag, faced the dead man and a 3D scanner appeared in front of the already bewildered Mishraji. Scanning his translucent floating figure from head to toe.
With the suddenness of the event, Pramod almost forgot to ask him who the person was and why was he being scanned.
“Scanning successful,” the machine announced and disappeared automatically, giving way to a floating laptop. While the new entrant struggled to open an excel sheet on it, our Mishraji gathered some courage to ask, “Are you a messenger of God?”
Though he had doubts about it himself, looking at the attire.
“Damn, this network. This IT team is a good for nothing.” Was the only reply that came from him.
The stranger looked visibly irritated. It was difficult which one was bothering him more. The slow network or Pramod’s inquisitiveness.
After a whole long minute the excel opened and the askance look on his face changed to a more professional one.
Clearing his throat, he announced,
“Pramod Mishra, I am here to take you to hell.”
“Hell! Did you say hell? No, it is absolutely not possible. There must be some mistake.”
“Our IT team may be slow, but, our record team is perfect at their work. It is hell for you, sir. Our spreadsheet never lies.”
Exasperated with the pestering, the delegate, moved the laptop towards Pramod and pointed at the screen,
“Okay, let me show you. You are an IT person, you’ll get it. We have two excel sheets, one that records all your deeds against your name and accordingly books your berth in heaven or hell. Now, once you die, your name and soul location get updated in the recent death list. The second excel sheet. A simple running of vlookup and we reach to guide the soul to their final destination. Scanning is done to ascertain the identity. There is no chance of a mistake.”
“Please check again. There must be some misunderstanding. And by the way, are you even authorized to do this job… I mean you do not even look like a Yamdoot*.”
At last the man smiled.
“Oh, that’s the problem. Do not look like one, eh? What did you expect? Gaudy black and golden dress, a thick moustache and horns on the head, riding on a bull?”
With a snort, he added, “We have evolved. We all do. Now please hurry up.”
Pramod Mishra looked crestfallen. His entire life seemed a lie at present. Now, to know why he was so confident about his abode in heaven and what happened to him, we need to go into a little flashback.
Pramod Mishra, an IT professional in his early forty’s, was leading an uneventful and peaceful life, until a week ago, with his two true loves. Religion and food. Sweet and God were his greatest weaknesses.
Hailing from a humble background, he had led a pious life all throughout. The temple was his second home. In no circumstances, he made any compromise with his belief. He was made fun of, on several occasions, by the mere mortals, like his friends and colleagues but, Pramod never deterred from his devout path. He knew that sacrifice was essential to assure a comfortable afterlife in heaven.
Following a strict vegetarian diet, he had adeptly avoided even the touch of any non-vegetarian food. And essentially abstained from those of the other communities. No, he didn’t hate them, but his father had taught, that their forefathers told, it was a sin to touch them. Being an obedient son, he was just obliging. He loved watching the Khan movies, but, outside the screen, the things were as per the guidelines.
Fed up with his continuous badgering to cook and overzealousness about the rituals, his wife had left him long back. His finicky nature had earned him few friends.
His recent, small but, effective crusade in the office, to separate micro oven for veg and non-veg food made him quite a known name amongst the other employees. But, cost him the few colleagues, who still had some rapport with him. Some even nicknamed him ‘Mangal Pandey’. But, he wore such titles as proud badges of honour.
Things took a turn, when he came to know about a legendary Rath Yatra to be undertaken by a visionary leader to proclaim a land that was originally the birthplace of their God but, now illegally occupied by some infidels. He at once knew this was it. He had finally found his true calling. To help thy God to find His legitimate place, again. And as decided, he tagged along, on the revolutionary mission. The various versions of the preaching by the present great minds, emphasising on how his Gods and beliefs were under serious threat in this country, moved him, literally. And now was the chance to prove his loyalty.
So, a week ago that coveted parade began. He, along with thousands of devotees marched along the way to win justice for their God. Things were running well. The awe-inspiring speeches by the chief and the other leaders motivated them along the way, as they proceeded proudly towards their destination. They were just a night away from their aspired target when the disaster struck.
A mob of hooligans suddenly attacked their non-violent group with weapons. Well, not all of a sudden. The crusaders might have shouted some harmless slogans, which, as per Pramod, was nothing, against the kindness they otherwise were showered upon.
Anyways, as the attackers, though fewer in number, charged them with full might, the enthusiasts dispersed haphazardly. The sudden attack caught them on the wrong foot. They ran helter-skelter down back alleys and through the houses only to find all the exits closed. Amidst all the chaos, someone pushed Pramod hard. He fell on a shabby door. Now, because of his weight or maybe because the door was not properly closed, it opened. Some benevolent fellow pulled him inside in a scurry.
The next few hours rushed in a bizarre way. The sound of the commotion was reaching inside. So, nobody dared to open the doors or windows. The elderly owner of the house gave him some water to drink. Pramod was hesitant at first. The dress and the pointed beard were giving him some serious second thoughts before accepting the offer. But, well, he couldn’t be rude to his saviour. So, he accepted.
It was hours later, that Pramod came out of that scruffy hut, dressed in a lungi and a phase cap, leaving behind his saffron piece, to avoid the rioters. In short, for security purpose. The old man was kind enough to lend him a clean piece. And Pramod consoled himself, all for a good cause.
But, who could have imagined the disguise he took to save himself from the wrath, would land him in more soup?
Unknown to poor Pramod, the revenge campaign was already launched. Some of his fellow group people were killed and the guys from his own community were roaming around with open swords, in hand and a vow to kill at least double the number, on the lips.
As destiny would have it, Pramod was mistaken as one of those he had avoided his entire life. A swift sweep across his throat and before he could even utter a sound, everything was finished. But, he was not sad. He became a martyr while on a religious crusade. He would attain salvation soon.
Next, when he gained consciousness, not in the literal sense, he found himself being lowered in a grave, unmannerly like an unclaimed corpse!
Back to the Present – The Hell of a journey
Hell! The word echoed all around the silence of the cemetery.
Pramod Mishra stood, ahem, floated transfixed at one position. It was too hard to believe. His years of abstinence, his devotion, all for nothing.
But, the messenger was not there to tolerate any more nonsense. He was a busy man.
“Hurry up, dead man. After delivering you, I must again go to the graveyard to the east to collect two more fresh souls en route to the burning ghat in the west. The humans will fight stupid riots and we will have to work overtime.” He was grumbling away loudly.
Now Mishraji was seriously confused. The events of the night were questioning his years of belief.
“You fetch souls from both burning ghat and graveyard? Which God are you working for?”
To this, the messenger started laughing and added,
“We all work under a single multinational and multi-world organization. We do not have any branches or as you say, Gods.”
The last line shattered Pramod into pieces. All his life, whenever someone had tried to explain him, the one God concept, he had immediately dismissed them as the misbeliever. Only if he could get back once, he would have set so many things differently. Now, at the final hour of his stay in this earth, the truth shined upon him.
“So, even that Imtiyaz from our office could reach the same place after he dies?” Mishra tried to reconfirm meekly, remembering all the insults he had hurled at that poor fellow.
“Who knows, maybe he will get to go to heaven and then you do not have to face him after all and get embarrassed for all the curses you lobbed at him. That’s what you were wondering, right?”
Pramod was speechless. But, without any further argument decided to follow the lead. There was no other option left.
“By the way, at hell, do you still fry the sinners in boiling oil?” Mishra could not hold himself from asking.
“No, no, what are we? Barbarians of the medieval age? For petty cases like you, the future is set. An eternal diet with only salads and bread. A complete ban on sweets.”
“Complete ban!” The foodie gushed in pain.
“Oh! Do not worry. You will not have much time to take food. You will be placed under the mentorship of a rude boss, who will keep you busy in a vicious cycle of excel, presentation, and review meets.”
Pramod sighed heavily as he started following the guide hell wards. Bad boss and salad diet! The very idea sounds hellish. The messenger, on the other hand, continued his blabbering.
“Are you getting demoralised at this only? Wait, I have not yet told you, how, in heaven instead, you would have got a complete summer holiday feeling, only without the homework thing. All mangoes, and litchis and the warmth of childhood. Now, hurry up. I have much to cover tonight.”
And the two figures slowly vanished from the cemetery.
Author’s Note: The author likes to believe that all men and women are children of one God. Some may call him Ram, some Allah or Jesus, but, at the end we all are same. The idea of the story generated from that basic belief. The author in no way wants to hurt the sentiment and emotion of any religion or show any religion in bad light.
- Swargdoot: Messenger from Heaven
- Yamdoot: Messenger from Hell.
- Lungi: Loin Cloth
- Vlookup – An excel function.
- Rath – Chariot
Photo By: Scott Rogerson
This is an entry from team Scribe Tribe of ArttrA-3 – A Game of Writers, co-sponsored by Diners Club International.
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