Befriending Death By Vishavjit Singh The year was 1983. On this particular afternoon I along with my friends was playing cricket on a dusty pebble littered field in South Delhi. We were young nine, ten, eleven years old passing away the afternoon hours with our daily ritual of a game of cricket. Towards the middle of the game, we noticed a crowd gathering in the distance. The crowd of men kept burgeoning by the minute in front of an apartment building at the edge of the dusty field. Finally curiosity compelled us to make our way through the crowd to see the source of this distraction. We squeezed our way through the crowd until we found ourselves facing a burnt down facade of an apartment condo. At first I remember just seeing a charred, blackened room through a window facing the street. As my eyes adjusted to the ash-laden scene, I noticed the contours of a body, a human body. It was a woman’s body; a big boned woman. Almost all of her flesh had been burnt leaving a few tender spots. My eyes moved about the room and I spotted a big chubby baby with a burned body. Then I spotted another baby’s body and then another. I still remember the four burnt down bodies, a woman and in all likelihood her three young babies. The specter of death stared at me. I stared back at it. I vividly remember an emotional response usurped by the reasoning that the deaths were dowry related. A decade of living in the urban landscape of India had exposed the specter of dowry related deaths so often that it had come to be seen as a routine and even a normal part of life in India. I walked back with my friends to carry on with our lives. A few days ago, almost twenty years later I found myself driving through a beautiful scenic highway in the American northeast on a cold November morning and revisiting the burnt bodies of the woman and her three young babies. Tears came to my eyes and gently trickled down my face. I tried to force myself to stop but the tears would not stop. So I cried, partly unhindered by feeling the burden of exposing my feelings to another human being. I think I wanted to cry that day when I saw the burnt down bodies. I think I wanted to cry not only because of my own mortality a little exposed but also at the loss of life that lay within the heart of these four souls. It is the same life within the heart of all creation. Perhaps everyone watching that day also wanted to cry. But society has prepared us well, and trained us to play spectators to death all around us. We have been trained to walk past death like robots, forcing our basic human instincts, to share the love in our hearts for the lost souls, as indifferent and unconcerned souls. We are trained ever so meticulously to hide our feelings, our connections to life and its varied dimensions. We are trained to only feel the loss of our immediate loved ones, our friends, in some cases our community members in ethnic conflicts, in others of our fellow national residents in regional conflicts. There is a conditional and selective acceptance of death. Death is all around, both real and fictional, in our families, neighborhoods, cities, television screens, movies, video games, newspapers and magazines appearing almost always as a form of entertainment. We hear about victims of a blast and women raped and killed while we goa bout out lives in total forgetfulness. One moment we fear for the safety of our children and the next moment they are blowing up people in video games. Today death has many names and faces - a Palestinian, an Israeli, a lower caste, an American, an Indian, a Muslim, a Christian, a white woman, a black man. The list is endless. At some deep level we all can feel the connection to every life lost. So if you find yourself in an ever so rare private moment, feeling for a loss of life, don’t hold back. That is the human spirit within you peeking through the mist of societal restraints, letting you know that you are alive, at-least for the moment. Copyright ©2002 Vishavjit Singh.