Tumultuous smoke from the funeral pyre rose upwards, blending with grey smog that already hung over the groaning city of Kathmandu. A sharp bitter smell assailed Hari’s nostrils almost choking him, but he gulped it down like water, and his eyes stung from smoke. Only yesterday Geeta had been there with him, bright and jovial when she was at her best, foul-tempered and bickering when she was at her worst but, she had been there and her presence in his life had made a conspicuous difference.
Having lived together for twenty five years, he had grown used to her in a way that without her, he felt like a piece of puzzle lacking a counterpart. Not that there had been any kind of great love that transpired between them, but there had been love nonetheless. It had been a love marriage from the beginning for which he had even gone against his family, because she came from a caste, a notch lower than his. For years, his family had disowned him wanting nothing to do with him or Geeta, not even when a son was born to them. In the beginning, Geeta had not complained, but through the years, each time, rumours about her in-laws blaspheming against her reached her ears, she had often flared up pelting acrid retort against Hari’s parents.
It was only a mild stroke. Hypertension was what the doctors had said. After the initial unconsciousness, she had woken up filling Hari’s heart with hope. During the time she had been unconscious, Hari had watched his wife’s still body and unmoving lips warily. It seemed unnatural for Geeta to lay so still and quiet. She had talked even in her sleep. Hari was suddenly filled with a yearning to see those eyes open and those lips part in conversation. It was then he realized how silent his world would be without her. It was then, he realized how withdrawn he was from the cordial engagements of the world. Without Geeta he had no one connecting him to people, relatives, even friends. She was his medium into their lives and their spaces. She was his mouth-piece who made things comfortable for him whenever they were visiting friends or relatives. Whenever a question was intended for him, she would quickly reply with “he says” or “he means” and then he would simply have to look at her direction, smile and nod and he was often saved from the tediously long and harrowing conversation. A mixture of desperation and melancholy overwhelmed him and he felt like he would die along with her if she never opened her eyes again. He simply would not be able to endure the sound of the world without her voice in it. Then, Geeta’s eyes had fluttered open but little did he know that he had her only for that single day. He knew she hadn’t known either, because she would have said much more.
Geeta was an open book and without fail, her heart and mind always willingly reflected on her face. It was with great ease that her friends and relatives read her thoughts. Perhaps it was because of this open trait, Hari had loved her although he had never expressed it verbally. Even when he was courting her, he had silently done it through letters and cards that came with poems. Initially they shared a quiet life. She would wake up early, make his breakfast and lay it on the table for him. He would go up after her, drink his tea left by his bedside, take a bath, eat the breakfast meticulously laid out for him and then he would leave for work at the electricity board. He would hardly ask her how her day went when he came home in the evening. Instead, he would drink his tea in silence while she would fuss around their son, chiding him into doing their homework. She always came late to bed quietly climbing onto her side, while he had already reached the comfortable moment between wakefulness and slumber. Sometimes he would hear her murmur a thing or two about a gold necklace that one of his friends from the neighbourhood had gifted his wife, but by the time she said anything else, he was already pushed into the oblivious world of sweet slumber. He never remembered her birthday. Not that she remembered his birthday either but she never forgot their anniversary. When he came home from work, and the house was filled with an appetizing smell of chicken curry and sweet incense, when the new table cloth had been laid out on the dining table and,when a bunch of roses decorated the god’s altar, he would often be struck with the guilt for having forgotten their anniversary.
During the initial years of marriage, she had not cared to hide her disappointment and had attacked him with a volley of angry words each time the talk of their anniversary would arise. With time, she stopped expressing her distaste because of his indifferent attitude towards the idea of celebrating , but along with that, she stopped cooking him his favourite meal on their anniversary. Gradually, the new table cloth ceased to appear on the table too but the bunch of flowers continued to decorate the altar each year. That was her way of commemorating her fond remembrances to the day she had bundled up her clothes and slipped quietly from her home, to begin her most anticipated life with Hari.
Once the fire died down, and the ashes collected, Hari looked at the urn and wondered how little a space Geeta now occupied. The living and the breathing, the flesh and the blood were all diminished into a handful of dust. Death had a frightening way of diminishing people into just a fistful of ashes and, to a memory that would in time fade away into the farthest recesses of one’s mind. The sky had already turned crimson making way for the impending darkness but the jargon of traffic roared continuously and Hari found himself returning slowly to the world that still held him. Not so far away someone was wailing and he saw that it was a young man under the weight of perhaps a dead father or a mother or a young wife, whose body was soon going to be laid for cremation. Hari twined his arms around the urn, holding it delicately against his chest while he and his son were gently ushered towards the concrete steps for ritualistic bathing by the sullen river. However, there was still time before the obscure waters drank the final remains of Geeta’s life. There was still time, before the thickness of time slowly blotted out the sound of her voice that resounded with such great affection in his ears as of now.