“I am telling you, the coffin is too small, he won’t fit in”
“Did you trying putting him in sideways? He did gain a lot of weight in his final years”
“Yes, its not the width, it’s the length that is the problem.”
“Ok fine, go inform his son. It is almost time. We can’t delay this any more”
Ghalib went out of the room and onto the courtyard to look for the son in the large crowd that had gathered. He walked as fast as you can move in a funeral without attracting attention or arousing suspicion that something is wrong.
He found the son addressing a sizeable crowd. It was the same speech. Ghalib had heard it dozens of times. He was almost near the end. Ghalib listened to the speech.
“Father sacrificed his life for this battle and martyred for our cause. His flame has been extinguished but the fire will keep burning. We have to walk a great distance but we will walk together and walk far. I will be proud to walk with you on our quest, humble in the knowledge that I have big shoes to fill.” And the crowd applauded as loudly as it was decent to do in a funeral.
Ghalib never liked the ending. He just waited for the day someone would throw a size 6 sports shoe in response to the lines of walking far and big shoes to fill.
The Khans were big people. Literally, figuratively and politically. Big people, but not practical people. Like the people who buy a BMW and then live like kings in a village where the roads are narrower than the BMW. Wherever they went, it was difficult to fit them in.
But, Ghalib, their faithful servant for 30 years had never failed them. Not even once in their entire life. He had always managed to find a way out. He was not going to fail in their death. There had to be a way out.
“What is it Ghalib Kaka” the son finally asked.
“You have to come in now. I cannot explain it here. It is very urgent.”
“I just finished my speech. I have to spend some time with them. I will come in after some time. Why don’t you ask Ammi. I am sure she will help you out.”
Nazia was just tying her hair for the seventh time when Ghalib entered. He had entered without knocking. The last time he did that, she had to call an ambulance. So she let go of her hair, turned around and asked immediately. “What happened Ghalib? Is everything ok?”
“Khan bhai is not fitting into his coffin”
“What?” she said surprised. Ghalib always had weak English. He must have meant something else.
“The coffin madam. It is too small. We are not able to put him inside it.”
“What?” she said again. A little less surprised. But still surprised nonetheless.
“There is only 5 minutes left for the events to begin. We don’t know what to do madam.” said Ghalib and hoped that the mention of the time constraint would elicit something more than just another “what?”
Nazia flung her comb towards her dressing table and turned towards the phone. “I knew that the carpenter we chose was a thief. He must have stolen some of the wood. I told you that we should have tipped him more for my mother in law’s funeral”. And wondered how her mother in law continued to haunt her even after her death and dialed furiously.
“He is not picking up the phone, that scoundrel. Can you bring me my other phone Ghalib Bhai?”
“Yes madam” said Ghalib and rushed out of the room.
“Where do you think you are going Ghalib? Didn’t you tell the son about the problem?” he heard the voice shout at him from across the courtyard.
“He was busy, so I went to madam.”
“And what is she doing about it?”
“She is calling the carpenter”
“What does she want from the carpenter now? A refund? That is why I told you to go to the son. Not the wife. Women are never practical. The carpenter cannot make another coffin for us now. Come, let us talk to the son.”
The two of them walked into the house. Nazia was already talking animatedly to her son.
“I agree that it was my fault for not tipping him enough for Dadi’s death, but you have to understand that contacting him is not going to help us now in any way. Why can’t you be practical for once mom?”
Nazia tugged at her hair harder in her ninth attempt to tie her hair. She took a deep breath. This was not the time for these outbursts. Prioritise, she told herself. Her priority was always her husband, now it had to be her husband’s deadbody.
“What is the next event lined up? She asked.
Your speech is up next. But we can cancel it if you are not upto it Ammi”
“No, I will do it” Nazia said and let her hair loose in all its untied glory, grabbed the mike and walked out towards the courtyard.
“What does she think she is doing?” the son exclaimed after her. “I tell you, women have no idea of the priorities. Do you understand how embarrassing this will be for my career? This was supposed to be my launch pad!” the son seemed to be telling himself rather than at Ghalib.
“The least you can do is stall the crowd till we think of a solution.” He finally screamed towards his mother who had already left the room.
Nazia’s voice echoed firmly across the courtyard. “Brothers and sisters, we are already behind schedule, so I will not keep you waiting. This will be a short speech. My husband cared for every section of the society and did not want any section of society to be left out. He was born a Christian, lived his life as a Muslim, but it was his final wish to have his final rites performed as a Hindu.”
The above piece was written as part of a session at Write Club on 2nd April, 2016.
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