We had just reached Neyveli at around 3:45 am after a torrid 6 hour bus journey on a road which resembled the moon's surface with craters bigger than Wankhede Stadium. Probably, Armstrong took a photograph on these roads instead of the moon.
We had just settled down that my uncle got a call.
'Who's this so early in the morning?'
When he picked up the phone and started talking, his facial expression changed instantly. The news was of my Athimber thatha's (My mom's uncle) death.
I wouldn't say this was totally unexpected, but didn't expect it so soon, since he had been very sick and was under constant treatment.
He had died in a hospital in Chennai and they were bringing his corpse to Neyveli,a journey of about 200kms. My uncle asked me to help him in making the arrangements for the ceremony.
That's when it hit me. This was going to be my first encounter with a dead body. I have never been to a death ceremony in my life, have never seen a dead body so close, infact, I have lived inside a cocoon so far.
I was amazed by the speed of arrangements by my uncle.
How could he be so unemotional and do everything so efficiently?
How could he bargain with people at this moment?
How could he tie up the stretcher on which the corpse was supposed to be carried?
How could he?
Then, it arrived. There was crying, wailing, chest beating, hair pulling, and silence.
I caught a glimpse of my dear athimber with whom I had played night long carrom games, watched and dissected every cricket match, discussed about principles of metallurgy, discussed about maniratnam and balachander, discussed about BJP and Congress, discussed everything.
All those moments came swirling back into my mind and gushed out of eyes as tears. I couldn't avoid myself seeing him so cold, so blue, so pale, so lifeless. I couldn't believe he has become an it.
The last rites were performed and they started pouring rice on him. I went out, brought a pack of carrom coins and placed it on his leg and took his blessing and left the room, crying for my friend, my carrom rival, my cricket co-supporter and my cousin grand dad.
His son, later, came over and hugged me and said,
'We burned him along with those coins. I think he will be happy.'
I had no doubt that he would be.