The tall glass bay windows looked like they stretched out to an endless height making the room appear as though it had no ceiling. I was wearing the same clothes I had last known and seated on an upholstered chair. A ball of light shone down on what seemed like a dias. A giant screen flashed behind it. My stifled voice lay buried in my throat. The words just wouldn’t come. I was taken aback as a gentle yet firm voice bellowed through the room, seeming to resound from every nook.
Welcome to afterlife.
Uh huh…Who….are you?
You passed on to this world today the 29th of September 2321. You have moved on to the next stage. I am your guide.
Where…where… am I?
There is no need to panic. This is where all humans end up after their records are completed.
The others? Where are they?
You will join them once the pronouncement proceedings are finished.
What do you mean?
All key events from your life will be flashed on the screen. Take them in and tell me what you feel at the end of the session.
I expected my birth to get flashed. Or the moment I won a gold medal in the Math Legend competition at school. Or my wedding picture with me and Dhriti smiling through our sherwanis and lehengas. Instead, a video clip of me rolling down glass of the car window appeared. I was throwing an Appy carton on the road, the one that Samaira had just finished drinking when we had driven to Lavasa.
I suggest you take time to watch the entire show without interruption. All questions will be answered at the end.
That sealed my lips and I dared not counter the light which seemed more and more menacing.
The next image was of a pile of garbage we had dumped at the resort in the Andamans. I wondered if this divine light was actually an eco-warrior sitting on the other side. I couldn’t ask as in-between-questions didn’t seem welcome. Flashes of us – me, Dhriti and Sam throwing all kinds of plastic packaging right from that of milk to grocery supplies lit up the screen. Our dustbins over the years heaving with all kinds of paper waste. The idols we had immersed in the many lakes came up next. Fishes floating in those waters with potbellied tummies. Dried and rotten plants by the lakeside. Fragile birds sipping on the water and dropping down mid-flight.
Next was our lovely penthouse at Mountain Dew apartments which we had occupied for the longest time – only, the images were full of harsh light in rooms that no one seemed to be in. I got it now. There was some goddam video camera that had stalked us all the time. Clean water gushing out of taps in our kitchen and overflowing buckets in our washrooms. I couldn’t even imagine when all this happened. Maybe when we were out? Dhriti at one of her counselling sessions, me at the university, Sam at school?
Then came our wardrobe striking me with a searing shaft of belongingness. My office wardrobe, golf set, gym wear, casuals, sunglasses, watches, ties. Dhriti’s lightly scented mul sarees and organza gowns. But before I could have the luxury of getting overwhelmed, Dhriti’s silk sarees and my silk kurta dhoti sets were in full view. Hundreds of thousands of worms squirming in boiling hot water so we could have this attire. The frame then moved to the lowest rung of clothes stuffed in the backside of the wardrobe. Clothes we had never worn nor given away. Clothes that lay squashed amidst negligence never serving their purpose and never making room for new acquisitions. Our pure leather handbags and laptop bags. Unique animal hide bags that were used only five times in our lifetime.
I looked at the light to see if it had changed. It was the same – steady and unbecoming. I so badly wanted to ask if there was more left to see in the movie but my sense of fear forbade me.
The focus was now on Sam’s room. Plastic and metal toys littering her shelves. I thought we had given most of them away. Unused Disney branded stationery which I recalled getting on my office trip to Paris on her fifth. Were those still tucked up in her wardrobe? I hoped not. She was twenty now. Birthday presents from friends unopened for years together. Dresses she had not worn even for a day. Sheafs and sheafs of unused paper trashed without being used.
The camera zoomed in on the kitchen now. Edible and tasty food over the years finding their way into dustbins – we never could finish the massive batch of food our cooks made for us. Excessive ordering at events to prevent well-to-do guests from going hungry. Provisions spoilt due to mindless unuse.
I couldn’t fathom where this was going.
Images of our pets followed. Marigold, our goldfish which was not fed by the nanny as she had to rush for an emergency while we were holidaying in Maldives to celebrate our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. I remember Dhriti sobbing when we came back home. Of course we had all felt bad while throwing away the water and together with it the fish bowl. The pig that was freshly slaughtered on our demand for Kodava style pandi kari at a restaurant in Coorg. The chicken, fishes and goats we had relished with abandon in our lifetime. A giraffe I had taken pleasure in on my Japan tour.
A miscellany of scenes followed. The various resorts we had stayed in and the refuse we had recklessly left behind right from plastic straws to mineral water bottles. The three of us on various flights to places in India and abroad – splurging, savaging and destroying.
And then a humongous landfill. I had never seen one of this size. Dhriti and I had taken Sam to one of the landfills as part of a school project but the one we had picked was a hundred times less sinister. The screen zoomed in closer to the landfill and I realized with horror that it was all our things we had discarded over the years. Things we had once loved and cherished in a swamp of dust and rubbish. Furniture and fitments from our home when it was renovated. Countless plastic toothbrushes and combs. Some of it was being burnt. There were no birds in the air and no life around this landfill. No trees, no plants. The sky fumed above with an ugly brown smoke.
Now tell me how do you feel.
I don’t know what to say. Why am I being shown all this?
It is time to give you a context. You might have heard about Judgement Day, Garuda Purana, Yama, Chitragupta, Purgatory. It has all become digital now. Religions have glamorized and manipulated a number of things to suit their selfish interests. But one thing has remained constant – we judge every single one on how they have lived their life. The rulebook for assessing this has had to keep with the times. Carbon footprint is the current index we use. We identify all instances that add to carbon footprint and then evaluate the person.
I want to clarify that we never did any of this on purpose. We were a small family. We didn’t even go for a second child. We have been indulgent but what is the point of earning if you can’t get a good life?
This is classic. You fix your own meanings of what constitutes a good life.
Well that is how our parents brought us up.
Think carefully. Is this how your parents were?
Well, maybe not as luxurious. But yes they too had a good life.
Yes I know them. Your mother picked the life of her pet canary. And your father opted for a street kid.
Let’s come to that later. How did your life make you feel?
Well of course I repent.
Sadly it isn’t enough.
What more do you want me to do? Isn’t it too late now?
Maybe yes, maybe not. It is indeed unfortunate that you learn of all this only when you see the big picture – the various deeds that you believe small, that add up to the kind of enormous havoc you have created for the planet and other beings.
How do I reverse this? I didn’t know all this counted.
The light laughed a manically sarcastic laugh. I thought about the hundreds of times Dhriti and I had talked about living a more inclusive and responsible way of life. Minimalist. Zen. We had laughed and smirked at these words conveniently believing them to be fads. Slow living. Slow cooking. Slow eating. Keeping some food aside for other beings. Not falling into the trap of excesses. Not caging a pet. Not eating after sunset. Growing our own food. Going vegan. Meditating. Reusing plastic. Using our legs more to walk and cover distances instead of sweating it out in the gym. Taking the train when we can instead of a clinical flight. Not wasting food. Giving away what we don’t need. Moderation. Everything in moderation. The zillions of choices we could have made.
I get it. How bad is my score?
There is no good or bad. It would suffice to say there have been a few other worse cases we have dealt with.
What should I do now?
You can choose what next you want to be reborn as – that would help you to settle your dues.
The screen threw up an image of various animals, birds, and some downtrodden humans by the roadside. I couldn’t make out how I had impacted them all. Only Marigold was recognizable.
Go on, the voice egged.
Can I be re-born as a human?
Only those you see in the image. You will be cloned into their life blueprint.
What is life blueprint?
You are very curious. The blueprint is a manual of your life. It is decided at the end of the judgement day. You select it from the choices you have.
But what if I don’t want to select from those?
You don’t have an option.
The voice never became angry, its tone unflinching. I proceeded to think over the blueprint I should go with. But before I could do that – a burning ray of blue light penetrated into the room and overshadowed the existing benign glow. I felt myself being carried in that blue light through what seemed like a tunnel in space. I closed my eyes and I opened them to see the same hospital room I had last been admitted to for my heart attack. Doctors in blue gowns shuffled around, looking less at me and more at the sophisticated equipment around. I wanted to throw away my ventilator and cry out of happiness. I had had a near-death or an out-of-body experience. It was all real then.
When I could finally get the ventilator off and meet Dhriti, I told her everything, as gently and slowly as I could. I think Dhriti believed me completely like she always did, but the neurosurgeon opined that some part of this could be hallucinations. Sam was a little taken aback at all this and kept checking if I was really alive.
After I came back home I sat the two of them down and we made a grand plan. We combed every inch of our home stripping it of all its unwanted frills, giving them away to those who needed it more than us. Sam thought I had gone bonkers but gave in, seeing the terrified look on my face as I detailed out the judgement room and the voice within. We are paranoid about switching off lights and turning off taps. Dhriti says I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night screaming out words in strange languages she doesn’t understand. I attend PTSD therapy sessions.
And of course none of us touched the Machher Jhol our family friend Mrs Banerjee got us to celebrate my homecoming.
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