CHAPTER – 13
TRAGEDY & BEREAVEMENT
Something unforgettable happened when I was twenty-two.
I had a friend who was very close to me. His name was Narayanasami. He lived in the house opposite to mine. He was a student of P.S. High school, studying the tenth standard.
We used to go to the seashore, with a few student friends, in the evenings. From Mandaiveli, where we lived, the distance was only half a mile. In summer we were in the habit of bathing in the sea every day and returning home before seven o’ clock.
On the day, the other friends were sitting on the sand, while we two, Narayanasami and I stepped into waters of the Bay of Bengal. Fifteen minutes went by. “That will do. Come along, Narayana!” I called him.
The waves were particularly high that day. They lifted us to a height of about six feet and then set us down again.The sensation was pleasant as if we were on a swing devised for us by Nature!
When I called my friend, there was a big wave. He saw it. “This is the last wave. We shall enjoy it”, he said, “and then go home”. That giant wave lifted us to a very great height indeed. When it withdrew, we found ourselves a few yards further into the sea. We couldn’t fix our feet.
We tried floating and swimming. No good. Somehow I managed to draw nearer to the shore by about ten feet. Then my feet just touched the bed. I found the current still strong like a whirlpool of sorts.I strained every nerve and quickly reached the shore. I noticed Narayanasami struggling still in the water. I told my friends to fetch someone to help my friend, pointing out that he was in danger.
I made a sort of long rope tying together our clothes that were left on the shore and stepped into the sea again. I waded in as far as I could manage with steadiness and flung the cloth rope to him. He stretched his hands in an effort to catch it. The rope was short by some ten feet.
I went a few feet further into the water.
The same whirlpool was now after me! To extricate myself, I swam and swam. One precious minute and then I touched the bed again. I turned round to see Narayanan. Only the fingers of one of his hands were visible for a few moments, above the surface. Then those too disappeared. My grief was inconsolable. The closest among my friends, dear to me as life itself, with whom I spent all my free time was no more. The sea had swallowed him.
Why should I alone live? Why not I too share the watery grave with him? “Alas! Narayana! You have forsaken me”, I cried. The urge was irresistible to plunge forever into the depths of the sea. Then my Mother seemed to stand before me. And my Father. I could only wail and weep. I turned around. There were two fishermen running up with my friends. I pointed out to them the spot where my friend was seen last. The fishermen dived and swam and searched, surfaced, and dived and searched again. My friend could nowhere be found. One whole hour we spent like that. It was half-past seven when we started back home. On the way, we reported the matter to the police. We then handed over Narayanan’s clothes at his house and sobbed out what had happened to him.
His sister’s screams of terror on grasping the tragedy still resound in my ears. Her lamentations and her grief were such that the scene haunts me even today when I think of the tragedy. Her brother went for a bath at the sea at five. At half-past seven she heard that he was dead. What indeed could be a sister’s shock and reaction to such an end?
The body was recovered the next day near the Harbour.
I can never get over this pain of parting to the last. The loss of my friend seared my heart whenever the thought recurs. I try to console myself as best as I can, under a heavy load of grief.
He is there, safe and secure, beyond the trials and tribulations of life.
Caught in their grip, should I really mourn his passing? I too shall get such deliverance one day.
I started thinking like this and returned slowly to my daily round of tasks and labors.
The period after I had completed twenty-two, was a turning point in my life in more ways than one.
There was a bolt from the blue one day.
I got a message from home, saying that my Father was ill with fever and that his condition was critical.
I planned to apply for leave the next day and go to Guduvancheri and to my duty, attending on my Father in all the ways I could. But early the next morning news reached me that he had passed away. I was comforted a little by their kind assurances. I went to my native village and performed the obsequies.
That was my first big bereavement. I returned to Mylapore and settled into my former routine again.