Five (Indian) People You Meet (Near) Heaven : (Decidedly Not) By Mitch Albom

Right vs Wrong

The situation was getting from bad to worse. Quite like the colossal traffic jams at the Delhi-Gurgaon toll plaza, the Pearly Gates were clogged with huge masses of the Formerly-Living (a.k.a Newly-Dead) waiting in line to gain entry to the domicile of their After-Life. The common wisdom is – if you lived how God intended you to during your living years, you got a free passage to Heaven. If not, then off you went to Hell, shunted to that nasty town where the air was smoggy, people were petty, crimes were common, women were unsafe, prices were high, garbage stacked up in piles, roads were broken, and power went off frequently (Kindly refrain from making mental comparisons with places you may already know on earth)

The entry protocol for the Twin Cities was quite simple – When earthlings conked off and went ‘upstairs’, they were cheerfully greeted at the Reception counter at the Pearly Gates, welcomed to the After-World, and made to fill out the paper work. Quite like Immigration and Customs at an airport, only infinitesimally kinder. Lately, however, an IT systems upgrade at Pearly Gates Immigration had resulted in snags in processing paperwork, leading to long lines and delayed sorting of people between Heaven and Hell.

Plenty of folks were left waiting outside the Gates, many for months now, wondering when their case was going to get sorted. Here is a scene observed a couple of days ago as people waited in line.

Pandit Ravi Shankar, world renowned sitarist : (mumbling to himself) Must they make us wait outside for so long? I haven’t seen this kind of chaos since I left India for the US in the 60s. Totally unacceptable. How many more days will this take? Perhaps I should walk up ahead and see what the hold up is.

Starts walking slowly, dragging his 40 kilo sitar in tow.

Yash Chopra, famous film director : (spotting Panditji, as he himself waits in line) Oh, hello, hello! Panditji, HELLO! (Nudges his friend in saffron robes and dark sunglasses) Look, it’s Pandit Ravi Shankarji! They must all be falling like ninepins down there!

Bal Thackaray, politician (peering in the direction Yash Chopra is pointing) : Arrey, what a surprise! It’s Pandit Ravi Shankar!

Panditji notices two excited octogenarian slowly flailing their tired arms. He smiles in recognition and stumbles towards them with his 40 kilo sitar.

Panditji : Hello, Gentlemen!

Bala Saheb : Jai Maharashtra, Panditji! How are you here?

Panditji : Heart.

Bala Saheb : Me, too!

Yashji : (sheepishly) Dengue. Anyway, delighted to see you here, Panditji! In fact, seeing you here, I got reminded of a poem from my new film. Arz hai – Teri aankhon ki namkeen…

Panditji : (coughing loudly) Yes, very nice, I am sure. Can you hold this sitar please?

Yashji : (disappointed at having to stop) Err…yes, yes, of course.

Panditji :  Thank God for your colourful robe and sunglasses, Bala Saheb. I wouldn’t have recognized you otherwise! You remind me so much of George Harrison sometimes, you know, during his hippie phase. But how come you both are still stranded here? Have they not taken you in yet?

Bala Saheb : Dekh lo! This line seems to move slower than the Harbour Line in Mumbai under Congress rule. Height of inefficiency!

Yashji : They tell us it’s some computers issue. It has been a few months for me already! Like the lines from my movie song – Yeh kahan aa gaye hum, yun hi…

Bala Saheb : (clearing his throat loudly) Yes, yes, let’s give Panditji a place to sit first.

Yash Chopra stops his recital dejectedly and readies a folding chair for Ravi Shankar.

Bala Saheb : So, Panditji, what news from Down Under?

Panditji : Hein? Oh, I believe Ricky Ponting retired.

Yashji : Hein?

Panditji : I am sorry, that is the only news I know from Australia.

Bala Saheb : Australia? Who wants to know about Australia?

Panditji : But you were the one who asked me about Down Under!

Bala Saheb : (laughing) Oh, I meant Down Under…on Earth!

All three men laugh and immediately break into coughing spams just like old people do.

Panditji : (recovering) That was funny, Bala Saheb! Anyway, in terms of news, well, Obama won. Rest, I am not aware of what has been happening in India. As you know, I never followed Indian politics or Hindi films.

Yashji : (looking disappointed) I hope my last film did well. You would have liked it. I filmed it in London, keeping people like you in mind. You know, the NRI-type.

Bala Saheb : I wonder what Raj and Uddhav are up to. Did you get coverage on them in your California newspapers?

Panditji : (almost about to roll his eyes) No, sadly, no.

 

The three are soon disturbed by loud ma-behen gaalis sounds coming from near. They turn to look at the commotion.

Panditji : (wincing at the foul language) Holy Raag Maalkaus! Who is that nasty man?

Yashji : (shaking his head) He has been busy fighting with everyone since he got here. He even got into fisticuffs with his brother as soon as he arrived! Ever since, he hasn’t stopped throwing his weight around.

Panditji : Why must Indians behave like this when they are outside their country? All these foreigners waiting patiently in line must think we are uncivilized fools! Do you know him?

Yashji : (sheepishly) Unfortunately, yes. That’s Ponty Chadha. Billionaire businessman, political player and film financier. We tried to explain to him that we are not in India any more, and that he needs to be respectful of his surroundings, but no, he just wouldn’t listen! He even said – ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ – to Bala Saheb and me! Can you believe it?

Bala Saheb : Bloody North Indian crook! If this were Mumbai or if I had my Sena up here, I would have knocked some sense of civility into that fool!

Panditji : Looks like he is headed our way.

The bearded man strides towards the three old men.

Ponty Chadha, businessman : Myself Ponty. (looks questioningly at Ravi Shankar as he extends his hand for a hand shake)

Panditji : (folding hands politely) I am Ravi Shankar, a musician. (Adding) Heart.

Ponty : Gunshot hole in my heart. By my own brother. (Spits angrily)

The two octogenarians and the single nonagenarian cringe outwardly.

Bala Saheb : (wistfully) I miss my Mumbai…

Yashji : (dolefully) And I miss my Switzerland…

Ponty : (crudely) Oye, I miss my Butter Chicken-shiken.

Panditji : (thinking in his mind) I should have just stayed away from these philistines.

 

A young girl in her early 20s gently shakes the foursome out of their reverie.

Young Girl with no identify : (excitedly) Hello, Sirs! How lucky of me to have found such famous people here!

Yashji : Hello. Who are you? And aren’t you too young to be here?

Young Girl : (Sighs) Yeah, I thought so too, but, what to do. You know, I am not even sure what my name is any more! People have given me strange names recently. They have been calling me Nirbhaya, Or Damini. Some named me Amaanat. I think my real name is Darpana, you know, like ‘mirror’?

Bala Saheb : You sound important. Someone like us.

Young Girl : (strongly shakes her head) Quite the contrary, Sir! Until just a few days ago, I was a nobody, living a life of no consequence like a billion other Indians. On no one’s radar or agenda. I didn’t matter.

Panditji : What happened then?

Young Girl : Then I got raped, beaten, left to die on the side of the road. I fought hard to stay alive for weeks in hospitals. But sometimes your will can wage only a losing battle against fate…I just got here this morning.

Ponty : You got raped and killed? By how many? What did they do to you? (Points at her flimsy hospital gown) Is that what you were wearing when it happened? Tell us everything!

The two octogenarians and the single nonagenarian stare hard at Ponty.

Yashji : (shaking his head in agony) What has our country come to? This is heartbreaking! Not sure how things got so bad and people so evil. In all my films, I have never even shown people slapping each other!

Young Girl : I know, Yashji! After all, you have only ever talked about the purity and beauty of women. Women whose greatness is directly proportional to the sacrifices they make. Whose identities are inherently intertwined with their men. There is no ugliness in a woman’s world in your films. Everything is peaches and cream. If there are tears, they are usually happy ones because the woman gave up something to make her man happy. And that ‘something’ is usually something extremely important to her, like her identity, or her life. After all, that is what makes her a woman! That is the reality you have served to the nation. It is not your fault if your nation’s reality didn’t quite turn out that way, is it?

Bala Saheb : (agreeing vociferously) And that is why he was always called the greatest film maker in India! And I have always been such a proud supporter of his work.

Young Girl : Just like I have been of yours, Bala Saheb! You have never pulled back from fighting for what you felt was right. If someone didn’t do the right thing, you have thrashed him – you know, to teach the person a lesson for his own good! If someone took something from you, you snatched it back and kicked that person’s teeth in. You are the real hero – the rule-maker, the judge, the jury and the punisher all rolled in one! You make it look cool when the fist does all the talking. Men idolize you. From you they learn that violence is ok if you want to take back what you feel is your God given right. Machismo rules, and everyone else must quiver in its presence!

Panditji : (shaking his head in abhorrence) But how can the fist be the right answer to anything in a democracy? Really, you people just don’t know how to run your country! You never have, and you never will! Uncivilized barbarians! Why else do you think I stayed away from your messed up country?

Young Girl : Exactly the right description, Panditji! Messed up! People like you and me wonder why ‘they’ have messed things up so bad. We keep complaining that ‘they’ don’t know how to run the country. Or that ‘they’ break laws with impunity. ‘They’ are corrupt. ‘They’ are morally bankrupt. ‘They’ rape. ‘They’ can’t control crime. ‘We’, on the other hand, are so much better than ‘them’. But, what can ‘we’ do? Even if ‘we’ were to try to bring about change, ‘they’ have made things so filthy that there is no possible way ‘we’ can make any difference! And so, ‘we’ sit at home helplessly and watch angrily. From a safe distance. ‘We’ sit and watch ‘them’ destroy what is ‘ours’. In fact, watch ‘them’ destroy ‘us’.

The old men stare at the young girl. All but Ponty Chadha, who is not to be browbeaten.

Ponty : (points his finger at the girl and laughs) Waah…what great sermonizing! My dear, money and power are the name of the game in India! You are as good as shit if you have neither. The rich rule the poor. The men rule the women. The powerful rule the weak. That’s the way even God intended it to be, dearie. ‘You’ can complain about ‘them’ as much as you wish, but if given an opportunity, ‘you’ would want to be ‘them’! In fact, ‘you’ become ‘them’ when you have to. Like, when you set up a business. Or buy property. Heck, try getting a passport without being like ‘them’! Or a driver’s license. You become ‘them’ when you jump a red light. Or get caught by a cop while doing so!

Young Girl : That is not true. That can’t be true! ‘We’ don’t want to be like ‘them’. All ‘we’ want is for ‘them’ to be like ‘us’! Isn’t that fair? Isn’t that what is taught to us by our parents? By our society? By all religions? That Good wins over Evil? Right over Wrong? Truth over Injustice?

Bala Saheb : (wonders aloud, nonplussed) And yet…

Yashji : (talks slowly) …and yet, it only happens in films…

Panditji : (despondently) …not in real life.

Young Girl : (sighs loudly) Well, we are all going to meet the Maker soon. Let’s ask Him what the deal is.

Ponty : Yes, ask Him why the four of us are all here after living a full life – rich, successful, powerful. And you are here at 23. I think He has some answering to do.

 

Comments

comments

56 thoughts on “Five (Indian) People You Meet (Near) Heaven : (Decidedly Not) By Mitch Albom

  1. Rachna Parmar

    More than God each one of us has a lot of introspecting to do. Not only men but women become equally bad when powerful. Are things better for women under Mamata or JJ or Mayawati? This is not a gender issue alone but a social and cultural issue as well as a law and order and judicial issue. You delivered some fabulous punches covering major aspects. Well written!

    Reply
    1. Rickie Khosla Post author

      Frankly, I don’t even know what is right and wrong any more. Everything seems relative and on a scale. Like the Young Girl says, our Gods (or whoever is running this show) have a lot of explaining to do. Things are way too muddled.
      Thanks for reading…and absorbing the post!

      Reply
      1. Rachna Parmar

        I have the same feeling. What is this mess? How do we get out of it? Everything needs a monumental rebooting. Where and how to begin? :(. Just like the girl in your story says — we look at “them” to do something. But even when each of us does something, it will still take ages for the society to transform. Mindsets don’t change overnight. What more can I say that has not been said! I don’t think I have the stomach for any more posts.

        Reply
  2. renusethi

    Where are my fav. dev anand and shammi kapoor…….???

    I simply loved the way the grl says that we don’t want to be like them….but they shd be like us….bravo

    Reply
    1. Rickie Khosla Post author

      Thanks for reading, as always. Not a happy post to write when the only ‘wisdom’ left to share is that sometimes there are no answers. This, considering there has never been a dearth of gyan in the blogosphere!

      Reply
  3. Priyanka

    Thought-provoking, but in the most unnatural manner.

    There is no real answer, is there? We’re all just going to wait for “them” to do something about it. Its a sorry situation, but all “we” can do is change what is around us. Everyone has to make a change in their own 2 feet of living space.

    I can’t think of any other way to clean up the huge pile of mess we have hoarded for years now!

    Reply
    1. Rickie Khosla Post author

      I don’t think that’s a bad place to start! If a billion plus people sorted out the 2 feet of space around them, imagine the ground we would cover!
      Thanks for reading and your kind feedback!

      Reply
    1. Rickie Khosla Post author

      I should attempt a longish piece and see what I can do with it. I have thought about this in the past.
      But first, I should attempt a movie script for Akshay Kumar! :)
      Thanks for reading, as always!

      Reply
  4. Sharmila

    Vivid imagination coupled with dark humour…fantastic read ! Did you say it was long? Didn’t realize for sure ..Get ready for this being one of the most shared posts Rickie.

    Reply
    1. Rickie Khosla Post author

      Not quite sure how good or bad I am at writing satire, but you sure know how to pay a compliment! Thanks so much for your kind words! I am glad you liked the post.

      Reply
  5. C. Suresh

    Wow! Rickie! That was one hell of a post! Looked to start humorously and then the sting in the tail!

    Btw – the last dialogue has Ponty saying ‘ We three…’ – There are 4 right? (Damn my editorial eyes :) )

    Reply
    1. Rickie Khosla

      Good catch, Suresh! I will correct it as soon as I am back online.
      Thanks for reading and for the encouraging feedback, as always! Since I had been off of my blog for so long, I felt it deserved at least a 2000 word post….hehheh. :)

      Reply
  6. sanjiv mimani

    extremely well written ! am sure posts like this will provoke people to think about these issues even more !

    Reply
    1. Rickie Khosla Post author

      Thank you, my most ardent reader!
      I had mulled this kind of a post for weeks – something like a tribute to some of the notable celebrities who passed away in 2012 – but after the whole Nirbhaya tragedy, this story had to take a different complexion.

      Reply
  7. Shuchi

    Rickie, this was so well written …. its not easy to capture the breadth of India’s problems. And yes, ‘we’ do feel so helpless about what we can do to fix the issues. It took us generations to get to this point, and will take a long time to bring a change in culture and mindset and people’s thinking. That’s what is so depressing; I still see the same kinds of stories in the papers every day after all the uproar that’s been happening. There is really no fear of the consequences either. Hopefully, this whole episode will at least bring about some incremental changes to the laws in India.

    Reply
    1. Rickie Khosla Post author

      Thanks for reading, Shuchi!
      My God…if it takes a few more generations before we can even afford to call ourselves ‘civilized’, we are done for.
      I hope the new ‘connected’ generation effects things faster, but more importantly, positive change rather than negative. The government that could lead them has failed. The media is a mixed bag…which means most people are now left to their own devices (quite literally)!

      Reply
  8. ddeepa

    Nice one Rickie. If only it was so easy to show each the mirror and talk about what’s right and wrong. But who’s got time for that. Sigh.

    Reply
    1. Rickie Khosla Post author

      Perhaps the only changes that need to happen is more talking rather than yelling. And more talking ‘with’ rather than talking ‘at’!
      Thanks for your kind words, as always!

      Reply
  9. Sejal

    You know what I loved most about this? Apart from the idea, that this girl, this amazing girl, who said with a clear head in her statement after a horrific ordeal ” they were calling each other by name. These are their names… ” This girl has spirit. And in your post, her soul, now free from everything, is the voice of positivity, enthusiam, of everything spirited. I don’t know if you intended it but it has come through anyway.

    Reply
    1. Rickie Khosla Post author

      I wanted to leave the interpretation to the reader. I am glad that you felt the way you did after reading!
      Thanks so much for reading and your feedback. Truly appreciate it!

      Reply
  10. Amit

    I think there is no heaven or hell otherwise that girl would not have seen hell in her lifetime here on Earth. Gods left us long time back, deeply ashamed of the monster they have created.

    Reply
    1. Rickie Khosla Post author

      Thanks, Priyaa, for stopping by! Hope to see you visit often. Would love to have your thoughts on more of my posts… It’s always great to get feedback from new friends!

      Reply
  11. phoenixritu

    This one started with a smile and then, wham, the sting! Brilliant writing Rickie. I loved it

    Reply
    1. Rickie Khosla Post author

      Thank you, Ritu. I think the Nirbhaya episode shook us all in different ways. But we have all been the same in relegating it to the pile of forgotten memory. Such is the pity.

      Reply

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