A Rite of Passage
Human life for the most of its parts is uneventful. This is a plain statement that I have made after having keenly observed how life is lived in this part of the world where I have been born and have grown up. Life is lived in a very ordinary fashion by most of us, and for most of us it is a rather long and uneventful process that follows a rather predictable course. But there, that is ‘mostly’ never completely. Curiously enough, life has its own share of surprises for every one of us. Some sudden changes, some unforeseen turns, some strange developments, or some experiences that strike one very much like the proverbial ‘bolts from the blue’! These unexpected events and happenings in life may turn out to be problems that need careful analysis and remedy. Before finding any solution to the problems, it is, as remarked by Melody Beattie, necessary for everyone to accept that problems are part and parcel of life. This gives a high degree of confidence to resolve the issues in life and find workable solutions.
My life as it is today is the result of a few such dramatic changes that happened in an otherwise ordinary course. When I look back upon them I can see that each experience was a rite of passage – from being a boy to becoming a man, a responsible human being. And the singular experience that transformed the playful child in me into a man was a tragedy that happened during my first year in the college- the death of my dear friend Pinto.
Pinto was my friend- that explains itself. There were no formalities of introductions, or of getting to know each other. In one of those early days in the college and hostel, he just walked into my life in the most natural and easy way, this room was next to mine in the hostel. We started to walk together to the college and back, had our evening tea together, and then, to my great joy, he had a passion for basket ball, that was almost mine! So, in a week or two into our college life, we found ourselves as the most natural friends.
Other than basketball, there were other areas where Pinto excelled. Though I had an upper hand in chess, he was always superior at cards. Above all, he was a brilliant student in the class. Naturally bright, he always had a question or two for every teacher. And those questions made sense!
But despite all his all round excellence, there were areas, or skills Pinto had not yet mastered. One such skill was swimming, which for me was a passion second only to basketball. Almost every day, after our game of basketball in the evening, we went to the nearby river to have our bath. I had always been a good swimmer, and usually led the band of boys in all kinds of somersaults in the water, while Pinto sat by the Shore, watching us with jealousy.
After constant pleas from Pinto, we finally took it upon ourselves to teach Pinto the great art of swimming. And I found an easy and effective way of teaching him. We always carried our basketball to the waters with us after the play, and I asked Pinto to cling to the basketball with both hands, while I showed him how to float in the water using his feet. This really worked, and by next day Pinto learned how to hold the ball with one hand and swim with the others, though his fast work in the water was still clumsy! And thus, within a few days, Pinto started following us with his basket ball into deeper waters, though I always kept him under my watchful eyes.
Pinto had always been a good learner.
Then came that day, it was a public holiday. It was also the day of a local festival in the nearby temple. So we stopped the play quite early, and went to the river and settled for a quick dive and prepared to go for the festival. But Pinto chose to stay behind. He told us that he did not want to come for the festival. He would rather go to his room after the bath and try to finish some work he had to complete by the next day. He also had to do some heavy washing before he finished his bath. So, we rushed back to the hostel, and while going, I turned back to give him my usual piece of advice. Don’t venture into deeper waters; stay close to the shore. And I added something more to the usual words. I asked him to finish his washing and stop bathing, and go over to the hostel at the earliest. But I wonder if he really heard.
We had a pretty good time in the temple. It was filled with devotees. It was going to be a great evening, and the crowd was growing bigger and bigger. As we were jumping into the evening crowd, something caught our attention. It was the short and insistent whistle of the fire force. We could see it was moving towards our hostel. We wondered what went wrong. And it was just curiosity that pushed us out of the crowd and set us running to the hostel. We reached there within some twenty minutes. But it was really late. When we reached the hostel ground which is close to the river, I saw a small crowd gathered there. We rushed to the spot. I squeezed myself through the ring into the open space inside, and there I saw Pinto lying on the ground eyes closed. Water still dripping from his body, but his body had already become numb and cold. And a haze enveloped my eyes.
I do not remember much of what followed. Something had started growing heavy inside me, it was weighing me down. There were other boys in the river. They had seen Pinto floating in the waters as he used to do, but close to the shore. But when they again looked for him after a few minutes, they saw only the ball drifting around. Pinto was not to be seen. A frantic search followed, some boys dived into every possible spots, and finally, the fire force arrived and they soon lifted him out of the waters. He must have suddenly lost hold of the ball and sunk into the waters. It was not deep where they found him. Pinto had stayed close to the shore. But not close enough.
The following day, we went to the funeral. A big crowd of students and staff from the college was there, I remember. The funeral ceremony, the tomb, the last prayers, and have only a vague memory. But even to this day I very clearly remember the wet eyes of his elder sister and the crying face of his mother and the lost look in the eyes of his father. Pinto was their only son. But, accepting the reality, I consoled myself thinking the words of John Martin Fischer that death is unavoidable.