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“Because I Would Not Stop For Death…”

Henri Cartier Bresson’s famous photographs of Mahatma Gandhi’s Funeral

A man died recently.

My father had known him for many years. The man was one of his mentors and had helped him professionally on occasion.
I had met him many times.

I liked him.

I heard the news from my father over the phone; he happened to be travelling at the time. He had already organised things for me using his trusty mobile. The plan was that a friend of his (who also knew the deceased); would pick me up and we were to drive down to the funeral together to pay our respects. They would take the body from his house to the crematorium at three.
We got the directions to his house from his assistant of many years. It wasn’t very far from my office. It had rained heavily the previous night. We got into the car and started our journey. The roads as expected; were inundated with water from the overflowing drains. A little sewage here and there was joining the  water and making driving very difficult. The day felt damp and somehow slippery. The side of my friend’s car was stained with diagonal streaks of mud and sewage. He had just cleaned it that morning. A few minutes after we left, the sky rumbled and threatened to moisten us a little more.
We stopped and bought a funereal garland on the way.
It started to drizzle.

Not enough to turn on the wipers at full speed, but just about enough to see them run across the wind shield occasionally, leaving turgid arcs of dust and water. It was about two thirty in the afternoon. There shouldn’t have been much traffic on the streets at that time; yet there was plenty. Cars of different sizes and prices contested the roads with motorcycles and cyclists, all moving in wildly different trajectories; despite intending to head in essentially the same direction. A motorcyclist lost his balance and bumped up against the headlight, cracking it just a little. We found out when we stopped the car to investigate. It took us a while to rejoin the river of metal and noise.
It was not easy.

The traffic grew into a multicoloured, viscous thing; as we went further. We frequently stopped in the middle of the road. My companion’s left leg ached from holding the clutch for so long. I could have offered to drive, but I did not. It didn’t seem like the most intelligent thing to do under the circumstances. We almost ran over a few pedestrians. They did not seem to notice; as they chatted on their mobile phones – oblivious, laughing and arguing. The rain eased up and then stopped completely. The clouds still looked pregnant. The vehicles did not become faster. We slowly passed by the incomplete pillars of a bridge which was abandoned before it even existed. It stood in the middle of the road defiantly and uselessly, begging to be rammed into.

Yet no one did.

At least that day. Or at least just then.

The dust that rose from the pits of incomplete columns filled the air. The humidity weighed the dust down and transformed into even more grime that coated everything. Pits dotted the road like pock marks; which rocked the vehicles as they drove over them. We passed the arches dedicated to the memory of a dead politician and entered the suburb that we were destined for. Then everything stopped.

The cars, buses, bikes and cycles all froze. For the first time since we had left; there was no movement on the road. People did not try to squeeze past each other in an endless competition to get somewhere; but arrived at a kind of stillness. On the opposite side of the road, vehicles drove at a steady, stately speed. They came in all sizes, shapes, colours and prices; forming a perfect, single line of automobiles. They seemed to shame all of us on this side with their decorum and decency. We all breathed in the smoky, wet air and looked at them pass. A few of us turned off our engines – almost out of respect. A few looked away; as if to look at those cars and bikes pass in the way that they did; was more than they could take. Others took advantage of the break and called someone on their mobile phones – perhaps their loved ones. We were all strangely quiet; but knew that the noises and the bustle would start again. But no one wanted to be the first to begin again. We saw that all the traffic was emerging from a street a little further down; on our left. After sometime, perhaps a few minutes or more; the last vehicle emerged from the little street and was not followed by any more. It took a few seconds for everyone to realise that we were now free to move forward. The first horn blared, the first driver yelled and the boxes of metal and glass began to flow once again.

The Deceased lived on that street to our left.
We were too late. They had been waiting for someone important to the family to arrive; perhaps a relative or a close friend. They had carried the body to the crematorium in one of those many vans and cars that passed us by. We did not know his family; so we hung the garland on gate and walked back to the car; which we had parked three streets away in anticipation of a lack of space on this one. In the car, we discussed the Man; all that he had achieved and the things he had left unfinished. We passed by the crematorium – it was on our way back. We considered going in; but we did not. We had no need to. Anything we could say or do would be insignificant. A City had just paid a great and humbling tribute; (perhaps the only one it was capable of paying) to a Man it considered important – It stopped.

Henri Cartier Bresson’s famous photographs of Mahatma Gandhi’s Funeral


2 thoughts on ““Because I Would Not Stop For Death…”

  1. Reblogged this on Maximilland.

    Posted by Mihlanmax | January 31, 2014, 7:00 pm
  2. Reblogged this on ARCHITAMENT.

    Posted by archiabyssniya | February 9, 2014, 10:13 pm

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