To the doors of death and back?……..A eeiree feeling.
When I look back at those instances in my life I still shudder. Those incidents were not exactly frightening, they were painful, they disturbed me for days together not exactly knowing what happened or how to react. Being the introvert that I am, I always kept these occurrences to myself and never tried to discuss them with my near and dear. One thing is for sure I matured with regards to the aspect of death. I was now experienced what it was to be at the doors of death, destiny of death was not yet ready for me, I was sentenced to live .
I was around 9 or 10 years old. We lived in dwellings called chawls at Chinchwad, Maharashtra , India. Chawls were a row of ten to eleven rooms on two sides, usually single 12 by 12 rooms with public toilets. Luxuries were a no, no. Amenities were lacking. The open grounds were our play areas and the sky our roof . Children learnt to swim in the brooks, streams or wells . Invariably they learnt themselves or some senior neighbors took the responsibility of teaching them to swim. Parents never bothered. I too wanted to learn to swim. It was a Sunday and I sneaked out after lunch with a group of my friends to go for a swim. The well was situated in the compound of a group of companies , Ruston& Hornsby. It could be accessed, there was no security. So around ten of us of similar ages went there , all of them who already knew to swim took off their clothes and took the plunge into the well. Three of us who yet couldn’t swim sat on the edge of the well and watched the others enjoy their swim. It was the Kaluram asked me to jump into the well, I wasnt sure, but Raju singh the naughty chirpy fellow came up with an idea. He brought a small piece of coir rope lying around and tied it around my waist. Paul was watching and said, now no worries even if you drown we can pull you out. I too took of my clothes, I wasn’t sure, the rope left after it was tied to my tiny waist wasn’t even two feet long, but friends were always loved and trusted at that age of innocence, no one ever thought ill of the other. So as Kaluram held the loose end of the rope I took the plunge , all clapped, as I touched the water I realised that the rope had left Kalurams hands. I plunged deep into the water, I couldn’t bring myself to the surface , I couldn’t swim. I could here the laughter of my friends, they were laughing at the rope being so short and having left Kalurams hands, they were laughing at my inability to swim, they were least concerned that I could drown, in fact they just never believed some one could actually drown. For me it was a sudden realisation that now I couldn’t be saved, I was guzzling in water, my thoughts went back to my one room house, my father must be reading the readers digest or the illustrated weekly and smoking his Charminar cigarette, Sunday being his weekly off. My mother for sure would be at the stone grinder sweating it out grinding for tomorrow’s idli breakfast, my older brother perhaps would be chatting with his friends, my younger brother most probably would be at home playing. Would I ever see them again, I wouldn’t know, even as my friends above were still heartily laughing seeing me drown, I could imagine my dead body being carried by my friends to my parents, I could see a shocked and distraught father, a chest thumping crying mother and inconsolable brothers, I was at deaths door, it was there open and welcoming me, it was inevitable, I had no option. It was then that I felt that sudden pull away from the door of death, a few seconds later I was back at the surface pouting out water and breathless. Kaluram and Raju singh had ultimately pulled me out, I was safe and alive, I was not dead. I let myself sundry, put on my clothes and walked back home. My father gave me an awkward look, had he suspected something, I will never know. Never did I discus this matter at home. The trauma, the fear lasted for weeks together, today even after 50 years that visit to the doors of death hasn’t faded from my memory.
The train incident.
I grew up studying quite well and joined the medical college to be a doctor,. I would travel by train to Pune and back daily , at times I would love at the hostel. There is the over bridge at Chinchwad rail station which on alighting at the station was used to cross over to the other side and walk back home. Normally we never took the bridge, we invariably walked across the rail tracks to the other side. Had to cross around five sets of rail tracks to the other side, it saved time and cut distance a lot. That day too I alighted the train and was crossing over. On the last track and oblivious to any train coming I had two more steps to cross the track, and then there was this thundering loud horn of the engine. The train coming on this track was perhaps just a few feet away from me and engine had blasted the horns . The site of the looming express train to the left of me , the harsh loud horn drained the life out if me, my movements were involuntary, just two steps and I had crossed the tracks, I could hear and feel the train pass behind me. I couldn’t walk any further . My legs were heavy and immovable, my brain wasnt working, my eyes couldn’t see anything, after a few moments the train had passed away, I managed to start walking, I was in a trance, I reached home. On seeing me, my father asked me what’s wrong, the fear on my face was too clear , I looked different, just scared. I told him about the incident, he said better be careful, use the over bridge henceforth, I nodded in approval. I had visited the doors of death once again. Just as in my previous experience I thought that I had no chance, destiny thought otherwise , to date I do not know how I did actually move those two steps to being alive today, it was as if death refused to accept me. Now I was sort of an experienced person visiting deaths house and being at his door which he never opened for me yet. For months the memories of that day haunted me. Today 40 years later that incident is still as clear in my mind eye as it was then. Yet another brush with death and back.
I was into my thirties and still the urge to learn to swim was lurking within. The fear of the first instance of drowning was past me, in fact I had two more incidences in between, both times in a river but was saved on time . Now I would visit the nearby swimming pool. I was a full fledged doctor working as a medical officer , married and two sons , was mature and contended. I had meanwhile taught both my son’s swimming early in their childhood as I did not want them to face any drowning situation ever. My father had passed away when I was in my final year of medical college . We were better of now with my wife too having a job and my mother wife and two children were living a happy life together . My brothers too were married and living separately. I was yet keen to learn to swim and I did . The daily visits to the pool with my colleague doctors was refreshing .I would swim by the poolside and be very careful. Then one evening I got drawn to the middle of the pool, suddenly I panicked , was unable to keep myself afloat , I began to drown. No one noticed, I frantically tried to keep myself afloat but in vain, I was sinking , the depth there was around 10 to 12 feet. All my colleagues were swimming around not noticing that I was missing. I touched the bottom and rose soon to the surface, I waved out at those near me that I was unable to keep myself afloat, they mistook it for a hello, they waved back at me smiling, I couldn’t even shout and tell them I am drowning ,I began sinking again, no strength in my arms or leg’s , I was back at the doors of death yet another time. I could recollect the smiling faces of the other swimmers even as I had waved to them for help, I hadn’t seen my friends as I had resurfaced, had they noticed that I was missing . Thoughts of me now not reaching home alive raced across my mind, my dead body being carried home, my wife and children in grief, my wailing mother, all these thoughts were crossing my mind. Today I wouldn’t be at the dinner table.There was no hope, this time death had surely got his grip over me, he was to have the last laugh, I was a goner. I had given up all hope, had gone limp as I touched the bottom of the pool. Then suddenly I saw two hands approaching my near dead body, one fair on the left another dark one to rhe right. These hands were like those of angels, they reached out to me, there was hope. Being a regular drowner. I was now experienced enough not to pull or lunge at them , I lay calmly at the jaws of death even as those hands pulled me away one took my left, the other my right, slowly I was being pulled back to the surface. It was a long journey, it took a life time, I resurfaced vomitting and gasping for breath. It was then I noticed ,the white hand of Dr Patil , my colleague and the darker hand was of Mr Rokade, the lifeguard. These two had pulled me back from the jaws of death. The doors of death were unable to open themselves to suck me in yet another time.
These major brushes with death were a jolt to me each time. I never have understood how death couldn’t manage to open his doors to let me in. It was like I was destined to live. Death tried his best, my sleeps were disturbed, mentally during those periods I was a wreck but one thing was for sure, these incidences where I was allowed to conquer death shaped me into a more understanding and mature human. The fear of death too is not there anymore for I have experienced it so many times, I know how it will be at his doors, I shall be calm to his welcome when my time arrives.
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