Partha Chakraborty is an Indian-born immigrant; a naturalized US Citizen since 2018. Educated in India and at Cornell University, Partha is currently an entrepreneur in water technologies, Blockchain, and wealth management in the US and in India. The views expressed are his own.
It was another hot and muggy afternoon in Kolkata; the year, 1993. After a day of playing soccer a few boys with scraggy outcrop on their chin gathered around the greenish water of a pond inside a walled compound. Testosterone would have been on an overdrive, but for the fact that the boys were certifiably nerds, all members of a geekdom devoted to advanced math and mischiefs at Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata. And there I was, underwater, walking away from the shore in muddled footsteps over slippery surface of the bottom, hoping that I was, in fact, moving towards the edge. When I was fished out, unconscious, and then resuscitated, I took half dismay in the realization that the soccer tournament would no longer be eligible to be named in my memory. An “almost” tournament is never fun.
I first saw somebody die in front of my eyes a decade before that. I was standing by the side of train tracks at Khardaha station on the outskirts of Kolkata, waiting for a train to pass so I could cross over. About three or so feet to my left stood a man, otherwise completely unremarkable, bushy moustache with office-worker standard earth colored shirt and dark trousers. I was awakened from stupor by a commotion as the train came hurtling barely three feet ahead of me. Startled, I look to find the man, or the lack of him. As the train moved to a screeching-and-clanking halt I found him in front of me on the ground –all two pieces of him – cut neatly into two at his navel. I remember his expressionless face, all white and drained of blood, nothing of the man moved again. No yelling from the crowd seemed of note as I slipped back into my reverie, tiptoed over the dead man, crossed more tracks and walked home.
A year and a half before the drowning incident, I got down from a bus early evening and stepped forward to cross the road and enter Max Mueller Bhavan of Kolkata – I was headed for Goethe Institute, a German language school. Somehow, I slipped and fell; before I could get up, a minibus came hurtling by from my left on a road those days with no divider, no street lights and no lane markers. I remember the next sequence vividly, even if all of it took fraction of a second. As I fell on the road, I could see one big tire rotating in front of me, in what seemed like ridiculously slow speed. I fixated on a set of nuts on its inner rim – hexagonal in shape, and slightly rusted with splotches of dark– and followed it slowly downwards before starting afresh with another set of nuts. After some time, I got bored and looked away and started thinking happy thoughts. Next thing I remember was mad cacophony of screams from the driver at top of his lungs hurtling choicest curses in the crudest language – he did make an honest effort to stop after being startled to find me on the road around a blind curve on a quiet, posh, residential street. I was completely unhurt, so I got up, dusted myself and walked briskly across to a class I was already late for.
Prior to my open-heart surgery in March 2009, I researched the process doctors use to stop a beating heart and get it functioning again, just out of morbid curiosity. They cut open your chest, and insuring you are appropriately connected to a heart-lung machine, they soak your beating heart in a solution that stops the muscles. At the end of the procedure, they wash the heart scrupulously and put back, start with an electric shock if necessary. This is essentially the same procedure used to execute people – first numb their senses, then inject a solution to their blood making heart muscle to collapse. The contraption used for an open-heart surgery looks similar to the ones you see inside an execution chamber – a very narrow movable bed to which you are tied tightly, and a perpendicular resting place for your hands to be tied tightly away from your body…. enough of stupid parallels.
Inside of the operating theater at UCLA is nothing like an execution chamber, of course. During my second heart surgery– the remaining complications from open-heart surgery forced me to come back to the same operating theater two months later – I was playing an eager tourist of sorts. The room was very bright, I was tied to the gurney while two junior anesthesiologists were needling my hands. Dr. Aman Mahajan, anesthesiologist-in-charge in both procedures, had his face an inch over mine observing me and we were talking shop. I pointed to the bath tub on my right that could be filled with liquid nitrogen should there be any need and made a lame joke about it. He commented that I must be remembering it from the first time as it was used for the ten minutes I was cryogenically frozen. I remembered nothing, I must have passed out before I entered the operating room. His retort was swift and firm – he had never had a patient pass out before he had had a chance to observe them fully awake and engaged in a conversation as s/he passes into sleep. The fact that I lost about ten minutes of memory is fully consistent with existing data for patients under long-duration anesthesia, especially if they had a liquid nitrogen bath cooling off their brains. I guess I was much closer to death than I bargained for.
My affair with my death is an open secret – she is my ultimate paramour, my last affair that shall never be repeated, highest high of an escape that can never be usurped no matter what. I did not have to be an adult to know she always had a thing for me. She almost had me even with the umbilical cord attached, that greedy woman. I was ‘born’ all blue as I was not breathing, a health aide (“ayah”) breathed into me for forty-five minutes till I cried. Death came lasciviously close when I, at age eight, had serious pneumonia and almost died. Death kept her pursuit of me, unburdened by history. If this is a game, I am pretty good at it. I enjoy it when she gets vindictive and tries to scare, a neurotic jilted lover she is.
Death has a long memory, even I have no illusion about it. I have a premonition of our first – and only – consummation of a lifelong tryst. It will not be a first dance to soft melody – she will rock me, she will shake me, twist me mercilessly, the soft moans of pain will actually be writhing throbs of convulsion, I will be a mess with all kinds of body fluids as one after the other, my organs will succumb to her deviant play. Unless death becomes me with the whiff of a sword or the burst of a well-aimed gunshot, it will be humiliating – a revenge for having escaped her clutches for so long a time. Frankly, I do not even think I will be demanding to be inside her – coitus be damned. I will be helpless, completely servile to medicine and mercy, numb and pitied, as I choke in my own spit and my lungs explodes. If it were a movie, the final love of my life would let me ease myself into her arms, teasing my face with a touch of her handkerchief as she brings her red lips closer to mine, ever so tender; in reality, I will barely feel the gauge wiping away blood oozing at the corner of my lips. In the movie, incense burning brings serenity, in reality, it will be the smell of putrid body fluid in a room with barely any ventilation.….
I hope my lover will be tender on roughed-up remains but that will be too hypocritical after all the troubles I gave her. She will have my compliments though for her single-minded obsession – she really made me look worth her years’ wait.
So long lover, till we meet for the only time.