Tuesday, 19 April 2011

A night at the Aryaghat

It was 18 April 2011. The weather in Kathmandu was pleasant due to occasional rain. I was queuing at a petrol pump for 4 hours to fuel my motorbike. My cell phone rang around 1 pm. My friend, Tanka said, ‘the dead body of Jhalak dai is coming tonight from Qatar’. First I could not believe what Tanka was saying. ‘What’re you saying?’  I asked.  He said, ‘Yes, Jhalak dai passed away one and half month ago in Qatar’.
I had never known that Jhalak dai had been to Qatar. I had known him as a hard working, sincere and cooperative handsome uncle in the community. I still remember his charming white face and activism in sports in the school where both of us studied. I had not seen him for seven years.
Tanks told me that Jhalak dai’s body was being brought at the Tribhuvan International Airport Kathmandu at 10.30 pm. From my residence, New Baneshwar, I drove my motorbike to the airport where I met Jhalak dai’s brothers (including TB Sir, my teacher), Kaki (his wife), son, sisters, daughter, and many other relatives. All were in a sad mood and waiting for his body. Kaki was speechless and her eyes red with full of tear. I could easily guess that she could not even think what was happening around her.
I thought that I should speak with her. But I could not even produce a word. I had no idea about what to say. I could not decide whether I should ask her about Jhalak dai.
There was a huge crowd of people waiting for their relatives coming from different gulf countries. There were four international flights landing within the interval of 15 minutes. Taxiwalas and hotelwalas were eagerly waiting for tourists with placard. It was ten 10.30 pm. The screen in the waiting room at the arrival terminal indicated that the Qatar Airways just landed. We started moving. After waiting for half an hour, a thin man on leather jacket came out the terminal and asked whether there were relatives of Jhalak dai. In a second, we surrounded him.
‘My name is Aftab Miya. I am Jhalak’s friend’, he introduced.
He also asked whether Jhalak’s brother and wife were present there.  After talking to us for a second, he kept a file out of his small bag and gave to Jhalak’s brother, TB sir. We rushed to the reporting office. The officer there had already prepared necessary documents. He went through all the documents related to Jhalak dai that Aftab had brought from Qatar. I saw that there were a letter of the Embassy of Nepal at Qatar, a postmortem report and a letter from the company where Jhalak dai worked for two years.
I was very curious to know about Jhalak dai’s death. Aftab was not sure about how Jhalak dai died. But he said that the company where he worked with Jhalak dai was not a good company. They were not paid salary regularly even if it was very low. They didn’t get any kinds of facilities as it was agreed with the manpower company. ‘The company owner was so bad man that he never gave leave to them’, Aftab said. He became so emotional when he started talking about Jhalak dai.
“He was so sincere, hardworking and cooperative’, he praised him.
 ‘The company was reluctant to send Jhalak’s body to Nepal. He was such a bad man’, Aftab continued.
‘We stopped working for some days in the company to force him to send Jhalak’s body to his relative in Nepal’.
It was already 11.45 when we finished paper works to receive Jhalak dai’s body. We had to get custom clearance as well. After looking at the postmortem report, the officer at the custom counter said, ‘Oh again, heart attack?’ ‘Workers do not receive insurance if they die of heart attack’, he added.
‘Oh my god! Jhalak dai’s family is not getting anything. How’ll Kaki, who doesn’t have any job, manage the expenditure of her children’s education?’ I asked myself.
The dream of Jhalak dai and his children to live happily after his return to the village with enough money was shattered with his death at his early 40s.
A policeman at the Airport said, ‘the number of dead body coming from gulf countries is increasing everyday’.
After checking all records, the custom officer took us to a cargo room where I saw a long red wooden box wrapped with white plastic. My body was trembling and eyes were full of tear. I was hurried to see Jhalak dai’s face. It was already midnight when we brought the coffin outside the terminal. Kaki, his children and other relatives started crying at the airport. Putting the coffin in a van, we rushed to Aryaghat, Pashupati where many people had come to attend funeral of Jhalak dai.
We opened the coffin with the help of a big sickle. There was another tinned box within the wooden box. The body was wrapped with a plastic bag and woolen clothe. I broke with tear when I saw his frozen body which was so hard and full of ice. We paid last tribute by putting flowers on his body.
Kaki could not hold herself. She was crying breathlessly. I felt as if the entire world was listening to her sympathetically.
How restlessly she must be waiting for Jhalak dai’s presence in her life? I thought when Jhalak dai’s body was burning in the fire at the Aryaghat. It was already 4.30am when his entire body changed into ash.