On that day, in that moment

5 min readJan 25, 2024

It didn’t catch the attention of any newspaper, or a social scientist, or those who study the pandemics. But on that day, at that moment, several deaths took place in far flung places, seemingly unconnected, even unnoticed by those of their families.

Two men who died had lived on the opposite banks of a river. Both were sugarcane farmers and their fortunes were tied to each others’ because of the weather that held equal hope and despair for both. But then one year the river changed its course, looping over one man’s sugarcane fields and leaving it on the other side. For years the river had been the boundary between the two, and now the man who had benefitted from the meandering ways of the river still saw it that way, while the man who had lost a large portion of his field and ready-to-harvest crop, saw it differently. The case had been dragged to the courts, and the judge had decreed that till the order was passed, the crop was to be sold and the money kept in the treasury. Even the judge knew that it would be years before the judgement would decide the share of each of the farmers. The story never found closure because the two farmers had died suddenly, joined in their fate as they had been in their fortunes. And along with them the judge died too.

In another place, deep in the jungles of a state that still harboured the tribals, a man on government duty would lose his way and as night fell, he would find a tribal with a bow and arrow, walking barefoot, guide him to his tent in pitch darkness, making him dodge tigers, snakes, and many other animals that would have certainly been disappointed by the arrival of this local. That tribal, safe in the land of his ancestors and in the wisdom that had kept them alive for generations, had suddenly dropped dead. At that very moment. Hidden from view and never expected back in the huts that they had lived in.

At that moment, in another time zone, just a step over the international boundaries between India and Bangladesh, a young couple were sitting in their hut. Cooking local vegetables stew in an earthen pot, and short-grained rice, and pounding chutney with a stone over another, they too dropped dead right in front of the fire they were sitting around, waiting for the guest from the other side of the border who had accepted their invitation only because they had agreed to cook only vegetables, and let go of the chance to cook their favourite fish that they only did when they had guests. But they were now dead, the dishes remained half cooked, the fire burnt itself out, and the fish that had been kept aside for the next day had been dragged out of water for nothing.

As the couple breathed their last, a few men and women sitting by the bank of a river far from the border let out their last breath and as they did, the boatman who was bringing in the boat to ferry them across the river in the deep of the night met with the same fate. The boat stayed midstream for a few moments, no longer guided or pushed by the oars that had softly slid out of the limp and lifeless hands of the boatman and floated downstream, followed by the boat and its lone occupant. The men and the women who had taken great care to wrap their stolen wares to make them look like infants in the hands of the women to help them escape any possible run-in with the law were now lying dead, the payout of their profession lying all around them. Goods that would no longer serve those who had bought them, nor those who had stolen them.

Another casualty on that day was a tall, dapper man who rode a horse, and moved around the village with a rifle strapped to his back, making sure that everything that he deemed his own was the way he wanted it. Stopping people who were new to the parts, and making it be known that he was the only one to be trusted if they needed anything, he had the demeanour of someone who could issue a threat as easily as he could extend a hand of friendship, at the same time, to the same person. When he rode over to a man who had come here on government work and set up a tent to stay in for a few weeks, he told him to find him if he ever lost anything, even a needle. Reassured because of the protection from a man who looked quite capable of defending his word and him, the government official was to soon learn that the only reason he had been asked to report it to him was because the horse rider was himself a dacoit and this was his territory. And anyone else who stole from here was questioning his authority. But the rider and the horse now lay dead, and his territory open to the vultures who had stayed hidden all the while, for them to swoop down and claim everything as their own. Or fight their own battles for it.

Dead at that moment was a jeep driver who claimed he could drive in the night with his eyes closed, and a cartographer who had stuffed his official truck with smuggled goods when he returned from Nepal after conducting a joint survey.

Many more had died, at that very moment. None mourned, none remembered. For it was at this moment that the man who had kept them all alive in his stories had died.

At that moment, he was the only one who was seen as having taken the last breath, the only one who had a family spend a night around his body, the only one who would be carried on the shoulders of those he had spent his life amongst, the only one who would have people streaming in to console and support his family.

But unknown to many, but remembered by some, and mourned by few, with him his stories had died too. And with the stories, every character that he had never let fall to the side even after decades of having seen them or met them, had finally fallen.

He had kept them alive with their names, the names of places where he had met them, the things they had shared with him, the things they had told him. When the last breath left him, it was as if all of them had lost everything that had been nurturing them. Even lost the will to live. It was as if a plug had been pulled out, and they all died.

On the day his stories died with him.