People who knew him well and people who didn’t know him too well were equally surprised to hear that ever obliging, ever smiling Suresh, not yet 35 years old, had died. And even more taken aback when they learnt he’d committed suicide. “Who am I? I’m a nobody. You’re the ‘maaliks’, the masters”, said without any rancor, had been Suresh’s favourite line. He considered himself a “nobody” because as he’d explain, it was his taqdeer – another favourite word with him — to be just an illiterate cobbler scrabbling a living by repairing shoes and other items like bags and umbrellas.

He was illiterate, true, but he was exceptionally skilled and intelligent and excelled as a “multi-tasker”.  A tree needs lopping? Suresh would do it. A door’s creaking? Call Suresh. Your flower pots need a fresh coat of paint? Suresh will do it. You need a reliable plumber, an electrician, a mechanic, a carpenter, a labourer, a mason, whoever? Suresh would find one within an hour and when you went to tip him he would always say, “koi nahi, zaroori hai? – never mind, is it necessary? —before accepting it graciously.

The more difficult and more challenging the task, the more he relished it. It was his spirited approach combined with a humble attitude, multiple skills and sunny nature which endeared him to everyone. He was also the unofficial policeman for residents who lived adjacent to or opposite his thiya — a small unenclosed cemented bit covered with a tarpaulin at the corner of the “kutcha” sidewalk running along the iron railing of a park. You didn’t have to tell him. A keen observer, he knew if no one was at home and kept an eye on the house. No wonder news of his death made such an impact. Contrary to his favourite avowal of “I’m a nobody”, he was “everybody” for everyone.

When, just a few days after Suresh’s death, his nephew Rampal began working at Suresh’s thiya, it saddened people. And disturbed Suresh. His spirit, Rampal recalls, arrived like a storm, kicking up the dust on the sidewalk. Rampal was shocked when Suresh’s spirit stood angrily before him. “Arre, tu kaise aagaya? Tere ko to hum jala ke aaye thay. Maine khud teri arthi ko kandha diya tha. Tero ko to Yama ley gaya tha?” — How have you come? We had cremated you. I myself had given a shoulder to your bier. Yama had taken you away.

Haan, lekin Yama ne mere ko wapis bhej diya” — Yama has sent me back. “This is my thiya and I myself will work here. I troubled my wife a lot, would drink up all the money. Now I will earn and give her the money. Tu hat yahan se hatja —you move off from here”. “But how can you work?” countered Rampal. “ You are now a “bhoot”— a ghost”.  “So what if I’m a ‘bhoot? I can still do things” responded Suresh’s irate spirit and almost as if to demonstrate, picked up Rampal and tossed him over the iron railing into the park.  

Many a time, the desire to return a borrowed object or somebody else’s article can also influence the actions of somebody who is long dead or has died recently. 

But just as Suresh’s spirit was determined to continue working at his thiya, Rampal too was determined not to give up the thiya to a bhoot. Finally, a deal was brokered between the two in which Rampal would do the work but occasionally allow Suresh’s spirit to participate. And most important, Rampal would give a percentage of his earnings to Suresh’s wife. This deal is just a few days old and it remains to be seen how it’ll work out.

But what emerged very clearly was that troubling his wife in his lifetime was weighing heavily on Suresh’s spirit and he wanted to make amends for it. This remorse, this “guilty conscience” syndrome is often a factor that holds back spirits from travelling to the other world or attaining mukti. A desire to pay back debts, especially monetary debts which could not be repaid because death intervened is another factor which prevents progression of the soul to higher realms. But in debt repayment cases I have often seen that the soul, once it is free of debt, moves onto the other world very easily.

In Dehra Dun, for example, there was a man who kneaded dough at a bakery. He’d taken an advance from the baker, to be adjusted against his salary, but died suddenly. His soul then worked at the bakery, kneading the dough invisibly, for the exact number of days that were required to square the advance. After that, neither the baker nor other co-workers ever saw his spirit kneading the dough. His accounts honourably settled, his soul at peace, he had obviously departed.

Many a time, the desire to return a borrowed object or somebody else’s article can also influence the actions of somebody who is long dead or has died recently. My father recounted how one winter evening he received a telegram — mobiles and STD had not yet been invented — from a friend who lived in an isolated cottage on a hillside between Mussoorie and Dhanolti  to urgently send up medicine for his asthma.

A taxi driver finally agreed to deliver the medicine. My father knew it would be terribly cold and windy on the kilometre or so the driver would have to walk after leaving the cab on the main road, so he lent him his warmest coat, a muffler and a monkey cap.  A little before dawn, there was a knock on our door — electric door bells were not common then. My father found his coat, muffler and monkey cap lying outside but no driver.

He’ll probably come back later for his payment thought my father.  When he didn’t, my father went to the taxi stand and was shocked to hear that the driver had died — a little before dawn he’d missed the road because of the mist and the taxi had hurtled into a khud. It was the same time that there had been a knock at our door and somebody had returned my father’s coat, muffler and monkey cap. Without a doubt it had been the conscientious driver’s spirit, come to return articles that were not his. As my father emphasised repeatedly, “A clear conscience gives one peace in this world and the next.”

 

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