When she first uttered those words, I never imagined she meant them literally. At that time so much was happening in our lives that this one ambiguous sentence didn’t mean much. It lost its significance in the more important things happening between us, things that distracted…
…Like her first touch – when I held her hand and felt the smallness and softness of it.
…Their very first stroll in the shadows by the moonlight.
…Watching her in the pink shades of her dress in which she looked so beautiful.
…Getting drenched in the rain, being aware of no one, just her.
…Everyone looking at her, but she aware, only of me.
…And the flowers that she brought for me along with her smiles.
Her mere presence could change the ambience of Boat Club where I was a regular – it looked different. And it wasn’t just the Boat Club, everything in my world seemed different.
I remembered rowing on that moonlit night, unmindful of anything because she was with me. Afterwards, when she noticed the blisters in my hand she had tears in her eyes. Automatically she had taken my hands in hers and kissed those blisters. And I felt the pain subside. The feel of her lips on my hand lingered, long after.
I discovered joys as they unwrapped like gifts in wrappings, bit by bit and so teasingly.
Some moments are more poignant because of which they become special. The beautiful things I shared with her remain as sharp in my memory as if they had occurred yesterday. And they had the power to take me, in one fleeting instant, to where they happened – for me to feel the fragrance of the surroundings, the intensity of the sunshine, the texture of clothes, the details of grass on ground and her in every conceivable hue. Memories related to those intense moments made me feel like a time traveller. While most other memories faded away, these moments never lost their freshness, they remained as sharp as ever.
They would live in my mind forever, just like she wished to live forever.
“I wish to live forever!” On our wedding night she repeated the words.
But the promise of the night once again diluted those words. And I forgot all about her strange wish.
When we went to see the Taj Mahal on our honeymoon, its beauty in the backdrop of the classic love story against which it stood knocked me with its impact.
“What are you thinking?”
“It’s a strange monument.”
“Strange? Or beautiful?”
“Strange because I almost feel its sadness. It’s because it’s in the memory of death.”
“But it’s in memory of love!” I said.
“No. It’s predominantly a tragic love story, which is why I don’t find it exciting.”
“I find it beautiful-”
“Death makes me uncomfortable. Let’s go.”
On her insistence, we left. I was disappointed because I wanted to stay there for long.
“Can’t it be conquered?” She asked on their way back.
“Death. Sorry to let you down-”
“Oh come on… I can understand how you feel.”
“But I can’t understand how anyone can celebrate death. I wish to live forever, and be with you.”
I wanted to smile but when I saw her, my smile froze. Her tears were trickling down her cheeks. It was then I understood that she was speaking of immortality, physical immortality – and she was serious!
“Everyone has to die one day,” I said. “We are no exceptions.”
“I wish to be.” She said between her sobs.
“But I’m a writer, not a scientist. If you wish to live forever, you married the wrong man.”
“Wrong?” She laughed. “You don’t decide professions before you fall in love. Besides you are imaginative! To overcome death, all you need is imagination.”
Her laughter encouraged me but her continued persistence made me a little uncomfortable. I was ill equipped when it came to overcoming death.
“Promise me you’ll find a way. I’m afraid of death. Afraid of losing you. I don’t wish to die. I wish to live forever.”
“I can’t promise you something I may not accomplish,” I said. “And it’s because I love you, I can’t make false promises.”
“That’s why you are my hope. But say you’ll try.”
And she had snuggled up to me.
I had got up from my bed in the middle of the night, unable to sleep. I logged on my computer and typed “fear of death” in my Google search bar. One of the results that caught my attention was:
Necrophobia, another name for the fear of death and fear of dead things, is the very common. This surprisingly common phobia causes countless people needless distress.
She was not alone.
The phobia wasn’t unusual. Millions of people shared her fear. For me it meant fear of the inevitable. Where to begin the impossible search for an eternal life? I didn’t know that, what I knew was that I loved her.
And from that day began my tireless quest for immortality.
From vampires to rituals to potions to cults, I read through the dark side of immortality. The beliefs and practices involving vampires, blood sucking and cannibalism in the quest for an eternal life nauseated me. This wasn’t my way and I would not even try the route. So what else could I do?
I extended my search and began spending more time on it.
Years passed by, but I found nothing and the search became an obsession.
And once every year, on our wedding anniversary, she would remind me of my promise. So I would double up my efforts, spend all the time I had in my hands on my research.
I trotted across the world with her by my side, exploring different places and meeting strange people who had insights to offer. We tried to analyze the habits of people in regions with the maximum longevity. I researched on their habits and patterns but at the end of my quest, I didn’t have anything concrete. Longevity was different from immortality. I tried to extrapolate the lifestyle of the longest living people – their diets, habits and lifestyle but they could add a few more years to the maximum lifespan on earth, not become the foundation of immortality.
“Does it mean there are no solutions?”
I looked up to her sharply. There was something in her voice that made me nervous. Did she have a premonition of death? And what if it turned out to be real?
“Don’t lose hope. I will find a way out,” I said.
Every development in science made me happy. I felt on a surer ground here. Genome mapping, gene therapy, stem cells research and RNA developments would make human beings immortal one day.
“One day, yes. But I may not live that long.” She would say whenever I would show her a clipping.
“Just another 10 years, you wait and see,” I would say.
And then, I would file away the development in a thick book that had every tit-bit on aging, death and immortality.
It turned out that her fears had a foundation. A bus hit her while she was crossing the street on a rain swept day, to meet me. She had been late for the meeting.
I stood at the other end and watched the bus hit her. The loud thud made me sick! I can’t forget the look in her eyes as she watched me before she fell on the ground.
“Tanya!” I screamed and rushed to her.
She was breathing! She would live! Yes, she would live!
“My fear was right…” She said.
“Someone call the ambulance, quick!” I shouted at the onlookers as I held her hand.
She tried to smile as she lay on her bed, surrounded by gadgets that were beeping nervously. Her head bandaged and she was in a lot of pain, despite the sedatives. The brain surgery had failed.
“No! You’ll live. You can’t leave me like this…”
“There’s no hope. I know…”
“I-I failed…” I said as I kissed her hands.
“Don’t feel bad. I know you tried. It’s impossible not to die. Hey look! I’m not afraid anymore?”
She smiled and then winced in pain. I could see it was a huge effort she was making, to put up a brave front.
“Yes. I see that…” I swallowed as tears spilled uncontrollably.
She looked so frail, so vulnerable at that moment. And I felt absolutely helpless, watching her edge out of existence. Every moment now was taking her to a distance I would never be able to catch up with.
“Smile. I wish to see you smile before I leave. Not like this…”
And then she closed her eyes.
“She’s brain dead. Her heart is functioning but because of the severe head injuries she-”
“Any hope she’ll recover?”
“No. In scientific terms she’s dead.” The doctor said.
I grieved for her and a life without her. I grieved because I couldn’t find a way to make her immortal.
“But I’m a writer. Not a scientist.”
“You are imaginative. To overcome death all you need is imagination.”
I remembered those words when they wheeled away her body.
To overcome death, you need imagination.
Something snapped in my mind as I remembered a news clipping I had pasted in that thick file of mine, the one with all the facts I had gathered on scientific developments and facts on aging and immortality. Maybe there was a way out, still.
“Wait!” I stopped the ward boys.
I rushed to the doctor who had been in charge of her surgery. I was breathless when I reached my room.
I told him what I was thinking.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. Please. I would like to complete the formalities immediately.”
The doctor made some calls.
Within 20 minutes a team arrived and they carried her away.
I met the two children three weeks later. Both were shy when I offered my hand to them.
“Feel nice?” I asked.
“Very good,” one of them said. “It’s such a beautiful world. I wish to live forever…”
I gasped as I stared into the eye of the child. Blue. Tanya’s. And for one moment I saw her through them.
“Thanks to you, both of them can see. We had hope. God bless you. May you live long.” The father of the children said, barely able to conceal his emotions.
I had tears in my eyes when I looked at the children. Both of them were looking at me. Their eyes smiling. It was as if Tanya was standing, watching me through them. Happy with her new innings. She was still alive!
“We too have pledged to donate our organs after our death. And many of our friends too,” the mother of the children sniffed.
Over the next few days, I met them all. A firefighter with 70 per cent burns had survived because he received her skin. A woman with damaged kidneys lived after doctors had given up all hope. An engineer, an accident victim with damaged intestines, was saved. A middle aged executive survived because he got a heart transplant – her heart. A girl with severely damaged lungs got life. And a youth got his pancreas just when his family had lost hope.
8 people lived, because they received organs and tissues from her, after her death.
“No! Don’t.” I told my sister when she was about to put a garland on Tanya’s photograph.
“She doesn’t need those flowers because she isn’t dead. She lives in all those people she gave life to.”
“And she’ll be immortal because even they have pledged to donate every usable part of their body after their death, to emulate her example.”
“Yes. She’ll continue to live through the organ donations of the donors. She’s become truly immortal.” Though she smiled, I could see tears in her eyes.
Maybe that’s why you had more faith in me than a scientist!
I could feel her presence. I would never be alone.
Because she would live forever!