The Night I died — Part-1 (Pagla Baba Trilogy)

NOTE: I had published this on Sulekha.com in 2002. 

The night I died of a heart attack…

Well not exactly… I dreamt that I died of a heart attack.
Perhaps it'd been sitting in the back of my head for some time now.
My girlfriend says I eat much too oily and fattening food, and smoke way too much!
I've also developed a promising belly (that's out of sync with the rest of my body though…).
I make up my mind to exercise (every week without fail) and I do it for a few days, until I get bored of the routine and schedule.
The sheer dreariness of exercising at a fixed time makes me want to puke!
Anyhow, that's not what I'm writing this stuff up for… I actually don't know why I'm writing this up.
Sometimes I feel as though the blood isn't flowing very well through my heart.
I get the feeling that an artery is blocked… or perhaps two.
Can't say for sure.
I tell my friends about this sometimes, and they tell me, “Why don't you just go and get an ECG done? That'll make everything clear…”
I smile and say, “That's a good idea.”
But little do they know, I'm afraid of death (I mean, who isn't?)
But, what I'm even more afraid of is finding out that I'm going to die…
There! I've gone and said it finally… I'm going to die!
Nothing unusual about it… we're all going to die someday, aren't we?
When I think of death, so many thoughts race in my mind —
“What'll happen to me when I die?”
“Will I even know that I died? Or will it be like the scientists say, I simply cease to exist?”
“Or perhaps I'll become a ghost that haunts the world, caught in between the spirit world and the physical world, by virtue of some unfulfilled desire…”
I guess I'll never know till I get there.

The dream

The dream was disturbing…
I know I was dying — I think I know how a dying person feels and senses the world around him.
I was talking to my mother; all of a sudden, I developed a piercing pain in the chest (left side).
I kept trying to control the pain and managed to keep talking with mother.
Suddenly I could take it anymore; I fell to the floor.
Next thing I know is that my mother's trying to massage my chest (trying out a cardiac massage) and I sense this darkness engulfing me, slowly… very slowly.
My senses are active but I cannot act.
I can see hectic activity all around me, but I'm unable to even speak a word.
Suddenly it all stops and there's a pleasant silence, a familiar darkness that is so comfortable.
I wake up the next morning with a pain in my chest and mother asks me to go to the doctor for a medical checkup.
I go to the doctor and he is annoying busy with other patients.
I wait at the clinic and the pain starts again.
An old lady runs out (all of a sudden it's started raining outside) to buy me a sorbitol (I think that's what she called it) from the pharmacy outside.
She asks me to put one tablet under my tongue.
I do it and the pain reduces — I feel light and happy (as if I've had a healthy dose of bhang).
Someone's telling me, you were dead, but you've been given a second chance — you're alive now… you were dead, but now you're alive!

Reality check

I woke up this time for real, feeling confused and fuzzy… kind of like I'd cotton inside my head or something.
Definitely not a pleasant feeling to have first thing in the morning, believe me.
Hello! Time to go to work!
I trudged on to my car, got in, started the ignition and waited, by now, pleasantly oblivious to the dream.
I started off from home. Driving to work I saw an old man sitting on the pavement, under the shade of a tree.
Eyes closed in meditation, there was a sense of tremendous peace about him.
I thought wistfully for a moment, “If only I was like him for a day…”
I drove by him, the scene, the place, the person, all forgotten.
Reality finally caught up, the wooziness of the head forgotten; an exciting day was ahead — a Friday.
“Got to attend a party at my friend's place… he's buying scotch… we're gonna drink ourselves silly…” — that's all that seemed to play in my mind.
I went through the process of living the day out and went home to change and drive over to my friend's place.
I had a bottle to scotch to attack and demolish… Grr!

A meeting with fate

As I was driving down the highway, I passed an empty patch of land to my left.
Desolate and barren, the field seemed alarmingly familiar — like from one of my nightmares…
I pinched myself hard on the left forearm — it hurt real bad!
I wasn't dreaming then.
I stopped the car a little distance below the highway and walked down to the edge of the field.
I felt a shiver go down my spine!
The highway was rather desolate for that time of the day (evening rather).
There were no lights on the highway and the sky was cloudy, with a threat of rain in the air.
Something about the field seemed to call me toward it.
I stepped into the field after crossing over the elevation that separated it from the road.
It started to drizzle, and I walked deeper into the field.
I could hear an occasional car whiz by behind my back.
I don't know how far I went, but I couldn't hear a thing (no sounds from the highway)… suddenly there was this tree in front of me!
As I walked toward it, an apparition suddenly stepped out in front of me!
The hair on my head was standing in total attention then!
As I looked carefully, I noticed this older man staring at my face, standing a few feet from me.
He gestured me to sit down near the tree. I couldn't resist.
I sat down meekly and he sat down facing me.
He spoke to me first.
“Why did you call me?” he asked.
I asked, “When did I ever call you? I don't even know you!”
He said, “You did call me, that's why I'm here.”
“I know what you want…” he said.
“What?” I asked.
“You're very unhappy… you want some peace,” he said.
“I guess…” I answered, suddenly growing irritated.
Here I was, sitting in the middle of nowhere, with an old beggar, while I should have been sitting in Anand's place, drinking whiskey, smoking cigarettes and having fun!
“What if this guy is some nut who wants to kill me and take away my money?” I thought.
“No! I'm not some nut who'd kill you for your car and money,” the old man said.
“I was just thinking of it as a possibility…” I said. “Hey! Wait a minute… how'd you know what I was thinking of?” I asked him.
“I can read you like an open book, Vyas,” the old man replied.
“Nonsense! Tell me what I'm thinking now?” I asked him.
“You're thinking that whatever I'm saying I can read from your mind, is something everyone thinks, and so you thinking I'm playing some psychological trick on you…”
“That's easy, you are playing a trick on my mind!” I retorted incredulously.
“No I'm not… see, I even know the dream you had last night…” he said, cutting me short. “Yes! The one in which you died from a heart attack…”
I was staring at him in the darkness, totally drenched by now by the rain (which thankfully had stopped).
That wooziness in my head had returned all of a sudden… I realized that he'd actually addressed me by name.
I asked, “Who are you?”
“Some people call me Pagla Baba…” there was a hint of amusement in his voice. “But I'm not really mad, I'm simply what people call a mystic nowadays.”
“Oh! An ascetic?” I sounded relieved (to myself)!
“Yes, you could say something like that…” Pagla Baba replied.
“So what do you want from me here?” I asked him.
“I want to give you something…” Pagla Baba replied.
“Close your eyes and sit still,” he told me.
I closed my eyes and he touched me on the forehead with his thumb.
Suddenly I felt as if a light had exploded before my eyes, and I was hurtling through space!
A billion lights exploded in my vision and I saw this egg-shaped object flying towards me amidst the chaos.
The egg had a brilliant blue hue about it (as if it were crackling with electricity).
It came closer to me and stopped a few meters away.
It started spinning faster and faster, emitting this blue light all around and suddenly within the egg I saw the shape of Lord Krishna playing the flute.
The egg kept spinning and I saw Buddha bathed in a golden glow in place of Krishna.
It spun even faster, and finally burst into billions of flashes of light.

The aftermath

I could hear a voice calling me, as if from a distance, “Vyas! Vyas! Are you alright?”
I forced my eyes open; the sky was clear, and I was sitting in my car and Anand was standing outside and calling me.
I looked out of the window and the field was there, but all of a sudden it didn't seem so ominous anymore.
I tried to recollect what had happened to me, but my memory wasn't clear.
I asked Anand, “How did you find me?”
Anand replied, “I was worried when you didn't come home on time, and I knew you'd be on this highway… I was afraid you'd had an accident or something.”
“What had happened to you, by the way?” Anand asked.
“I don't know what Anand, I really don't remember…” I said, even though I did remember.
I just couldn't tell anybody about it, that's all.
No one would believe me anyway.
I only said to him, “Let's not go drinking tonight, man. Let's sit and talk.”
So I drove to his place, shakily, following his car.
As I got down, I reached for a cigarette.
I pulled one out and lit it up and retched.
I couldn't stand the smell or the smoke anymore.
The habit that I'd always wanted to quit but couldn't — smoking, my old nemesis.
I couldn't stand it anymore.
“It's due to the shock!” I said to myself. “Let's wait and see…” I thought.
Anand and I talked that night like we'd never ever done before.
We talked about life — the bittersweet experiences.
I went home late, very late.
I hit my bed and was out cold!
I slept like I'd never slept before… and the bad dreams, they'd gone away.
I dreamt of pleasant things that night.
I dreamt of peace, of love, of beauty in nature.
I woke up early the next morning and put on my running shoes and track pants.
I jogged like I was a new man… feeling younger and energetic.
People call me a tranquil person today.
I talk to Pagla Baba sometimes… he speaks to me in my dreams.

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