Every grave has its own destiny
A Short Story about the late Irrfan Khan
Ali Peter John
My first experience of a grave was very funny. My father had died when I was seven. He had converted to Christianity, and was to be buried in a Christian cemetery. It had rained heavily for three long days and nights. The funeral was delayed, and he was finally buried in the pouring rain. All I can now remember is how the “hole” that had been dug kept getting filled with water and how the men kept trying to draw out the water. And how the black box (coffin) kept bobbing up and down in the grave. That image lives with me to this day.
My mother died when I was 14, and I was responsible for all the arrangements that had to be made. The priest asked me to buy a grave, paying him 25 rupees for it. He also told me to get a cross placed at the head of my mother’s grave. Visiting the grave was a regular ritual whenever I went to church.
Then one day, about 6 months after the cross had been placed, I found, when I visited the grave, that the cross had vanished. I rushed to the priest and asked him what had gone wrong. He said, “Sonny, you have given me only 25 rupees, and that is the price for a temporary grave. I have given away the grave to someone else, and thrown your mother’s bones into the well which we have for the remains of the dead.”
That was the last time I saw the face of that priest. He had hurt me even before this, when he had asked me to pay a higher price for what is called a “High Mass” for my mother’s soul.
That was the beginning of my strange, or call it weird, fascination with graves and stories about them. This is an attempt to share with you how this fascination continues to this day.
My friend, the great actor, Irrfan Khan, died 6 months ago, and had been buried under lockdown conditions at the Versova Muslim cemetery. His family had made arrangements to keep the grave neat and tidy and to have plants around it, including his favourite flower, “Raat Rani”.
The rain spares no one, not even the dead or their graves. A month ago, a close friend of Irrfan’s visited the grave and found it in shambles. He took a picture and put it up on social media where it went viral. Friends and admirers of Irrfan Khan, who had almost forgotten him within 6 months of his passing, found in this viral report on the condition of his grave, a new opportunity to be in the limelight.
Irrfan’s wife, Sutapa, responded, saying she had already made arrangements to keep his memory alive by having a memorial erected in Igatpuri, a village which he had adopted. But stories about the grave in Versova kept growing.
In the meantime, Irrfan’s son, Baabil, who is training to be an actor, went to the grave and set things right, arranging to have more plants placed around it, and even putting up a small plaque with the name, “Sahabzaade Irrfan Khan” inscribed on it.
Of the little I know about Irrfan, I am sure he would have laughed the way he did when he found something funny. I have been passing by the place where this graveyard is located for the last 48 years, and I don’t know why my gaze has been drawn to it every time I pass by
Only the other day, I felt as though someone were calling out to me, saying, “Yeh hamare industry mein kya naya naatak chal raha hain?”