I don’t quite believe in reincarnation. The continuous cycle of birth and death till we are released from it by virtue of good deeds. I’ll admit however that the idea is fascinating. I have seen enough of television and read and heard ‘true’ stories to seriously consider the possibility of its existence. There are even these bloggy things that quiz you and tell you who you were in your previous life – those of course are the more fatuous kinds, yet I amuse myself once in a while of what it could have been in that life, which I don’t have memory of. And yet…
I somehow have this recurrent moving visual of this person, once upon a time, who was sentenced to death, who I often see walking up to the gallows to be hung by rough braided hemp. It is a long walk to the gallows and there is obviously something serious about the crime that he has committed. The people stand at the sides and watch him; there is obvious hate in their eyes. Yet not a word is spoken, not a curse uttered. I see this man very clearly – there is no shame or guilt on his face – he is unrepentant. His open chest carries the reminders of beatings in deep and dark dungeons; the bleeding cuts sharp at the edges and open in the middle. He stands tall on his weary feet. Warm beads of sweat attempt to liquefy the dried clots on his forehead. There is something very adamant about the small smile on his face. It is not a smirk. The onlookers hardly bother him; neither do the heavy chains that his legs are dragging ahead of the small dust clouds that they create. On his hands, hang the rest of the heavy metal links that seem featherweight, due to the manner of the slight swagger that he has. Yet ever so often those hands move up to his neck, shifting and spacing out the metal collar on his neck, he sticks a couple of fingers under the collar – a passage for air. The collar seems to be the only thing that bothers him, irritates and hurts him. Not the silent curses from the people standing, not the periodic cane from his tormentors, not the final noose that is a few yards in front of him. The collar hurts him. It is sharp and roughly cut, mercilessly nailed onto bent wood. Made in haste, almost, eager to bind the dead man walking. It cuts at the skin on his neck, makes it red and burns. The way his hands go at the collar, he seems to have only one dying wish – before the noose tightens one last time – he wants to breathe easy. I see him walk slowly towards his executioner. The only other obvious movement, other than his slow rhythmic walk towards the gallows, is his hand wanting to tear at the collar, destroy it with his bare hands. The collar it seems is the enemy that won’t let him die in peace. The scene somehow repeats in an infinite loop till it fades away into a blank white sheet.
I have seen this scene so many times that my skepticism about reincarnation fades a shade, every time this scene plays itself. Every morning; it comes to me every morning when I start my day. It is as crisp as a freshly ironed shirt, when I iron it, i.e. I know who I see. I know this person. I know him in this life.
He is the man who irons my shirts, here in Mumbai.
I have gone to the extent of offering him more money per shirt, if only he would bring my “ironed” shirts, without mangled collars. I have threatened to shift my dwindling loyalty to the competing laundry-man, if he continues to crumple the most hardened collar I have ever bought. I even pleaded with him, and demonstrated, how difficult it is to wear a tie with a crumpled collar – all to no avail.
I have to iron the collars of my shirts before I wear them, or I have to ditch the tie.
The scene plays in my head every morning, I see him walking towards the gallows, scratching at his collar, wanting to destroy it. I have seen him in this life. He is still at it.