The doors opened.
Two heavy doors, ornate and beautifully crafted… under them was the carpet of wispy white clouds, and above the ceiling was the ceiling of the stars.
The room had many teak desks, each having piles of scrolls on them. The stacks also were spread across the spacious room, and between them, a small pathway led to the end of the room. Behind a smaller desk, a little man sat on a chair of cushions. He was wise, and meticulous, and never missed a beat. He looked up at the sound of footsteps, and stood up to greet him.
“Chitragupt, what is the matter? Why have you summoned me at this hour so urgently?” enquired Yama the God of Death. The keeper of the scrolls seemed peeved, and he began to pace about in the narrow walkway.
“I realize you are worried, but of what?” Yama persisted.
Chitragupt went to a desk and reaching up, pulled down one in a silver tube. Inside it, were scrolls rolled smoothly and kept for one person.
“My Lord, I was examining the scrolls of this person, as his time on Earth is nearing an end.”
Taking the scrolls, Yama examined them too, flipping pages.
“Chitragupt, why are there blank pages in the record? I’ve known you to be a seeker of perfection in your work, so I’m very surprised at this shoddiness”, Yama burst into speech, angry and worried.
“Lord, I don’t know what happened. I was quite sure I wrote them down.”
“We can’t keep blank pages on record, my friend. You very well know that. You have no choice now. You know what you have to do to get the records completed.”
“But the hall of records will be untended in my absence. There are two thousand, seven hundred and twenty seven souls set to arrive in the next hour alone.”
“I will be here, keeping an eye on it. Now not a minute should be wasted Chitragupt.”
Wearing his emerald cloak, Chitragupt strolled quickly past the ornate gates and vanished into the night sky below the clouds.
The sky was clear and the stars danced with the gibbous moon, as he stared into the endless night. The mug of warm tea was nearby, but Paresh Shah didn’t notice it. He was lost in his own thoughts once again. No one told him why it happened so often. It felt strange, but he knew of things that were stranger. In fact, he was certain that the strangest of all was tonight.
“Why am I hearing thunder on a clear night?” he wondered. And the clap of thunder sounded again.
Paresh sensed that he was no longer alone. The monotony of white in his bedroom seemed to be disturbed by the emerald green cloak that had fallen on it in that moment. He turned around to find Chitragupt smiling at him from the bed, a scroll in his hand.
“Who are you? You look like some guy from the old times. Like the cartoons of Akbar and Birbal they used to show.”
“I am sorry to alarm you, but I’m Chitragupt, keeper of the scrolls of life, monitoring the activities, maintaining the records of humans to allow or disallow them passage into heaven. I come here, seeking your help, good sir.”
“I knew I’m losing my mind, now this proves it,” Paresh whispered to himself.
“How may I help you, Mr. Gupta?” he asked, deciding to humor the visitor.
“In an oversight on my part, some pages of your life’s scroll have remained blank,” explained Chitragupt, sitting near him and showing him the blank pages of parchment paper.
“You’re saying this is my life’s story?”
“Yes sir, and some part of the past few days, I’ve not been able to enter.”
“What do you want from me?”
“If you could recollect the events of the last week or two, I’ll write it down sir, and complete the scroll,” Chitragupt said.
Paresh got up from near the window and walked to the bed, and lay down, staring at the ceiling.
“If you are here to see me, does that mean my days in this world are coming to an end?”
“I do not know sir,” Chitragupt lied, not wanting to alarm or sadden him, “That’s up to Lord Yama. He hasn’t intimated me.”
“I might as well go with you when you return tonight, if that’s the case.”
“Sir, if you could narrate? I really can’t leave the scroll room untended for long”, Chitragupt pushed.
“From where do I begin? The last thing it states here is a visit to the cricket stadium. That was last week, maybe ten days back. The tickets were a gift from my niece. She said it’d be fun to go watch the game live, and also take me out of this lonesome life that I lead. Seeing that Vijay fellow hit Mumbai bowlers around the stadium was fun.”
“What happened after?”
“Huh? Sachin was in serene touch. The Australian attack was good, but he played them well. It was a century to behold. I was close to the dressing rooms, so I shouted to him as loud as I could. I cried when India lost that match. 177 on the losing side… a pity, don’t you think?”
Chitragupt was shocked, but he had to get some progress. “Can you tell me something else from last week?”
“Some of my best friends had come to visit. I wasn’t keeping well, but they insisted that we go out for lunch. Fresh air would do me good, they opined. We went to a new place called the Village. It was said to be famous. The food was good, but I remember the entertainment more. It was wonderful. I told them it would stay with me forever.”
“That was nice. What entertainment was there? Can you recollect?”
“Reena ma’am, the restaurant was new. I went there with my parents and my cousins. I had the most delicious paneer dish. Wonder why my parents was upset that I threw away the cashew though? I think I’ll remember this vacation.”
Paresh was going randomly, and Chitragupt was getting more vexed by the minute. He patiently asked Paresh to recollect something else from the week.
“My niece is in the tenth grade you know. On Thursday, her results had come out. She got wonderful marks. She came to me first, and told how happy she was with it. She was the eleventh rank holder in her school. My sister was near her, and she was also beaming.”
“Your niece is a very talented and intelligent child,” Chitragupt smiled.
“I was happy with my marks you know. I remember going to my father and telling him delightedly how I was eleventh rank holder in my school. I remember he told me I was worthless, and I’d not get a good college with such marks. I hate him for being so demanding, so unsupportive.”
Paresh exploded into tears, taking Chitragupt by surprise. The door to the room opened, and a woman entered the room. She came and sat next to Paresh, and embraced him.
“Bhaiyya, what happened? Why are you crying?” she asked.
“I don’t remember, Preethi. I can’t remember. Please tell me I’m crazy. Give me something to make me remember. Anything… anything would do.”
Preethi began to cry too, and Chitragupt felt sad. He took his cloak and disappeared from their side.
The morning sun was spreading its light when Chitragupt’s feet touched the carpet of clouds. The little goddess Megha was playing there, and welcomed him eagerly.
“Chitraguptji, why does your face look like those blank pages in your hand?” she enquired.
“I am trying to figure out the same, little one,” he replied.
A little further, the wise sage Narada crossed their path. He hailed the duo with verve.
“Chitragupt, why are you so sad? What is bothering you my friend?” he asked.
“Wise sage, I have been to collect some memories, but I know not why I have failed. He’s alive, but not living. He’s surrounded by love, but he looks to the past. In my oversight, I failed to write his life down, now I know not what to do.”
Narada looked to the Earth below, and to Paresh who sat looking at the sky again.
“Narayan narayan! Chitragupt, there is no justice to life at times. Being the keeper of the scrolls, you should know that more than anyone else. That man is one who is denied that by fate. A cruel disease prevents him from remembering some things that are unforgettable. Alzheimer’s, they call it. There is no remedy. The scrolls of his life that you have in your hand, they were blank not by your oversight, but his condition. The hands of time have moved, and as Yama knows, the time for him to come to heaven is near.”
“No remedy, wise sage? Has this world come to a state that nothing can be solved?”
“What page is filled till we fill them, noble scroll-keeper? The hands of time write his destiny as we speak, each moment unknown till it happens; but the hands cannot help but write what is meant if it is fate not destiny.”
Yama appeared next to them.
“My lord, the scroll room…” said Chitragupt, panicking, but he was cut off.
“It is well guarded, Chitragupt. I assure you,” said the God of Death, “I have come as the wise sage has told. It is time for the man to come to heaven.”
Below them, Paresh slumped silently from his chair. His smiling eyes stared at the sky, at them, before a warm palm closed them. Red lettering appeared on the blank page in Chitragupt’s hand.
“The ending is peaceful. Preethi Shah, sister of the deceased, has given him poison, to release him from the prison of his mind. Her actions out of love will earn her a place next to him when her time comes.”
As Paresh’s soul ascended to heaven, Megha prodded a cloud below her feet, welcoming the soul with a shower of raindrops.
Yama and Chitragupt walked toward the chamber of the scrolls, while Narada and Megha went on their way.
Once through the ornate doors, and through the narrow walkway to his desk, Chitragupt removed the pages, to read through Paresh’s life.
The hands of time had moved on, and the pages of life were once again… blank.
(June 3rd, 2012)