Mila Goes to Heaven
God had tweaked some rules of Heaven to allow Mila entry. After all, God needed someone to teach Tacko a lesson. And who better than Mila.
It was quite by accident that she found herself in heaven. Well, literally speaking too, considering that her car had turned turtle on the busy road. A bus had also screeched to a halt barely two feet away from where she lay looking briefly at a topsy-turvy world she had always believed to be topsy-turvy anyway. Mila had tried to glare at the bus driver, but that was out of sheer habit. The poor guy had nothing to do with her halasana pose in the crumpled car seat.
She was one of those who cursed the bed when they banged into it absentmindedly. The driver had actually done her a favour and saved a few more crushed bones. Strictly speaking however, it didn’t matter after a couple of minutes. She had succumbed to her injuries by that time, caused by the high impact banging of her car into the street light pole, thanks to the speed at which she was driving and also to her distracted attention, courtesy the cell phone. Damn the phone, damn the pole, damn the car!—were her dour, dying thoughts. So, considering her last words were not worthy of even a complimentary gate pass to heaven, much less her life before these, it was a miracle that she went to heaven at all.
As they say, you meet your loved ones after death, there he was, her husband of forty years before, right at the billowy-cotton gates of heaven, a welcoming smile on his face. Mila couldn’t recognize him immediately. There is some confusion about the reason behind this. Perhaps she hadn’t still got used to the spectacle-free 6/6 vision that her present state brought. But that is what we would like to believe. Mila rather thought it was because she did not have her specs on at that time. She, of course, wouldn’t concede that her brain was a little fuzzy with quick moving incidents of the near past and that her jaded memory couldn’t jog itself with enough alacrity to place this old acquaintance. Simple logic dictates that it could only be either of the two conditions— upon reaching the next world, you are either better than or the same as you were when last seen on Earth. But Mila’s logic was of altogether a different, and in her opinion, also a superior brand. When alive, she always held on to the idea that while deteriorating eye sight was a natural, physical phenomena, the brain was always in the hands of the user. She kept hers shipshape by being keenly observant of other people’s faults and consequently delivering to them sharp reprimands. In these diatribes she generally waxed eloquent (ably aided by a dynamic and forceful vocabulary) on their lack of truthfulness, perfection and those sorts of virtues. It can also be deduced from this that keeping a constant sharp eye on everything around her was the reason that eventually caused a strain on her eyes.
All said and done, it is a fact that Mila kept staring at the benign looking person for what can be termed as an unreasonable time, considering the intimate nature of their relationship in the past. Finally, the penny dropped. If you imagine that this recognition was followed by tears of joy or some such thing, you are sadly mistaken. For, though in heaven, Mila was overtaken by the green eyed monster when she noticed that her husband was as young as when he had passed away forty years ago, while she was a woman on the wrong side of sixty, as per the official records. That she was on the right side of seventy was a truth that she found to be quite bitter and so, as far as an otherwise righteous Mila was concerned, this particular rightness bordered very strongly on wrongness. In any case, she had convinced herself after her retirement that a few years omitted here and there from her age did not really harm anybody.
Anyway, the couple’s meeting started on an awkward note, with Mila scowling and turning her face away, as if wishing the blithe spirit away. A part of her also momentarily wondered about the morality of the situation. Was she still married to him? The situation however could not be avoided forever, and so she entered the gates of heaven in a state of turmoil and misgiving, hardly noticing the beautiful interiors and state-of-the-art lighting. She got the key to her room after the long bearded fellow at the reception counter had entered her particulars in a frequently thumbed fat register. A query about room service was on the tip of her tongue, but she did not want any kind of conversation to begin,especially with her ‘husband’-Tacko-by her side. Not now, she thought. A sudden weariness had caught up with her and all she wanted to do was flop on the bed in her room. He somehow sensed her desire and bidding her goodbye floated away quickly.
All those cinematic images of people in heaven feeding on grape bunches dangling tantalizingly from the hands of glamorous women was bull shit, she decided. It had been two days since she first came, and there was no sign of hunger, and certainly no sign of food. Must have been some gluttonous fellow who conjured up that image in the first place! She remembered how bitterly she had wept after Tacko’s death because the image of him enjoying himself in the company of a half clad celestial beauty was too much for her to bear. Apsaras, they called them. She had wailed suddenly and dejectedly at the thought and the neighbours had rushed to comfort her.
Actually, Mila was remembering quite a lot of things with great clarity now, especially her married life with Tacko. She, for example, saw in lucid hindsight how grumpy he was when he ate the food cooked by her; or the evening when he looked positively frightened when she opened the door with her new make up on; or the way he quarrelled with her when she wanted to invite her mother for a month. It all came back to her the time she had woken refreshed after sleep on the day of her arrival. For two days she had watched the reel of her memory, her legendary anger rising up steadily. Let him come now, with that silly smile on his face! It is time to settle those old scores. And a lot of time too to do that!
Tacko happened to come in the moment the thought crossed her mind. The silly smile was nowhere to be seen, its place taken by a wary look. Oddly, he seemed to be expecting the tirade. Well, he would get it!
'Hello, Tacko. I hope that is still your name. Where have you been hiding all this while?"
A sheepish grin, so very Tacko, appeared on his face. "Hello Mila. I am glad you are back to your original self. Er... I mean...you looked so hagga...er, er..tired the other day."
"You wanted to say haggard, don’t you," she dared him. "Don’t think I cannot understand what goes on in that head of yours. Go on, gloat in your youth and count my wrinkles, go on."
"You are ggetting me wrong, my dear Mila."
"Dear, my foot."
"Ah! It feels exactly like forty years before. I mean..er... Mila, we don’t have a mirror here in heaven, something to do with not being allowed to feed the ego. Otherwise you would have seen that your wrinkles are disappearing every hour and your hair gradually turning a few shades darker. You are already looking almost like when you were forty."
Her hand reached out impulsively to touch her hair. It was closely cropped and lay in little curls on her head. Thank God! There were no mirrors to catch his lie. Thank God! She had a trim a week before the accident. And by the heavenly law of As Is Where Is, the length of the hair would remain exactly the same forever.
His information acted like a bucket of water poured on an irritated cat. A few seconds passed in contemplation before a suspicious look crept into her eyes. He was quick to catch it and react to it.
"I see that you don’t believe me. But, let me tell you, the heavenly dew has anti ageing properties." She was silent. Peace flowed for some moments. She was trying to think how she used to look at forty.
And then, a sharp query: "But how do you know how I looked at forty? You weren’t around then. You were already..." her voice trailed off.
"Dead," he completed the sentence for her. "I was. But I did not go away, at least, not all the time. I couldn’t leave you alone, Mila. You were so young then."
"You mean...you were... down there, with me? Is it possible?"
"With you... and the children. I was there, many a time." She chewed on this thought. Her mind was ticking. He watched her. He expected a blast any time. That was Mila. He knew her well. He had had the opportunity of watching her unwatched.
"Tell me when you were there," she asked in the tone of an investigating officer.
"I was there when you went to drop the children at their school bus stop in all that fog, the first time after I passed away."
She looked at him but her eyes were far away.
"I was there that winter evening when you and the children laughed your hearts out watching a comedy; when you sat down to have the first meal prepared by our daughter, Jessie...then, whenever the board exam results were out for both Jessie and Robbie. Job appointments, weddings, most birthdays... I was around."
She grimaced. "Isn’t it a predictable thing to say?"
"I can describe each birthday, if you don’t believe me. Remember when little Jessie had managed to sneeze her nose into her birthday cake just before cutting and there was a power cut. I had actually used my powers to snuff out the electricity so that you could quickly wipe off her nose before the candles were brought in. Birthday parties were a strain on your purse those days, I know. And when that fat neighbour had kicked up a fuss because Robbie had smashed her window with a batting shot, I had pushed that stray cow into her flower-laden garden to divert her attention."
"Oh yes! I had thought it was divine justice, serving her right for how she came upon me." She was cooling down a little, so he didn’t point out to her that the quarrel had then been actually getting out of hand with her own uncompromising attitude.
"I was with you whichever office you had to go to for sorting out the issues after my death," he said, looking deep into her eyes.
But she was upset. "I wish you had done something to quicken up the things there. It took me so many trips to sort out everything. Getting something done in government offices is so tedious."
"We are not allowed to mess with earthly administrative affairs, or the peons, clerks and the officers there. It is a pact. That is the only way of keeping their noses out of heavenly administration when they come here. Otherwise, you cannot imagine what mismanagement and chaos would be unleashed here."
She looked grumpy. So he added, "But I did topple the fellow who was making eyes at you in the waiting area from his chair."
This bit of a memory pleased her. A half-smile appeared on her face. It was a long time since she had smiled and not only in heaven time. She had been a sour-faced, complaining person for a while now, especially after Jessie and Robbie had moved out of the city with their spouses. The children in the neighbourhood were afraid of her and often changed their tracks if they saw her out for a stroll. Their parents, if she happened to cross them, invariably put the cell phone to their ears pretending to be busy on a call. Vegetable sellers and other vendors preferred to pass by her house silently. So the smile was like a parting of grumbling, threatening grey clouds.
He was emboldened by that smile. So he added: "In fact, I also got that Estate Agent’s foot stuck in the door mat every time he came to your house."
Mila remembered that the man—Somesh Bakshi-- had swayed dangerously and stumbled as soon as he stepped on the door mat on two occasions but caught himself in time.
"There must be some nail in his shoe sticking out," Mila had thought. There was no other explanation. The third time he had been perilously close to breaking his bones, had he not fallen on the carpet nearby.
"Why did you do that?" Mila’s tone was sharp. Tacko found he had been right in his judgement. Mila had begun looking forward to his visits then...this was almost twenty years back. The recurrent accidents had scared the hell out of Bakshi and he never turned up again.
Tacko smiled inwardly, but said, "Because the fellow had designs on the house. He thought he could befool you into selling the house. Why, even that bank manager...he too had some ulterior motives. So, I punctured his car tyres whenever he parked it outside your house."
"What Ulterior motives?" Mila asked and looked straight into Tacko’s eyes.
Tacko grew nervous and began fumbling. This was the look that always did him in. He hemmed and hawed but couldn’t cook up a plausible explanation this time.
She read him instantly. "You thought he was a suitor and shooed him away, didn’t you! Just like you did Bakshi." He tried denying but failed. She was vehement. The tables had turned. He was caught.
The quarrel began then. He tried convincing her he did that out of love and concern. She accused him of spoiling her prospects when he had already spoilt her life by dying. He was selfish, ill considerate etc. It went on and grew louder and bitterer by the hour. The entire heaven heard about it. The news reached God’s ears. God listened and smiled. "Serves that nosy Parker right," He thought. Tacko had refused to abide by heavenly commandments by meddling in earthly affairs, causing living people harm and deriving malicious pleasure in their discomfort. He was also given to lying. So, when the time came, some rules had been tweaked and Mila had been allowed into heaven. It would be a perennial lesson for Tacko. As for Mila, she could easily turn any heaven into hell for herself, so no worries there. God smiled and went about his business as usual.