By Nabarun Bhattacharya
Translated from the Bengali
by Arunava Sinha
Artwork by Ibrahim Rayintakath
will bring you the brochure and some other reading material. But if you simply watch this video, it’s about ten minutes long, it’ll be clear once you’ve watched the whole thing… this model of Akai VCR that you’ve got is my favourite too.
At the bottom, near the feet, a door opened and two gleaming urns emerged. One was labelled ‘Ashes’, and the other, ‘Navel’.
This is the one we normally use at work. Yes, coffee, please… I was up very late last night… a new kind of elevated furnace is being used in village crematoriums these days, primarily through NGOs… the body’s put on a slightly raised surface like a stretcher and then placed on the iron furnace along with the wood… the ash that gathers beneath is a sort of bonus. People collect that stuff… I’ve seen it happen in Labhpur, close to Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay’s home. They offer training in Gujarat on this sort of thing. The concept is fine up to the village level. I’m switching on the VCR then sir.
Some snow on the screen to begin with. Then the name—‘Cold Fire… which you have been waiting for. You had to wait eighty-four years for the fall of Communism. And in just six years you’re getting Cold Fire, whose elegance, whose exclusive company, only you or others like you deserve.’
Mr. K.C. Sarkar, owner of three tea estates, watched Cold Fire at work. Dressed in a dhoti and kurta, with sandalwood marks on the forehead, the body was laid on a coffin-like box. The lids opened, drawing the body in. The lids closed. The digital lights glowed. ‘Ten minutes later.’ The lights had been red all this while. Now the blue lights glowed instead. At the bottom, near the feet, a door opened, and two gleaming urns emerged. One was labelled ‘Ashes’, and the other, ‘Navel’. The lids opened. There was nothing inside. It was just like before. Polished, spick-and-span.
Nagarwalla had told Mr. Sarkar about it at the club last evening.
- I’m sending a young man to you tomorrow, KC. Fascinating! I’ve gone and booked it for myself. A lethal name too—Cold Fire!
- I tried a vodka from Czechoslovakia once. Back in the Communist era—now of course the Czechs and Slovaks are different nations. That vodka was named Liquid Fire. Is this some kind of new liquor?
- No sir. This is the ultimate spirit—it’ll make you a spirit.
- Send him to me then.
- I’ve ordered some chilled beer. Would you like some?
- Beer after sundown?
If this frail body must burn just once, let it burn in style, don’t you think?
A large vehicle delivered Cold Fire to Mr. Sarkar’s residence the very next day. Family, friends and relatives all showed up to take a look.
He was a pretty bright young man. His cologned cheek was permanently dimpled in an engaging smile.
- How did you people come up with such a novel product? What prompted you?
He began to stir a spoonful of sugar into his coffee.
- I’ll explain, sir. Look, in the post-Communist world, the difference between the upper and the lower strata of society has taken on an absurd dimension. Every aspect of life – be it education, be it childbirth, be it transport—is different for them. For instance, if an affluent senior citizen like you needed to go on a vacation today, if you wanted to go to a coastal resort, your choice, even if you wanted to go somewhere close by, would be the Maldives or Seychelles, not Puri or Digha. If you have a vision problem, obviously Geneva would be preferable. But this form of existence that you enjoy, this free, superior, and magnificent lifestyle, is completely inconsistent with your funeral. For that, it’ll be the same filthy crematorium that everyone else goes to—Keoratala or Nimtala or Kashi Mitra or Siriti… horror of horrors! Have you had to visit a crematorium recently, sir?
- Not exactly recently. Last year, when my father-in-law’s brother…
- If you were to go now, you’d find it even more horrifying. For example, we have to visit the crematorium quite often on official work. Just the other day, about a week ago, what a horrible sight we saw at Keoratala. Three furnaces blazing. The area where they burn the bodies on wooden pyres had no corpses. A gang of criminals drinking and smoking grass. Meanwhile, six bodies were waiting upstairs for the furnaces. Four more downstairs, outside. And on top of all this, it was raining off and on. A hoard of ruffians with each of the bodies. You can’t imagine.
- Practically hell, you’re saying.
- I haven’t seen hell, sir. But I can’t imagine anything more hellish. One of the bodies was of a drowned man—decomposed. One was a BSF jawan shot dead by the ULFA. The rest were all old men and women from slums or lower-middle class homes, one was middle-aged, seemed to be a political goon, a group of people were shouting those typical Communist slogans, and in the middle of all this—chanting priests, all the paraphernalia of cremation, flowers—a couple of yards away the cot, mattress and quilts blazing—a bunch of urchins on the prowl, dogs, drunks, people weeping, body fluids oozing out from corpses, incense, prayers…
- Oh my god, even your description is making me queasy.
- Naturally. But whatever you may say, whether you book a Cold Fire or not, that’s your decision, I cannot imagine you amidst all this. Excuse me sir, I’m probably getting a little emotional…
- Oh no, you are absolutely right. Since everything in my life is exclusive, why shouldn’t my funeral be that way too? If this frail body must burn just once, let it burn in style, don’t you think? Moreover, this can’t be thought of as a mere gadget. It’s a family asset if you come to think of it.
- Right sir. People can buy Cold Fire for business reasons too. The very concept of cremation and funerals will change.
- Have you read the Gita?
- Yes sir, we had to take special training on thanatology. We had to read the Gita and the Tibetan Book of the Dead as part of theory. May I say something, sir?
- Of course you may. Go ahead.
- Do you believe in rebirth, sir?
- I don’t exactly know, but this Cold Fire makes me think redeath might be a better idea.
- This observation of yours is very philosophical, sir. Should I book one for you then, sir?
- Of course. Wait, let me get my cheque-book. I think I can get hold of at least half a dozen other clients for you.
- Thank you sir. I don’t have words for my gratitude.
A large vehicle delivered Cold Fire to Mr. Sarkar’s residence the very next day. Family, friends, and relatives all showed up to take a look. It was certainly something to marvel at. Just that Mr. Sarkar’s ancient gardener and servant quit their jobs.
The rare feat of being the first person in Calcutta to be cremated by Cold Fire was achieved by the famous gynaecologist Chandramadhab aka Chandu Chatterjee. Just the previous night he had hosted a lavish party at the Taj Bengal to celebrate his grandson’s first birthday. Scotch had flowed like water. The very next day stunned and grieving friends watched as Cold Fire was switched on at precisely eleven o’ clock in the morning, and the blue lights glowed at ten past eleven. The door near the feet opened and two gleaming urns emerged. One containing the ashes. The other, the navel. The whole thing was captured on video.
Two hundred and thirty units of Cold Fire have been sold in Calcutta so far.
The Gift of Death