atna was my classmate. We had never really been close friends, not even after the group I think, but we did say ‘Good Morning’ promptly to each other and to everyone, like two devotees who rushed to pray first thing in the morning. As though we were united in our allegiance to the same power. The power of WhatsApp. It was enjoyable, having something to do. Yes, perhaps that’s what we had in common, Ratna and I. Wanting to do something for time-pass. Five or four years ago I was added to a group on WhatsApp with the name of my school. I didn’t know much about how to use WhatsApp but I learnt fast after that. I was pleasantly surprised and flabbergasted sometimes to see those old faces. I couldn’t recognize anyone since I hadn’t met them for so long. I had shifted with my family after my class tenth exams and all ties were suddenly broken. We didn’t have a phone in those days.
Old school friends contacted me on the group, many of whom I didn’t remember. I was fed-up quickly because we really had nothing to talk about after all these years but I soon learnt the joy of sharing about everything that appealed to me. I forwarded some message and we got about discussing its content. Arguing, discussing, agreeing- sometimes there would be big controversies and the admin, a classmate by the name of Sudarsan, would step forward to end the issue. So I discovered a whole new world. It was our world of reliving childhood memories, of connecting because we couldn’t really disconnect from the ennui of life at our wish. Some of us were very active, others hardly ever messaged. We were all in our early sixties with plenty of time to spare. The active ones included Ratna and I, of course. Ratna once mentioned off hand to me that her son was in U.S.A and he came every five years. After her husband’s death, she had lived alone in her large house for the past ten years. She typed this so I couldn’t see her tears. I, in turn, told her of my husband’s death last year and how I had never met my only son’s wife. He called once in every two- three months. I typed it so she couldn’t see my tears.
Every morning I would open my phone at seven and search diligently for a picture with a nice message. Sometimes I wouldn’t find any so I would simply type “Good Morning” with a string of random emojis or make up a message, often with no true significance, like “Today is a beautiful day, a day to be alive.” It wasn’t a beautiful day in any way but whatever. After a while, at around eight, Ratna would type “Good Morning Everyone”. Although she typed ‘everyone’, I always felt as though it applied more to me than anyone else. I can’t explain it but I did feel it! As though I deserved all her well wishes more than anyone! For the past one month, Ratna had not responded to any of my messages.
Firstly, I thought she had forgotten. After three days, I got a little irritated, I can’t explain why, perhaps I thought she had lost interest in us. I typed “Good Morning, Ratna”. Still there was no reply. Some of us active ones were getting irritated because she wasn’t replying. We kept incessantly writing messages like “Have you forgotten us now?” or “It’s disappointing when your old friends no longer care about you.” I would think about her, trying to comprehend this silence. Had her son decided to come? Was she very busy talking to him? Making his favorite dishes? Playing with her grandchildren? Had he, in fact, taken her to U.S.A as he had always promised and she was now busy settling down in the welcoming warmth?
That thought, I am not ashamed to say, made me really angry, spiteful. I typed, “Ratna dear was never really interested in anything for long even in school. She has become bored with us now. Your Highness, do think of us sometimes!” I was sick of her! I hated her! I had already painted images of her surrounded by her grandchildren in my mind with a childish glee oozing out of every old wrinkle in her face. Somehow, even in the coming days, I would always remember her and think of her with that image in my mind. Even after everything. After three months, I opened my WhatsApp in the morning to find a message from Ratna. I couldn’t wait to make her apologize or hear her excuses. I saw this message “Namste, I am your friend’s son, Ajay. I want to inform you of the unfortunate demise of my mother three months ago. I came back from U.S.A yesterday and it took me a few hours to open her phone as I did not know the password.”
I was so shocked that I automatically called Ratna. Someone picked up and I was foolish enough to say, “Ratna! Oh, I was so worried.” “Namste, this is Ajay, her son. Mother passed away three months ago.” I had read all that already but hearing him from someone who sounded so much like Ratna made it real. I did not know what to say so I asked anything that came into my mind. “When will she be cremated?” “That was done a day after her death. I was very busy so I couldn’t come.” “Oh, I… will you sell away everything now?”
He didn’t sound surprised though he must have been because I hadn’t even introduced myself yet and was probing his personal matters. “Yes, there is no one here now you see. I had to urgently come because these legal and financial matters couldn’t wait. Would you know anyone who would be interested?” I was tired now, and I detested his Ratna-like voice so I just murmured goodbye and hung up without a reply.
I felt so tired. To think we had all teased her, been angry with her… to think I had hated her! Hated her while she was rotting in death. Life was so meaningless. They were all sending condolence messages to the group now… Did anyone care? Some of them probably were sad. I typed a message but I never sent it. Next day I typed another but I couldn’t send either the next one or the one after that. My classmates moved on, I didn’t. Condolence messages stopped coming after two days and they discussed new topics. I hadn’t sent any message. No condolences. I still try to type out something and send it but I can’t. After my grandfather, I had almost gotten used to it. It was familiar, predictable after a certain point, and hurting, but at least I knew it a bit. I remember my experience when my grandfather died. I was shocked at first. After some time, it just hurt with sadness and a weird kind of pained numbness. I hadn’t gone mad at least even then but I can’t be too sure now. At that time, I thought it couldn’t ever be worse but I know better now. This kind of death where you don’t even know about death.
Oh Ratna! I am not worrying about you but your death only makes me crazy about my own. I don’t even know if my son will come after my death. I don’t know when my dead body will be found if I die someday in the house. My son doesn’t ever pick up my calls so even if the neighbors somehow know of my death, they may not be able to contact him. I am not dead now but I think I will be soon. They haven’t removed Ratna from the group yet. I have stopped using WhatsApp but now one asks me like they asked Ratna. I guess they have learnt their lesson! I can’t open WhatsApp. I always feel one of us in the group would be dead and we don’t even know about it! I feel like typing and sending each morning, “Is anyone dead today?” Perhaps I will send it someday and then maybe they will remove me from the group.
Maliha Iqbal is a student and freelance writer based in Aligarh. She can be mailed at email@example.com