Mitch Albom has always been readers’ delight. He is not a roller-coaster writer, but writes with great feelings and emotions. That he is frugal with words never hampers his portrayal of characters that are mostly pragmatic and down to earth species, not high-flying angels.
‘The Five People You Meet in Heaven’ [FPYMH], Albom’s current best-seller, coming as it does from a gentry of thrillers, is an interesting read with an innovative plot. Eddie, the protagonist of the novel, a maintenance mechanic in a Theme Park, dies in an accident, goes to heaven and meets a bunch of five people there whom he had known while living on the earth but forgotten them at the time of his tragic death. Five different people with five different quaint characters trigger Eddie’s memories, both sweet and sour.
I sat through a night and read the novel in one draught. It was a sort of scary, ominous night whose deadly silence and somnolence got torn apart by streaks of lightning followed by a heavy downpour and ramblings of thunder. I felt a little frightened when I saw the eerie ambience of the novel slowly setting in my room [was it an optical illusion?]
Eddie’s meeting with five of his old acquaintances in heaven was so exciting that I was tempted to think about my own choice of the people with whom I would like to have a rendezvous in the ‘swargaloka’ [Since the Balance Sheet of my life is full of assets I hope that I would go only to heaven… he he he] Choices are many and a host of [read ghost] people appeared before me from nowhere and said:’ hello’. It was more or less a ‘Hobson’s choice, and after much dilly- dallying, I zeroed in on the following five people and wrote their names in my diary.
- Mother Theresa
The night was getting old and I grew weary not able to catch up with the name of the fifth person whom I would like to meet in heaven. Leaving thus the fifth column blank, I put down my diary with a sigh and hit the bed.
When I woke up in the morning, I heard Naveen’s, my brother, meeting with an accident the night before in the Chennai Bangalore National Highways while driving his car. My wife told me that Naveen’s condition was critical and he was battling for life in a sub-urban hospital. I felt shattered, smelling funeral in the air.
The hospital was unusually crowded. The chief doctor, a tall and portly man, told me in a subdued tone that Naveen’s condition was most critical and he had the only remote chance of recovery. I stood still, unable to piece together the breaking mind. ‘Naveen … Naveen’, my mother screamed. Since I couldn’t console her, I hauled her into the other side of the hospital.
An old woman who was standing at the entrance to the ICU for long came over to me in quick steps and sat by my side. She peered at me long and said nonchalantly: “I saw your mother crying in the ICU moments back. Make up your mind. No one can wish away god’s command. Today is Mahashivratri day. And whoever dies today will go to only heaven.”
Heaven! Heaven!! Heaven!!!
I was startled, got up abruptly as if I was stung by a scorpion. The moment I heard the word ‘heaven’ from the old woman, I felt it ripped open my heart and made my head spin. It looked as though the woman did not utter the word, but by an oracle that might be lurking somewhere in the hospital. For, I began to think about the blank space I had left in the fifth column of my diary after reading Album. ‘Is it destined that I should fill the blank space with Naveen’s name? I thought plaintively.
Time was not moving, only crawling. There were moments of anxiety, moments of despair, moments of crying, moments of despondency and moments of my cursing god when doctors shrugged off their shoulders dismissively and pouted their lips about the survival of Naveen. I felt I was in the eye of a storm. A new sense of guiltiness started running through my veins as I began to think again and again that it was Naveen who was going to fill the 5th vacant column in my diary. What a horrible coincidence? God must be ‘tyrannous and rough’, I thought helplessly.
But, to my great relief, God proved Himself otherwise. For, on the ninth day, the chief doctor came to the hospital lounge where I was sitting crestfallen and browsing a newspaper. He was all smiles, told me that Naveen was alright and his condition was stable.
“OMG! ‘Thank you doctor… thank you very much,’ I shouted, shook hands with the doctor, though I couldn’t see him for the tears. I had no inclination to go to the ICU and see Naveen. I flew home in my Santro. Reaching home, I climbed up the stairs and reached my room in one bound. Still breathing hard, I took out my diary from the table and wrote the word ‘god’ in the fifth column, which was blank until now. Only after putting down the diary again on the table, I let out a sigh…a sigh of relief. My face became more luminous and my dying spirits got a new momentum. The FPYMH was still lying on the bed. I didn’t know why I laughed when I took the book in my hand again.
I know some of you may call me a superstitious guy or an emotional freak or a pessimist or an idiosyncratic bloke. But, now, having got my brother alive from his grave, I don’t give a damn to what others say and what taunting appellations I get from them.
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