As I walked towards my locker in the gym after a quick and rather cold shower, I observed that a group of women in the locker room were deeply engrossed in the news story that was developing on the TV screen. The television is placed in a conspicuous corner of the room. I don’t remember looking at it, or in that direction for that matter, all these days that I have been coming to this gym. I gathered that there was some breaking news that had caught everyone’s attention. I joined the women and we watched the news channel flash images of a burning plane lying on its belly on a runway. It was a devastating sight. It was a passenger plane coming from Seoul that had crashed upon landing at SFO just a few minutes ago.
I am quite sure that every woman in the locker room was thinking about the passengers who were trapped inside that aircraft. But no one said a word to each other. Everyone was just looking at the screen, aghast at the blazing smoke erupting from the crashed aircraft. Shaken by the thought of a (‘nother) plane crash it took me a little while to grasp the developments. I instantly took a mental count of all my friends and family who were flying in or out of SFO this morning. No one I know was on that plane. But that was not enough.
No murmurs, no speculation ensued. It was as if to speak was to break some sort of moral code. I felt uncomfortable. Almost in tears. I was surprised at the women in the room. Why was no one talking? The pause was interrupted, and all of a sudden, as if in some sort of orchestrated way, everyone just returned to their tasks. Around me I saw women folding their clothes and applying make up. Unperturbed by the events, people just went about doing their things. I finally got used to the cold silence and went about packing my things, catching glimpses of the news flashes from time to time. Still disturbed about the event, I wondered about the fate of the trapped passengers. But at a subconscious level I was surprised at how life moves on. I felt cheated. There was voice in me saying, “hey, wait a minute. Seems like some people died. Can we find out more? Are there any survivors? Does anyone care? What really happened?”
I was now by myself in a little chamber fighting these voices in my mind. It was then that I heard a voice — a frail and old one. A real voice. She asked innocently, “What happened here?”. I waited for someone to respond. But no one did. I realized that no one was there anymore. I replied back, “It is a developing story. An aircraft seems to have just crash landed at SFO. We don’t know anything more than that as of yet.” I tried to be as accurate as possible.
Immediately, she asked, “Did anyone die?” “Well”, I replied, “we don’t know yet.” She looked at me, eye to eye, “That’s the only thing that cannot be fixed. Everything else can be. No one comes back from death.” I was moved, and looked back at her. “You are right there.”
She patted my back. “It was nice to meet you. I am Aditi. It was good talking to you”. I nodded, “I am Shivi. It was good talking to you too.” And with that the old, frail and compassionate Aditi left the room.
I fundamentally believe that the world is made up of two types of people. Those who understand loss and those who don’t. Aditi and I are of the same kind.