The ultimate nemesis

I was eight years old when we moved house. The bungalow next door appeared uninhabited as all its doors and windows remained shut. An eerie silence enveloped the house.

As I came out to play one evening, I was surprised to see a boy of my age standing behind the bungalow's gate. He appeared friendly, and introduced himself as Kamal. On being invited to come and play, he whispered in a hushed voice, "Sorry, I am not allowed to go out alone." Each evening thereafter, I would see him at the gate - a longing, lonely and forlorn look on his face, a silent spectator, not daring to venture out.

My curiosity was aroused. A few days later, I plucked up enough courage to ring his doorbell. His eyes lit up and he beamed with joy upon seeing me. His parents' reaction was, surprisingly, just the very opposite. They neither smiled, nor welcomed me, a clear indication that they did not approve of my visit.

The next evening, Kamal was conspicuous by his absence, and so too, on the following days. I couldn't resist any longer, and hesitatingly, rang his doorbell again. An uneasy calm prevailed in the house. I was reluctantly ushered by Kamal's mother into his room, where he lay in bed, propped up against pillows, his bedside table cluttered with medicines. His face was pale and ashen. Dark rings around his sunken eyes were a clear indication that he was very sick. On seeing me, he made a futile attempt to smile. The next day, he was shifted to hospital.

Two days later, there was an unusual activity in his house, with a spate of visitors. For a change, its doors and windows were wide open with curtains fully drawn. I was excited, hoping that Kamal was back home. But I was so wrong. As I approached his house, deep, anguished wailing sounds emanated from within. There, in the courtyard, lay his frail and lifeless body, covered with a white sheet.  

My mother explained that the death was the result of a curse inflicted upon Kamal's mother in her previous life. An astrologer had predicted that no child of the woman would survive beyond the age of 12. This prediction was not a mere prophecy, but a harsh reality, as Kamal had earlier lost both his elder sisters under very tragic circumstances before they reached the age of 12!

I was too young then to understand the meaning of curse, rebirth and death. Years later, memories of this tragic incident are still vividly etched in my mind. I can now understand why Kamal's parents had clung onto him, keeping him protected behind closed doors. But, nothing can keep destiny from snatching away our loved ones. Having lost him forever, there was nothing left to protect, nothing left to guard. Ultimately, the curse had the final say!

Does one suffer for past sins? Is there rebirth? Is it possible to foresee the future? Many of us who are educated, shun such notions. But then, how does one explain the cruel blows of destiny on Kamal's parents?

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