I had just recovered from my cough and running nose after an all-day rest in my comfortable hotel in Lviv. Next morning, I was up and about. After a hot shower and a change, I headed straight for the dining room to have my breakfast. Not before manoeuvring my way through two room cleaning ladies carrying the lining baskets and trays. I rang the elevator bell to the eighth floor where breakfast was being served.
A lovely hostess welcomed me at the dining hall gate, took my jacket and gave me my table number. I showed my electronic key to the gate attendant who let me in. Breakfast in Ukraine is a treaty affair with cakes and strawberry jam, assorted fruits and cereals, lots of ham, sausages, eggs and bacon. There was also fruit juices and milk to go with sliced cheese and molten butter. I ate what I could and enjoyed the cakes immensely. It was raining outside and the weather became grey and chilly. I could see trams moving about the street with rain belting on the tram lines. It will not be a great day for an outing but the weather in this part of the world has been cold, to say the least.
By 10 AM, I was at the reception with my GoPro and other camera equipment. I was waiting for Marina to arrive who would then escort me to Lychakiv Cemetery and St. George’s Church. I have been smoking all through my journey in Russia and now, in Ukraine. I think it must be the cold weather which increased my craving for smoking. I had a soft pack of large Marlboro. So I walked out of the hotel gate to enjoy a smoke.
The morning traffic was up and about and people were crossing the street with raincoats and umbrellas. Suddenly, a ghost of chilly wind blew over my face sinking into my cheeks. Taken by surprise, I reacted with amazement. The wind had a hint of jasmine and white rose. I heard a slight gurgling noise in my left ear, a strange sort of echo. As I tried to light my cigarette, the wind blew away my matchbox. I turned to look down and saw that the box fell into the dustbin nearby. I walked into the hotel through the gate in haste. Calmness was restored as it were. I sat comfortably on the red sofa at the reception waiting for my guide.
Mariana was short, fair with rosy white cheeks and had golden blonde hair tied like a bun. She had blue eyes and looked to be in her late thirties. She wore a large brown raincoat and colourful scarf. In her right hand, she carried a blue umbrella with frills around it. I was just about to get my gloves on as she looked at me and said, “Anuj sir, Hello. It is me, your guide today to the city of Lviv. I am Mariana.” she was pleasant and smiled as she shook my hand. “Madame, glad to meet you. I am from India, New Delhi. I want to see the city.” As I waved to the reception staff, Mariana whisked me out of the hotel and its revolving golden gates into a car that was a taxi with an old driver called Igor.
Igor was old with snow-white hair, a stubble and wrinkled face. He had two gold teeth and a jaw that had been rearranged. He smiled rarely but he was going to take us around the city today. We stopped at a coffee shop near a footpath. Just a sidewalk away was the famous Lychakiv Cemetery, the oldest and biggest cemetery in Ukraine. Basically, here is where most Ukrainians bury their dead. I picked up coffee and a ham cheese sandwich and then strode off with Mariana to the large iron gates of the famous cemetery.
As I was crossing the road gobbling my sandwich, I felt it again. This time, a stronger swoosh, a bout of chilly fresh breeze paled my face making my cheeks go flush red. So much was its energy that the coffee just flipped out of my cup and on to my shoes. I bent over to clean them and then looked up to the cemetery gate and what waited for us as we walked in. I had switched on my GoPro video camera and was capturing the sights and sounds of this unique place of the dead. The road to the cemetery was wet with the morning rain. Pigeons fluttered around the admission gate where we had to take an entry ticket to the cemetery. With the formalities underway, I and my guide trudged forward into the cemetery.
I had my first look at the marble gates with crosses on them. Some were grey, some were white and the others were brown and black. There were graves of all sizes. Some had candles lit on them and some had flowers on them. As I turned my camera to capture the expanse of this cemetery, woosh! I got hit again. A bold chilly wind hit into my ear as if someone wanted my attention and fast. I was confused by it and looked around for clues to what it was. I stared right up into the trees but it was gone in a flash like an invisible being with lightning speed. I gained my composure as Mariana was still giving me a lowdown on the history of the cemetery.
A cream and rusty collared fox passed my path as I walked deeper into the cemetery. There were golden crosses with Jesus on them and then there were murals of the Virgin Mary. There were also a few graves that kept goblets of wine. I was absorbing the serenity and calmness of it all. Grey stones and marble crosses sworn this place. There are also statues of men and women in the cemetery. The old and the young can be seen sharing a moment of silence beside the graves of their loved ones. I kept walking and then stopped in my tracks again by this bolt of wind. This time, the wind brushed my hair along the way. I stopped dead next to a black stone grave with a cross on it marked 26th December 1945. I glanced at it first and then it struck me. It was my father’s birthday. That was the date when he was born.
I linked the connection and the coincidence of the omen of bolts of chilly winds hitting my face and then vanishing into thin air. It was a sign that had wanted me to come to the cemetery from the beginning to the particular grave with my father’s birth date engraved on it. I got the meaning now. I fell on my knees and started to pray for my father’s soul. I took deep breaths and chanted a few mantras including the Hanuman Chalisa and Om Jai Jagdish Hare. A dog howled at the background as if he had also felt the omen.
The ghost of the cemetery. That is what it was and it had dragged me to this grave. Now, I just had to pray and hope that my redemption is down. I kneeled at the grave for a while remembering past scenes with my father. I could hear his voice and his laugh. It was all there and it was all coming out now in a gush of emotions. I clutched at my stomach as it twisted and turned. It hurt me a bit and I felt a shortness of air in my lungs. In minutes, I was reduced to tears and started crying. I had tears in my eyes. Yes, I was sobbing. I howled and wept remembering dad as he was no more but somehow when I looked up at the cross and grave, it gave me the feeling that he was there somewhere in the other world of this great cemetery. I cried and I prayed as the chilly winds howled over me. My jacket flew in the air and was about to fall off my shoulders. The grey and yellow autumn leaves flew and bellowed in the wind and were now flowing around the cemetery. It was a strange connection between wind atmosphere and energy. The place went abuzz as I started praying with more intensity. Sanskrit shlokas and mantras were coming out of my mouth and I chanted them like the priests of Benaras. My voice reverberated in the air as my chants filled the air above as If on cue, the church bells on the two cathedrals outside the cemetery started ringing. It was like an approval. They were giving to the spectacle, a son praying for his father’s lost soul. This crescendo and dance of energy had a rhythm and symphony of its own. It was coming from within me too.
In the corner of my eyes, I could see Marina looking at me in horror as if I had gone into some kind of spiritual frenzy or trance. I had been on the ground next to that grave for hours. It was evening and clouds became grey. I gained my composure and looked up at the heavens. I stood up and tucked up my jacket. Mariana had dropped her umbrella in the midst of all the emotions. I picked it up and gave it to her. She wiped away my tears and said, “Yes, I understand that you miss your papa.” I gave her a hug and we walked out of the cemetery gates into our car which was just waiting outside a pastry shop. This was it. The Ghost of the Lychakiv Cemetery in Lviv where I had to confront the images and memories of my long gone father.
I arrived late to my hotel room and I tucked myself for the night. I was confident that the chilly bolts of wind had disappeared for good as my prayers would have had an impact on them. I slept well that night as if a huge load had been taken away from me. I felt light, happy, guiltless and proud.