Poles apart, two ends of a spectrum, may sound far enough and draw an immeasurable distance between two happenings or events. But, have you ever wondered how opposites co-exist, or rather are in harmony in our lives. Ambiguous and gibberish as it may sound, it is truer than we can ever imagine.
What is death to anyone? A tragedy, sorrow of a lifetime people are ordained to carry for the rest of their lives. Maybe, the morbidity surrounding death would cease to exist if we take a look from the other side.
Recently, my grandfather passed away at 96. At that age a peaceful death after an extremely fulfilling life, we couldn’t have asked for more. Yet, we couldn’t help but sob, thinking he could have lived for a few more years. Mourning is an inherent part of death, irrespective of a premature or an anticipated passing away.
We prepared to bid my granddad a befitting farewell, which was as grand as the life he lived. According to Hindu rituals, the dead cannot be cremated in the night, is what I am told. My granddad had to be kept overnight at our place and we arranged for him to be kept for the night. In half an hour, four men arrived with an icebox and a glass case. If an outsider was to watch them, it would seem like a group of mechanics had walked into the house to perhaps fix the TV or the AC. The casualness in their stride and conversation intrigued me. They discussed the procedure with my folks in a matter-of-factly tone. ‘We will come tomorrow morning, when are you taking him to the crematorium?” Here is our card, please call us. The men left, leaving us with our duties to follow.
The next morning, priests arrived in scores. There was one team to set up the place for rituals and another to give a list, while relatives poured in to pay their last respects. While the priests started the incantations, chanting the verses to bid the departed soul a deserving farewell, we stifled tears and cries.
The priests went on with the procedures, with the senior most shouting out instructions; he seemed like the quintessential PT master at school, taking his students to task for not following the drill instructions carefully. Multitasking and reciting chants, he adeptly finished the rituals and signalled that it was time to head to the crematorium for the last rites.
Funerals make me wobbly and this was my granddad’s and hence more taxing. In a tizzy, I looked around to see a sea of the grim faced priests and teary-eyed relatives. I could have thrown up out of stress.
For us, the 10th and 13th days following a person’s demise are days to commemorate with elaborate customs. A bunch of priests supervise the proceedings. In earlier times, the priests who are engaged in these rituals are supposed to be poor, living a humble life with minimal requirements. In today’s times, I don’t know how much that has changed but largely these priests don’t make big bucks like the chiefs do.
Justifiably, they await the news of death as much as they look forward to other rituals and pujas. If it a Brahmin household like ours, it would mean profitable business for the next 12 months, till the first death anniversary is marked. Now that sounds crude and cynical, but how does that matter, as long as it is means of living for others?
The pallid lives like these that I would never notice otherwise are not as mundane as I make it to be, or are they? I wonder what they have to say about it. Would they sit with the same expressionless face for their father’s or mother’s rituals? The answer is both yes and no, I guess. Human emotions are strange and stranger than we can imagine.