Is there a frontier beyond this physical world? Is there a course to be followed after one had passed away? May be yes, may be not for the deceased, however the journey begins sooner than expected for those around their bodies even as they await for their last rights. This blog post deals with the same death to funeral recount of events I had been part of since Wednesday evening after one of my female elders in my extended family had passed away peacefully. As the relatives, family members and friends gathered to decide the course until the next morning’s funeral, life had started rolling in different shades, shapes and metaphors.
Even-though the deceased was elderly and on her last leg of life, the first hour went into understanding the sudden vacuum created by her passing away. Although foreseen in advance, and to the relief of the deceased and those taking care of her to some extent as well – since they had fears of more painful end than what it transpired to be in the end – the emerging vacuum could still be felt by one and all. Her relation with other elders of my extended family was the chief reason for visiting them until now. That may not be the case in future, though.
As people started visiting to pay homage, things gradually began shifting from the deceased to the bereaving ones. Some were meeting after a long break and needed to be updated about each other. There would be intermittent rush to the outside Verandah to receive cellphone calls and conduct unfinished businesses. An occasional gaze at the style of dressing, way of walking, looks, composure, a lack of it and things of various human interest would also silently creep in. I sat in a corner observing this and the rest with a group of like-minded folks, and wondered at the manner in which the life handles itself even during the event of someone’s passing away.
Two past incidents flashed in my mind after witnessing all that. One took place about two decades ago when I was 20-some and standing at a city bus stop with a couple of equally young ladies. A funeral procession passed by us on that afternoon, and as the crowd neared I saw coffin lifters turning their faces shamelessly towards those two young ones. Quite embarrassing and awkward for others, not for the centers-of attention, though. They knew very well the meaning of this male gaze, the essence of this male lust, and enjoyed each of those stares, undeterred by the dead body on their shoulders. In doing so, the life had won, and death had been forced to retreat. The fallen, dry leave had been swept aside, and the new sapling given its own space.
The second incident happened in 2001, when Gujarat was struck with a massive earthquake. My city Ahmedabad had its own major scars. Several multi-stories collapsed, as if they had been made of card packs next to my own locality. More than 700 dead and scores others missing in my city alone (not to speak about the 12000 perished in Kutch at the epicenter). Doors and concrete slabs would be seen precariously hanging from top floors, low rise structures rising at acute angles marring the landscape. Bulldozers, earth diggers working 24 hours, bringing up rubble, rotten bodies and unbearable stench. And men and women walking down the roads like zombies amidst all this nightmare. The worst part was, being forced to live on road-sides, since you did not believe in your own dwellings, your own sweet homes anymore. It was like suspecting your own mother, your own caretaker.
But, something subtle, yet noticeable started happening by the third evening. A few odd eateries opened up, streets became more functional and for the first time in a hell that had lasted for 72-hours by now and was promising to continue for weeks on to come, men and women slyly began looking into each other’s eyes once again. This was the clearest of all signs that life was back to its normal course and death had been driven back into hibernation!
During the early morning, I sat by the deceased with three of her kids who are into their 30s and 40s and with their own growing up kids now. I could read the personal loss they just had from their faces. On some rare occasions, death can even leave some close ones crippled for life. I recently found Big B recalling his association with Shashi Kapoor, one of the most lively faces of yesteryear movies, in his own blog, and informing his extended family (blog readers and fans) how Kapoor had been living a reclusive life since his wife Jennifer’s demise. It is painful witnessing such a lasting damage after death. But life goes on unaffected in most other cases, though. Mourners would get ready for the funeral on one hand, and young ladies would pass by in their best attires to the nearest Navaratri Celebrations on the other. A somber voice would recite Bhagwadgeeta for the deceased and the bereaving on one hand, and the enchanting sounds of Garba from the nearby Pandals would sink in from the other, thus unplugging life, death, spirituality and romance in one go! It is but, an amazing experience! Life at its fullest!
We were at Antim Dham, an AUDA run crematorium in Thaltej area, a couple of hours later. The life after death kept me busy with observations until late that afternoon, and I decided to snap a few photographs to add to my story. What these photographs did not capture, however, were four dead bodies lying around – one being cremated and three awaiting their turns, men counting hours with a heavy heart and minds elsewhere, men – including this blogger – chatting about share-market, politics, movies and cricket And a few young romantic couples sitting intimately in bushes could also be seen within the crematorium itself (poor souls… they had no other place to go for dating 🙂 ), along with a group of poor kids begging for money there. The rest could be witnessed through these mobile snaps taken while we awaited our expired relative’s turn and after her cremation had started taking place subsequently.
And Finally, The Journey Back From Antim Dham In Ahmedabad, Through The Sarkhej-Gandhinagar Highway.