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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Life moves on...

Today, driving past the burnt out debris of the previous months, the land had been gently levelled. No more police tape, no more rusting hulk of Lexus. Just two deer browsing delicately on wildflowers at the edge of the lot.

I was returning from a funeral, the first that I have attended in years. The lady had lost a several-years-long battle against cancer. She was the mother of a girl whose arangetram I attended a few months back, the arangetram having been advanced to allow her to see her daughter on stage before she passed away. It was one of the saddest that I had seen. The dancing was good, but the light-hearted speeches that have become the hallmark of the 'half-time' were now replaced by a peppy speech by a very weak, short-haired lady in a wheelchair, trying to raise the spirits of the audience. The father broke down in tears before he could speak more than a few short sentences. The sense of 'living on borrowed time' was never as palpable as that moment.
Yesterday, her battle ended, and the calls were made, informing near and dear, friends and well-wishers that she had finally gone Home.
We gathered at the funeral home for a final viewing, a curious but entirely appropriate melding of Hindu tradition and Western location and trappings. There were baskets of tastefully arranged roses aplenty, as were rose petals, incense, bhajan-kirtan playing softly in the background. No chairs except for a few, as we stood at the periphery of the room around the wheeled bier.
She looked very tiny and frail, draped in a red saree, inundated with flowers at her head and feet, while her mother-in-law sat in a chair nearby, weeping, sometimes silent, sometimes loud.
The husband and daughter stood behind, in a sad reception line, receiving the condolences and hugs from those come to pay their last respects. It might have been easier on them, had they been allowed to sit, as they might have done in India. But this is the US. Everything is governed by the clock, as is the duration of the 'shraddh' ceremony, or the timing of when the actual cremation would take place.
An hour later, a be-suited gentleman announced it was time to file by in a last round before the final move down to the crematorium where only a few close family members would be permitted.
Tears flowed aplenty, no stoic faces or eulogies, just the chanting of the priest as he led the husband carefully through a final offering of prayer and ritual. We sat right behind, some ladies awkwardly splayed in their short black skirts, shoes removed at the entrance, all gracious in acceding to Indian custom.
A short while later, it was all over, as the nearest and dearest re-entered the room. People started to leave quietly. This is one occasion where one never utters the traditional leavetaking phrase of 'We'll be back". But of course, we will all be back, some day, some time.

Fare well, Keka. I never knew you as well in life, as I do in death.


5 comments:

kochuthresiamma p .j said...

well written - - but dark. what else to expect

munimma said...

Heard of it thru another friend and was quite disturbed. I had met the lady once at another friend's house. Very sad.

Sujatha said...

It was beyond sad, and that too for someone I'm barely acquainted with.
I almost did not go, but felt that I ought to do it, for her daughter's sake.

Ruchira said...

An untimely death for sure. I think you had told me about this woman's illness and her impending end. Sad indeed. I am no longer sure at this stage in my life, having seen death come to many elders and now some contemporaries, whether a sudden death is preferable to seeing someone linger in protracted pain and suffering. The first one carries the shock value of surprise and unpreparedness and the latter the misery of seeing a person fade before one's eyes. But as you said, "We will be back" for the inevitable whichever way it happens.

Sujatha said...

Ruchira:

She was only 46, hugely popular with many in the Bengali community here. I didn't know her personally, but always remember others talking of her with great affection, even as they referred to her illness in hushed terms.
I always hesitate to pronounce the 'Rest in Peace', it somehow seems so presumptuous to assume anything about what happens thereafter, despite what all religions say about it. As for 'Hope the family finds peace', that seems platitudinous, as well. They will, eventually. And what are we saying 'Fare well' to? What lies before us, is just the 'used shirt', to paraphrase the priest who attended to the rituals. He had just finished solemnizing a marriage ceremony the previous day.