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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Unexpected cremation 1

This is something I just need to write about, before it slips away unrecorded…

Early Sunday morning I got news from the head mistress at school that the wife of a senior staff member (Unnithan sir) had passed away on Saturday. So to pay my respects to him and his wife, I said I would ‘stop by’ for the funeral/cremation on Sunday afternoon. It was quite a change in atmosphere, after just arriving back from the annual day celebrations. But I wanted to go. Even though I’d only ever had brief connections with Unnithan sir, I highly appreciate and respect him.

So, Sunday afternoon I suddenly found myself standing with maybe 100 others, around the corps of a lady I’d met only once. It was the strangest thing. The rituals are ones I’ve only ever read about, never actually seen in action – until Sunday.

I’ll paint a picture of what was going on. The ceremony, followed by the cremation, took place at his house. Only 3 meters from the backdoor, her body was wrapped in bright orange cloth. The scene around the body resembled very much the same as those back home in graveyards. But the feel was totally different, as was the setting (of course). Here, nothing felt grey or dull… nobody was dressed in black, there was no rain, there were no clouds. I felt the atmosphere sad, but not depressing. There was no hole in the ground, there was no priest… It was all so… what’s the word I’m looking for… special and warm and bright.

The sons and grandchildren were the ones performing the rituals and giving her a special send-off. There aren’t any blessings spoken, it’s only performed. For example, her grandchildren put rice and milk on her mouth – so that she’s well-fed before her journey onwards. Also bright pink flowers - that had all received blessings from relatives and close friends - were sprinkled on her bright orange ‘wrapping’.

For me, this was only the 2nd body I’d ever seen, without life inside. At first I was reluctant to go close. But then – just after she had been given her last portion of rice and her last drops of milk by her grandchildren - one of the staff members from school said I could give her my blessings, it was like I’d been given permission… What a strange thing… me… a foreigner – not of the same religion and not having known this woman at all - was ‘allowed’ or kindly asked to walk around the body and bless her in my own way (with 100 Indians watching (and most likely judging) how the only foreigner was going to bless her farewell). I said no at first. But then, the way in which I was asked to go near her, even if it was just to look at her face, was so friendly and warm and open. Almost like they wanted me to see her, to bless her and not be afraid. It’s all very hard to put into words. But everything felt to be the most natural and special thing in the world.

So I walked up and saw her face, with bits of rice sprinkled on her mouth. And I felt so…. What’s the word… I felt so at peace to see her like that. I know she had suffered from cancer before passing and I could feel something so calm around the whole scene – even with the sadness of her family being so near.

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