Friday, January 02, 2009

Last Rites

It was a complete contrast to the previous time I was there. There were hardly any people walking about, it was mostly quiet (devotional songs occasionally blasting from stereos) and there was a calm to the place. It had been a long and tiring journey (7 hours on road, following a three hour flight), but my cousin, my sister and I had only one thing on mind. We followed our driver, who was doubling up as our guide, and walked in brisk steps to combat the cold.

I had never seen death before; I was in a coffee shop in Chennai on the 26th of December when I got the phone call. “Thatha… final moments… hurry”. I was two minutes too late when I reached home. People were crying and I saw my grandfather, my hero, lifeless. I had had that car ride home to understand what was happening and I guess that’s probably why I didn’t cry much. Or maybe it was because I wanted to stay strong for my mother and grandmother. The latter just sounds silly to me now - staying strong for the two strongest women I’ve known.

The water was flowing with a strong current and the cold in the air was making my ears go numb. I was not in the best shape, a fever and a sore throat causing trouble, but I had to step into the water and do what the whole trip was about. I took it out of my bag and struggled to remove the rope holding the cloth on top. My cousin offered to help, but with both feet shivering in the cold water, I was not willing to give up now.

I’ve never seriously thought about whether there is a God, and it’s because I’m happy living my life without wondering if there is a phenomenon that is in fact pulling the strings from above (or wherever). I think people think about a higher being when they feel helpless. I felt helpless when my grandfather passed away, but I wasn’t thinking about God. I wanted to do something, something to show to my grandfather that I loved him (even though he would never get to know of the act).

Four years ago, I had been to Haridwar on a school trip and I got the opportunity to bathe in the Ganges and also witness a puja that had me transfixed. Once again, I am not the religious type and so I was surprised as to why I was so taken by a puja. I had fallen in love with the place – the beautiful Ganges, staying pure despite man’s greatest attempts to pollute it, flowing without burden through a city that was built around it.

The rope eventually came off and so did the cloth on top. I moved closer to the water and my cousin held on to my shoulder, as I felt the strength of the Ganges. I closed my eyes and thought of my grandfather. I turned the pot upside down and the ashes became one with the great river. We had done what we had come for, and for a second all I could hear was the water flowing. Closure had never felt so real.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is a belief that the Atma is around for ten days after the passing away, in the air around us, and your grand father would certainly have been pleased by your act of immersing his ashes in the Ganga. You were very special to him.