Sunday, 25 August 2013

My father's death

It was Thursday night. The week end was long with Friday being a holiday. I resolved to relax, which included getting up late. I watched Kismat-Love- Paisa- Delhi on T.V. and slept after talking to my mother over the phone.

 I was abused physically, mentally and emotionally.  Now, after a long time,  I had gathered the courage to live life on my own terms. Even, you have a right to live your life, I told myself as I slid into the quilt in the cold night of January.  I got up again and kept my mobile phones in the hall. I did not want to be disturbed with promotional calls and other calls that may steal my late waking up, which is a quintessential of a holiday. All the happiness was mine and it was my right to enjoy all the fruits in the God’s garden, I told myself and went to sleep.

But early morning my phones started blaring. In the silent hours of early morning the ringtones were wild enough to fall on my padded ears. Having no option, I reached to the phone. It was five in the morning. The call was from my mother.  My father was dead.
I called my colleague who lived next door. I packed my bags, as he arranged for a vehicle. Three more office colleagues dropped in and accompanied me to my home in my town more than 500 kilometers away.

Throughout the journey I kept on messaging and calling my friends to tell them about the fateful event.  I was calling my mother to enquire about her every fifteen minutes.  For the rest of time I was visualizing my father’s astral body and praying for his peaceful departure to the other side.

My father had only one elder brother. He kept on calling me every hour. Not to console me, but to ask how much distance I had crossed.  He wanted to leave from Pune accordingly, so that he would reach at the same time as I would. The elder brother did not wish to reach a few hours earlier and stay with his sister in law. His constant calls kept on irritating me.  My father’s body was kept in a morgue. I called my aunt Asha, not my real aunt, but a woman who was treated like a daughter by my grandmother. She had liberal reformative views. I told her that no evil practices like breaking of the mangalsutra and wiping of kumkum should be done.

I reached my home.  There were people in crowds near my home. Why do crowds assembled for a funeral have a peculiar identity? People gather otherwise also and chitchat. But people gathered near a house of dead person can be easily discerned.  With heavy legs I walked the hallway, which I had walked since I was a child.  I entered the house and hugged my mother tightly.  The body was brought from the morgue and kept for a moment in the hallway.  Knowing my reformative views, my father’s aunt asked me to do the funeral rites as being told by the priest and take a call thereafter for other rites. Interestingly, she had told her only daughter that she did not believe in any rites and none should be performed on her own death. I garlanded the body and moved my hand across his cold face. Tears rolled down my cheeks. I knew there is no such thing as death, but still I was going to miss his company at least temporarily. Someone asked whether the mangalsutra was broken and a piece of gold from it was placed in my father’s mouth. My aunt covered up saying that an amount equivalent to the gold would be donated to the Brahmin later on.

I got into the hearse that carried the body to the ghats. We waited for the wood to be brought. I spotted a diesel cremation furnace. I expressed my desire to cremate my father in diesel cremation furnace. But it was turned down with a scornful look. My father slept with folded legs on the pyre. The priest told me that though my father had died at an auspicious time, the cremation was carried out an inauspicious period. So, he placed three dolls made up of dough and placed them on the pyre. He tried to light a torch with the kerosene. The torch did not catch fire immediately. “That kerosene is provided by government.” He cracked a joke and few laughed. He handed over me the torch and I lit the funeral pyre. The flames consumed my father’s body with few crackles.  The care taker at the ghats asked for chai pani. After cremation while I was returning home, one of uncles asked if by any chance I knew the judge of the court in his tehsil, where his case was pending.

On returning home I had bath. All the relatives dispersed. My mother’s five sisters left, saying that the custom required them to stay for the next 10 days, if they stayed back. Only my uncle and aunt stayed back.  I wanted to be with my mother that night. But as my aunt was unable to sleep on the floor she slept next to my mother on the double bed. I slept on the floor in the hall. An earthen lamp was lit. Silhouettes of the T.V set, chairs flickered across the walls making the atmosphere uneasy.


The next day when my few other relatives arrived along with the priest. My mother handed over his charges Rs.1000/- and also the morgue charges. They broached the topic of rites to be performed on 10th, 11th,12th , 13th and 14th day. My mother told me that let all those be performed. I asked my mother to come out as the plans were chalked out. 

“Let her stay inside. We will decide.”  My uncle said. Interestingly it was me and my mother who were going to shelve out the money. But we had no say. At that moment my friend Ashish called me and offered to take up the entire responsibility of last rites if they were performed at Narsobachi vadi.  His uncles were into the same business at the holy place. I told about it to the gathering. However, my proposal was unanimously turned down by all saying it was not convenient to them. The solution of hiring a vehicle to travel to the holy place was also not accepted. “It will be inconvenient to us. If the rites are performed at any marriage hall in Miraj, we can come and go as per our convenience”, said my father’s aunt. 

They went on to decide the menu. My father’s aunt wanted both Kheer and Laddu on the platter and was in no mood to settle a hall that did not charge the highest rent and price for the menu. My uncle had brought a priest who also was a relative and was performing puja at my home for many decades.  My aunt left for Pune, as my uncle stayed back for immersion of ashes. They stated that she desired to stay back but had to leave because their son had stacked huge cash at their home and the same cannot be deposited in the bank until the holidays were over. Now, exactly none of us knew what my cousin did for a living.

I had asked my friend to get a cook for the next ten days. However, as we were only three people in the house, the plan was dropped and I subscribed to a Tiffin services. In the evening my uncle left for a stroll. He asked me if I wanted something from the market. I told him I had forgotten to bring my tooth brush and asked him to buy me one. He returned home after an hour minus the tooth brush.

The next day was immersion of ashes. We went to the crematorium.  Some ashes were picked up in an earthen pot.  I was asked to carry the remaining ashes in a gunny bag and throw it into the river.  The road to the river was a steep slope with dirt including human faeces.  I was made to walk with naked feet across the filthy sharp stoned slope.  “This is a good exercise. You will feel hungry.” The priest with idiotic sense of humour said, as I made three more rounds to the river.

Thereafter we headed to the Sangam. The sangam was still murkier. The water was black and the spot was actually confluence of the river and sewage. My uncle said that all others would prostate only from a distance and I alone should step into the water to immerse the ashes. Every one stood on the banks and I stepped into the dirty water and emptied the contents of the pot.

I returned home and rang the door bell. My mother opened the door. She was alone in the house.  I felt very bad for her. I carried black foot prints into the home. My uncle followed. After his bath, my uncle told me that he was leaving for Pune and would return on the 10th day.  

I and my mother were alone at the home. I had to step out for procuring death certificate, getting a picture of my father framed, bank work and many trivia including buying a tooth brush. All the acquaintances I met on the way wanted to ask hundred and one questions.  I half heartedly rushed through the chores, the other half being left with my mother.

Numerous people dropped in to offer their condolences. They had so many questions to ask, including whether we were selling our house. One lady also requested to offer her a right of preemption if we were selling it.   My mother complained of chest pain. She asked to call the doctor.  As I was calling the doctor, all the people who had come to offer condolences left. My friend Vidya dropped in immediately. We took my mother to the nearest doctor, as the doctor asked us to bring her to the clinic in order to take a cardiogram.  Vidya, being a woman, entered the room where cardiogram was taken.    
I was waiting out as the doctor had told me that he would summon me. Every minute appeared eternity. After 17 minutes the doctor called me and told that he wished to keep my mother under observation for the next 72 hours. As he had no hospitalization facilities, he referred her to another doctor.

We took her took the referred hospital. A junior doctor checked her as I rushed to register her name and get the case paper done. My mother fell asleep as Vidya,  my friend waited next to her.  I waited at the counter for her name to be called out. My father’s uncle came to the hospital. As we were waiting he asked me how much salary I was drawing. I told him that I was in no mood to answer any of his questions.
Vidya knew a sister in the hospital. She came to know that no rooms in the hospital were vacant.  I was worried how I would manage if my mother was kept in the ladies ward. Vidya offered to stay overnight if my mother was admitted in the ladies ward.

Finally, we were called in. By now my mother was feeling better. The doctor examined her and asked to get a thyroid test done. He prescribed some antidepressants and told us there was no need to admit her. This was a great respite.

We returned home. The Tiffin was waiting at the door. I fed my mother and gave her the medicine. She slept deeply. Every five minutes, I checked if her breath was intact by placing my finger near her nose. Yes, she was breathing. She was alive. Needless to say I was unable to sleep the whole night.

I was very unhappy with those who called themselves to be my relatives, those who simply dictated the terms under the name of religion and customs, without offering any help. I asked my mother whether it was fine if we donated the eighteen thousand rupees, the fees of the priest for the 10th to 14th day rites to charity.  I also offered to keep a bhajan on the 10th day followed by lunch for everyone. She said she was in a quandary and approved both the options.

There were incessant phone calls enquiring about the venue of 10th day rites. My mother told all to ask about the same to me. When my Mama called up, I asked him whether he would stay back for a few days after the rites, as I had to leave thereafter and my mother had to stay for the pension work. He said that even he was in dearth of leaves.  When another aunt of mine called up, I made a similar request to her. Even she said she wanted to make it for the 10th day at any cost and could not stay back as her husband would starve.

By the evening this hypocrisy of my relatives was taking my nerves. I was suffering severe headache. My aunt, mother’s sister and her husband visited us, empty handed. Even her husband doubled as a priest after his bank hours. Even, he enquired about the 10th day. He told if the same was not performed the soul would remain unsatisfied and trouble even the generations to come. They left only after  accelerating my headache. I told my mom that I was going to our family doctor for a checkup.

Dr. Sharad Gadre was our family doctor. I have literally grown up before his eyes. He is a very spiritual man and delivers sermons or pravachans. “Please, check my blood pressure.” I told him. He monitored my BP, but did not tell me the reading. “Nothing to worry. We will chit chat for some time. That should work.” He said. Now I was unable to control my emotions. I started to cry profusely. “Doctor not only I have lost my father, I am losing my town as well.  May be I will never see you again for my parents were the only reason to come to Miraj.” I narrated him my being in an abusive relationship and the societal pressure to perform the last rites. He opened a thick book of Tukaram’s abhangas. From the index on the rear side, he opened the page containing lines saying that if you do not feed your father during life time, there is no use of giving pinddaan. 

 “See your views are endorsed by religious texts as well.” He paused only to continue, “Mahesh, I was born in a very conservative, religious family.  All the customs were scrupulously followed. We had strict rules as to sanctity. When my father passed away, I gave a contract to priest, what your generation calls package deal. I had to simply shelve out the money and all the arrangements including the food, eleven Brahmins and even barber for shaving the head would be made by the head priest.”  

I was still crying. “First I was made to sit for shaving my head. The barber reeked liquour. I felt offended, but kept quiet.  Some pindas were made. I offered three. When I turned, I saw the same barber carrying other pindas in the cloth which he had kept to collect the hair. There are many situations in life when you feel enraged, you know a wrong is happening, but you are helpless. I kept quiet.  We went to feed the Brahmins. There were eleven plates arranged, full of the delicacies for shradha.  Only three Brahmins were sitting and all other plates were unattended.  The chief priest asked to take a sankalpa. I asked him, how I could take up the sankalpa to feed eleven Brahmins, before all of them were present. The chief priest told me that getting Brahmins physically was very difficult and this is how they worked. He assured me that dakshina or fees of each of the Brahmins would reach to them. Mahesh, that day after returning home, I told my wife and son that on my death no rites should be performed on my death. So when this thought crosses my mind, the mind nourished in an orthodox family and a mind of earlier generations, it is not surprising that such thoughts crop up in your mind. I will tell you two more stories, rather my experiences and we will stop. There was one old man of lingayat community. One day he did not wake up. I was called. I examined him and declared him dead. In lingayat community the last rites conclude on the third day. So this man’s last rights were done. In spite of it, the sons felt that something was wrong somewhere. They went to a Brahmin. He took out the almanac and checked for the date on which the old man had died. He told them that they were lucky that their father died at the right time. If he would have survived for few more minutes he would have been a jinx and brought bad omen for all of you.” 

The doctor gave a smile, which I was acquainted with since I was a child. The doctor did not speak much and was of a very reserved nature. He would not even reciprocate a smile when he crossed his patients on a street. But he was always friendlier with me, may be because I was a child. “Now, a person who tells you that you were lucky that your father died in time or he would have brought bad omen to you should be fogged in public.   Let me turn to another experience.  There was an old lady who lived with her grandson. Her daughter was separated from her husband and lived with her mother. But she passed away. As a result the old illiterate lady stayed with her grandson. One day the old lady died. I was called again.  Doctors witness many deaths.  That was the day of anant chaturdashi, the day of Ganesh idol immersion. Latter, I learnt that few days earlier the old lady had asked to her grandson as to how many logs of wood were required to cremate a person.  The grandson replied twenty-five kilos. ‘When I die bring fifty kilos and also put double the kerosene, but when you lit the pyre and turn your back, do not even return to immerse my ashes. That is my last wish’, said the old woman. So the grandson followed his grandmother’s last wish, as after his mother’s demise she was the person who reared me. But till date on the day of Ganesh immersion, he feels something missing. He buys a bag of puffed rice and feeds the fishes in the river for hours together. So my dear what you feel is most important.  In Hindu scriptures there are three modes of performing last rites. First feed the Brahmins. Secondly,if you can’t actually feed them, give them the grocery. If someone is so poor that he cannot perform any of these, the scriptures say that he should face to the south and raise his arms and say to the departed souls that they are remembered.  The scriptures clearly state that none of these modes are superior or inferior to each other. All of them stand on the same footing. So my dear the scriptures support you.”

“But what should I tell to all those calling and asking for the venue of dash kriya?”
“You abscond with your mother. Go underground. Go to your place of work and tell everyone that all the rites are performed. There are scriptures. They give rise to customs which become more dominant over a period of time and completely eclipse the scriptures. Lying to these ignorant, rather misguided souls would not be a sin.”

I returned home. The headache had vanished. I had a word with my mother. She too agreed to come along with me. I booked the tickets. However, I did not approve going underground or going uninformed. I called the family priest and told that as there was no one to look after my mother I was taking her to my work place and would perform the last rites there.

 “But you will have to pay the entire amount that was agreed.” He said. The priest who was my relative, who was performing puja at my house for decades was only concerned with money.  This decision showed his true colours. 
“I will pay you but not the entire amount.  Even marriage halls do not forfeit the entire amount. They just take a cancellation charge.” I told him.
 “But I have prepared the laddus.”

“There are six more days for the dashkriya. Are you going to feed my father stale laddus?”
 “You will have to pay the entire amount. I am coming to your house in the evening.”
“My mother requires complete rest. I will send you the money. Please don’t come.”
 “I will keep coming to your house until you pay the money.” He said.

I called up my father’s brother and told him that I am going to perform all the rites at the place where I work. “But who will come there?” He asked. “Those who feel for my father would come. Other’s wont.”  My father’s brother had never even bothered to feed a morsel to my father. He had a love marriage with a wealthy advocate’s daughter and had become a henpecked husband. “What about those relatives who have booked tickets to come for the dashkriya?” My aunt took the charge of the phone. She told me how much the soul suffers on leaving the body and asked me to perform the rites.  She expressed her apologies for not staying back and again persuaded me. “But I have booked the tickets. I have decided.”

The same day evening the priest came along with three other priests, who looked more of goons than holy men. They raised their voices. Demanded money, argued, fought and did everything they could. I negotiated with them, handed them over one thousand rupees as cancellation charges. They tried to extract the entire money.  Sensing I would not budge, they offered me to perform all the rites in a single day, that too as per my convenience. I told them I was not interested.

“You opened my eyes today. Are they priests or goons?”  My mother asked.
The next day morning we left for my work place. I called up Yogoda Satsanga Society of India. My father’s name was kept in Guruji’s (Paramhansa Yogananda) room. I sent them eighteen thousand rupees for providing medical facilities to the poor. On the tenth day I prepared pindas of rice and kept it in my court yard. A famished bull arrived and gormandized on it.

Dr. Niruma says that how can your forefathers who strived hard, at times starved themselves to make your lives better, bring bad omen to you on their death.  According to her Pitru dosha is nothing but merely a money making tool.  Even Yogananda says leaving a body is just like walking from one room to another. Interestingly, case studies performed by Dr. Brain Weiss confirm the same. 

Moreover, if a deceased person brings ill omen if all the rites are not performed, the same will be received by all my relatives, including the priest. Why any of them did did not step forward and perform all the rites at their expenses. By this theory only Hindus have a ticket to heaven. Where do souls of other religion go, if souls have a religion. What happens to our tribal brothers who belong to no religion?

My father had died. I was paying for his last rites. I at least have a choice, a say in performing his last rites, haven’t I?

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