Death(ly) discerning drama
Oh you, the 18th of August. You are 20 this year! Kind of an adult with ‘bring it on’ spook.
You just turned into a multi-role character that day when you took birth. Nothing less than a Shakespearean play your stage was that day! Fine potion of Hamlet and Macbeth for a week-long drinking and then, some more for immersion. On that day you began a deathly discerning drama. Your stage was momentous, halting, eternal, enveloping, dissecting, exposing, contrasting and contradictory. Alas, you grew up enough to tell this tale.
You took her away that dawn when puny humans sang the hymns for goddesses. You gently plucked the breath out of her body leaving the shock on her face. Her eyes locked the death-defining moment’s most agonising pain. It was but for a short minute that she had to endure the delicate touch of a mighty Himalayan boulder on the back of her skull. Chipped it was, carefully crafted right behind the face so that she looked the same beautiful lady that she always was. Except.
Except that her bulged eyes, almost out of their sockets, stared fixedly sending chills down the onlooker’s spine. They conveyed the very last, final and the very decisive pain of her life. Her tongue, pushed out, twisted to the left perfectly aligning with that slight twist of the head. She looked every bit deadly dramatic.
She wore red/burgundy coloured blouse matching so elegantly with the green coloured pure cotton sari made in Andhra Pradesh, highlighted by an attractive gold-coloured border. That sari border was in shreds. Another mighty Himalayan boulder crushed her legs. All was slightly pulped below her waist. Her sari tightly wrapped around her big bosom. The Himalayan cold weather had done her good in keeping up her looks. The Indian Army soldiers had been careful whilst retrieving her body from the debris in Malpa and transporting her through the valleys to Dharchula town. The onlooker waited for her there.
The onlooker recognised her most correctly. But, incorrectly and unexpectedly, far too many dramatic incidents occurred. One of the men ‘handling’ all those dead bodies ripped her gold ear studs along with the ear parts. The onlooker paid him money to retrieve them. Oh, that poor man! The ear studs were the evidence for the listeners.
That the onlooker doubled up as a witness to evidence her mortal remains was equally unexpected.
The lady’s two inheritors didn’t want to witness her. They had good chances of ‘seeing’ her. But they did not want to. The confused older one said he was hungry and tired. The younger one – healthy, well-educated, globe-trotting professional, capable person – had simply asked the older male to assume responsibility. Travelling to Dharchula to see her mortal remains meant risking his own precious young life. The only male child, holy one, who took his divine birth when the gods became frustrated with the parents’ non-stop bugging. That young one believed in doing the last rites of the dead lady.
Where and how? Not in close-by Kashi or Varanasi or by Ganga river that the lady had worshipped all her life. The chosen place was the holy city of Bangalore. The mode of doing her last rites was by engaging an event management group. Nice and easy. All that he needed to do as her inheritor was change his hairstyle. Ready for the greatest show of his life.
So, what then happened to the lady’s body placed in the open, outside the public hospital? Oh, a woman’s life is pretty cheap in India. Those two males didn’t forget that. They simply left the dead lady with a slave girl.
Slaves listen to their hearts.
So, when the death event management details were being discussed over the phone in Bangalore, the slave girl went around the little Himalayan town of Dharchula on foot. She hand-picked and collected all those essential items that a dead Hindu Brahmin married lady would require for her cremation. New sari with blouse piece, fresh flowers, Kumkum-Haldi, bangles, toe-rings, a Mangala Sutra, and other such items. As per the dead lady’s beliefs. No details were ever compromised for the sake of convenience. It was also the auspicious season of Hindu festivals. Gowri and Ganesha festivals were happening that same week. So, the slave girl purchased a little terracotta Gowri to accompany the lady. She was not alone.
As the slave girl could not dress up the half-bodied dead lady with those ritual-based materials, she carried them with her to the pyre that sat by Kali river on the border of India and Nepal. The local Nepali youth and fellow mourners were with her. They all wept together. They were the slave girl’s family at that moment.
Then the priest called out for the male inheritor to come forward to start the cremation rituals (sorry, not a girl’s right or place). No one answered. The older male stood there looking the same self, confused. But, he said he had taken part in many cremations. Ahem. Still, he didn’t step forward. Don’t know where the younger male was.
So, who would answer the priest’s call?
The slave girl did. She cremated the noble, kind-hearted, exemplary, pious Hindu Brahmin married lady as per the lady’s beliefs.
The daughter cremated her mother in the presence of the father.
The mother had kept that unwanted daughter alive. She fed her, raised her, protected her against odds and filled her with inner strength. With that strength, the daughter stepped forward that day answering the priest’s call. She held the fire in her hand, dragged the father behind her, walked around the pyre and then lit it. She paid respects to her mother’s mortal remains that would turn into ashes, merge with Kali river’s waters and then join the sacred Ganga river. Her mother’s wish was fulfilled.
The lady’s own Shiva and Ganesha had abandoned her. The two very traditional, orthodox, holy Hindu Brahmin men did not grace her mortal remains.
Traditions must be maintained and reinforced – so they say. Women’s stories, when they emerge out of closets, fall easy prey to the traditions of patriarchal systems and structures. The men in Indian society ridicule women when personal becomes political. Indian Hindu religion dictates that daughters, wives and mothers belong to fathers, husbands and sons. The lady’s dead body was kept in the open there at Dharchula government hospital. Her husband and son were alive, healthy and stable-minded. Both chose not to be there for her for that one last time, to see her. Traditions were ignored that day. The Theory of Convenience won that day.
Did it, really?
Or, was it her that resisted the tradition? Was it really her choice of not letting those two men see her? Did she finally break away from that tradition of belonging to a male? Did she deliberately will her daughter to cremate her? Did she deny her husband and son that privilege? Was that her final signature of female agency?
At 20, you, the 18th of August, are a death(ly) discerning drama.