Saturday, June 1, 2013

OF DEATH AND OTHER HILARIOUS CONUNDRUMS

Because she was pushing hundred, and was laid up for almost a year with little balance, the news about my grandmother did not come as anything close to surprise. But my Aunt, the one who was taking care of her and who was by her side in her final days, seemed stunned out of her mind and startling the neighbors, as in my absence I heard was the case, hollered at the top of her voice tussling with her mother’s remains. Please note the details, as it’s of utmost importance to what is to follow. I’m mildly surprised when a few hours from then I arrive to the sight of her two daughters, my cousins, weeping on the stiff holding and caressing it copiously, as it suddenly seemed like I had always misjudged their family’s proximity to her.

A day later, the funeral takes place by the Hindu norms of cremation. She is sent up in flames. Then comes the uncanny part- the astrologer is called in to spread his dices in order to read out what the normal mortals cannot see. Instinctively, he finds a glitch in the process that calls for a special ritual to be conducted at the site of death, our ancestral house itself. He says that Yama, the god of death (from the Hindu canon), was interfered with while doing his duties, which is, at the time of claiming the life and getting the hell out of there. 
Even though a few of us were hearing it for the first time, it apparently happened quite often. That was an interesting piece of detail clearly added to further strengthen firm holds of beliefs of the slightly skeptical ones. This usually happens when immediately after the death, there is a racket surrounding the dead (pounding chest and pulling hair amidst crying bloody murder) or when the corpse is repeatedly touched or hugged in the drift of loss. Yama, who has already arrived on the spot with his noose on the mighty water buffalo, his vehicle, is rattled by all the commotion and when hastily exits with the soul, is believed to forget his tools and weapons in the rush. This is the pretext, and according to the astrologer, if he is not called back to recover his weapons through the prescribed rituals, he is surely going to return sooner or later, and in the process, claim another life from the same house on his way back! Creepy ain’t it? Nobody wanna take chances with that, I’m sure. So my family goes and subscribes to the idea. A few of them shoot around glances of contempt at the Aunt who bawled to high heavens and caused this humiliation.
 
After they set a date for the event, they tactfully decide to give the neighbors and friends a miss. Nobody needs to know about the charade, they say to themselves! Moreover, another of my aunt and uncle, die-hard devotees of the illustrious godman Late Satya Sai Baba, are not crazy about maligning their names amongst their peers associating with the occult. So, mums the word in fashion.

On the day of the rites, three men walk in at twilight and head right into the room where the dear departed exhaled her last. It was when they asked for the sacrificial rooster (that was a part of the advised material for the pooja), that the disparity of the devotee clan came to light. My devotee uncle and devotee aunt, strong opportunists of non-violence, resist the idea of taking the life of a bird. “We would be grateful if you could kindly manage without the fowl,” says my willful uncle. This upsets the head occultist. “We need blood to read the signs, or one of you have to cut your finger to spill a few drops.” My devotee aunt is outraged and is about to faint. Then he also explains how the death of the rooster invokes the lord of the dead and makes sure of his presence at the ceremony. Yama, who is there to claim the life of the bird, is forced to reclaim his weapons as well. Finally the devotees cave and the rooster goes to die. None of us had a clue of what was to ensue.

They begin the service by fashioning a human figure with rice and paddy inside the room. Then they shroud it with white and start of a series of elaborate rituals accompanied by loud chants. The startled bird is in the middle of all that spectacle. Each member of the family was asked to throw raw rice intermittently at the made-up dead body. By the end of it they all make a modest exist through the front door seizing the clueless fowl.

Suddenly the loud thud of one of the windows clapping shut followed by the scream of a woman alarms everybody. One of my cousins, her voice lost in the shout, runs out to the veranda panting. Then we hear more windows bang shut as the three men serenade around the house, yelling “Po Kaala! Po Kaala!” They uproariously continue to go in and around the house not exempting the first floor, like they were trying to frighten a giant out of the crack. A few suppressed giggles break out here and there amongst the assembled family. In the dark a small crowd starts to gather around the front hearing all that outlandish noises. The family cringes openly. The devotees gradually shift to the inner quarter lest they should be spotted in the middle of all that ruckus, and the fragmented giggles continue.

This intimidation formality goes on for a while before they settle to the western side of the rear yard. They then cull the bird and hurl it over the house in such force that, soaring over the roof, it lands in the front yard still bleeding and writing with a severed throat. At the precise moment my father, the eldest son, is asked to tight shut the front door with a bang, which he does in solemn compliance. The lord of death is now outta there! It’s good that way, I guess.

The direction, the head of the dead bird points towards essentially tells the mental state of my grandmother in her final moment, which was not very pleasing, from the way it squints towards the west. She had slight displeasure evidently. Everybody shoots another round of condescending glances to the aunt who nursed her in her last days, and howled after the death, and fell all over the corpse and wept, and caused us all that humiliation.

4 comments:

  1. I am sorry for your loss. Yet its interesting to know that you can interfere with a god's daily chore...worth a try (without killing anyone i.e). Hmmm humans.
    Sundar.

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  2. This is the first time I have heard about this unusual ritual. Hindu religion definitely has been accumulating many such customs and rituals, most of the them have become redundant with the passage of time. But we still follow them blindly. Sorry to say but this is straight out of a B-grade bollywood movie!
    Shweta

    ReplyDelete
  3. Sorry for your loss. I have never known about this ritual, a bit startled.

    ReplyDelete

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