The Rites of Living and the Ritual of Death
It was my 28th visit to the crematorium last Saturday (30th June, 2012) to extend my commiseration to a friend on his father’s demise. All that were different to the last 27 occasions were the unique grieving and the monstrous wailing faces at the face of a certainty called death and the covetousness of the uncertainty as the fallout of the loss! The embers from the electric crematorium unmindful of the stench of the burnt human flesh, kept belching out the black fumes with the dexterity that can be identified only with a machine. The facade of the personal loss manifests into the ‘rites of living’.
The pronouncement of death triggers a chain-reaction in the rituals associated with it. Firstly, it is a doctor adjusting his stethoscope, not because of the bewilderment of calming the nerves of the already informed accomplice to the death, but silently endorsing the maintaining of a stony endeavour and yet not forgetting to claim the ‘exit fee’ from the hospital corridors from who ever came to collect the corpse. The next is the assortment of every possible tell-tale sign in the use and abuse of floral fragrance and the rickety bed which is remarkably accepted more for its resale value and less for its aesthetics; followed by the ceremonial vehicle bedecked with the name of the sponsors and their emblems.
The spontaneity with which a corpse is ushered into the crematorium makes the grief take a second seat to the dash for queuing up for first come, first served rule at the ‘rights of admission reserved’ platform to cremation. This is the place where, the right to live culminates into the rites of living. The grandeur of mansions, maids and Mercedes finds a place beside the tarpaulin inhabiting footpath dweller, drawing a similarity to death being the final destination and discrimination finding no place but in the lexicon of mortals.
The priest keeps a watchful eye as a scavenger would, on the remnants of what used to be ‘living’ and now being ‘dead’ and not to forget the accompanying grief mongers for extracting the right price for creating a passage to the next world. Under pricing is forbidden, over pricing is cursory and right price for rituals never gets established. The next to fall in the line are the extortionists by birth, profession and rights, a sect of people with blood shot eyes, who have accepted to be subscribed to being the ‘scavengers’ for customary rituals associated with the funerals and ash-digging; for they have perfected the art of turning flesh to ashes with or without the electric crematoriums. The price for performance becomes worldly again as the status of the descendents and accompanying grievers decides the transaction to be formalised either in a penny or by the pound.
The 45 minutes of the flesh-to-ash-act for all those accompanying the dead, to the funeral, gets well structured with the magical huddles clearly demarcating the friends and colleagues from the relatives. Each of these huddles has a defined agenda for discussion over the steaming cups of tea. While some get into mourning the genuine loss of a life, some discuss the after-effects of death on the life and times of those who have survived. While some discuss the equitable distribution of the legacy in wealth and property, some debate the legality of the surrogate to the share. Some forward thinking well-wisher would have already dialled and booked the venue to commemorate the death while others would be in two minds, who to approach for the return fare from the crematorium to their residence.
Amazing, perplexing and real discoveries in appointing the ‘death’ as the precursor to ‘life’ as usual, for the all of those who survived the scare and the inevitability of death. The stamp, seal and sign by the doctor on the death certificate is the empirical evidence of demise and the perpetuity of greed, dishonour and decay for all the claims that would be made in the obituary, rituals and rites for someone who will no longer matter to anyone of us in the pursuit of living but for the wall on which the framed picture would alter the decor a bit.