Death and funeral dignities

The last full stop to a passage marks the conclusion to what was merely a motley of sentences till then; demarcating thus a context to the flow of the same. What the full stop does by facilitating the end is it adds a dimension of unilateral meaning, putting to end any further accrual to the narrative’s course.
Whether it is a happy read or a sad one after the last full stop summarizes the quality of the passage.Death likewise is this impending last full stop to an individual’s course of life. Whether the world around him is bereaved or relieved, talks about the kind of life lead.

Death is the most intimidating phenomenon among nature’s quadruplet that also includes birth, disease and old age.
Birth brings, disease weakens, old age softens and Death dissolves.
Man over the years has learnt to tame birth, cure diseases and even cover up aging to significant extent. But what unsettles him is the enigma of death and its absoluteness. The only insurmountable peak, that hasn’t gone under his scissors of regulation or the comfort of understanding.
So what embarrasses at every step towards its mastery can only be embraced. Which exactly what constitutes the hallow around funerals and the rituals that come along. For they add a rhythm to an individual’s defeat to this unconquerable force called death, yet another time.

There are different nostalgias attached to different individuals post their death, depending on the impact they’ve left.
Most people have rudimentary or say epidermal level impacts after their times like he was cherubic, fat, thin, had silver grey hair, was bearded. They’re simple men whose recollection doesn’t percolate beyond the bodily remembrance.
Then we have the kind, who we remember for the traits they exhibited primarily like being short-tempered, humorous, sensible etc. People in this category manage to penetrate beyond the physical level, but stop just after.
Some are recalled by their accomplishments which could either be the position held, the qualification possessed and organization that they had been. These men were purposeful beings, who left an impact in our heads  beyond the personality level, but fell short of the heart; courtesy the materialistic nature of pursuit.
Last are the rare men who’ve left an indelible mark on our lives by their ideologies and school of thoughts. They generally are people we looked up to as being motivators, mentors, philosophers and guides.   We miss them the most because they occupied an eternal spot in the middle ground between our intellectual and emotional realms.

There was my dad’s uncle, a patriarch who was among the most forward thinking octogenarians that I know of; not that I know of a lot of octogenarians. He was a wonderful human, holistically loving without a trace of bias or an affiliation to preserve.
He had built a tap outside his house, built on the roads of an extremely humid temple town called Kanchipuram, primarily for travelers and nurtured a lot of stray animals with  fondness reserved to grandchildren.
He had single handedly championed a lot of causes, like planting several sapling across the town, founding a trust to oversee education and foster abandoned elders among many things. He had a liberal outlook about everything under the Sun despite being a deeply rooted practitioner of a faith.
So he had passed away one day. We are these intriguing creatures strung fascinatingly to our close ones by the undercurrent of telepathy. That morning when dad’s phone rang with his cousin’s number; I knew he was no more even before my dad picked up.
But to my shock I wasn’t a wee bit sad and was letting the entire news seep in an unfettered manner.  Here was someone I had really looked up to, whose ideals I revered and wanted to imbibe and yet I was unmoved.

I just didn’t feel like attending his funeral to see his mortal remains one last time. In my heart I knew what he meant.  There were things he stood for and propagated, which were pretty much the same things I had started taking baby steps towards.  He was a virtuous man who had left a legacy behind. Legacy that needed to be preserved in the actions of similar minded people who revered him. I didn’t want to relegate my relation with him to the familiar rigmarole of funeral mourning and emotional outbursts.

To me, he was a wonderful man, who lead an illustrious life and died when his body was about to invite quotations from prospective ailments.

As aware as I felt I was, I later tried smearing myself with guilt about not attending his funeral. Was it a blasphemy I had committed in the name of falling in line with a seemingly contrived ideology; for what is life but a generic iteration of cliches formed on conversations, alter egos, relationships and the accompanying trappings
It appeared to me after some serious musing that it was important to respect a person for what he stood for, than the functionalities of a funeral. For funerals are designed as religious merchandise to tug at one’s heart strings with notes of nostalgia. It is only when a deceased person’s line of thought is towed by his close ones, does he continue to live on in their actions. It is up to us to either eulogize comfortably over a dead person’s body or take the longer route to act upon preserving their legacy  later.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Vegetarian woes on a Sunday morning

 

Peeeeee Peeeeeeeeewwwwwwwwwww, I was honking my presence felt, with the thumb on the shrill vocal button of my sister’s Activa— that was already kind enough to carry a person heavier than it — unempathetically navigating it on a particularly slushy stretch at northwards of 60kmph. Early morning winds blowing against one’s face, while uncombing his hair is only as pleasurable as one’s mind lets it be, which at times turns way too turn cynical to acknowledge anything other than deep slumber behind closed doors as being beautiful. At that moment I was hoping I had learnt to drive a car, my mind wasn’t exactly taking to nature’s expressions of sunshine and zephyrs with open arms.

It was five shy of six in the morning at the Anna Salai stretch. I was riding home from a sleepover at a friend’s. The roads are usually modestly occupied at this time, but it was a Sunday morning. Or the aftermath of a Saturday night to put things into context. Most people taking the road at this time aren’t going as much as returning home. And there were those commercial trucks plying to and from markets, to accommodate the spike in consumption that was typically anticipated from the day.

I was at midway point, a few hundred metres before Gemini flyover, when I saw this bike before me. It had a pillion space, wider than an average bike, covered with a green coir sheet that was wrapped over what appeared to be a sizable heap.
Sometimes the most affecting incidents in life unfurl in a languorous manner, like toothpaste emerging out of a squeezed tube. No dramatic contraptions, just impact enough to pierce the most naked part of the soul.

A leftward bound gust of strong wind, lifted the coir sheet along with the normalcy of the morning. Lying below the sheet were pale mammal carcasses— goats most likely —one above the other. Aghast with a lump in the throat, I had to pull over to avoid getting any closer to the bike. It’s not like I was seeing meat for the first time. I’ve been around meat eating people, without making faces about erstwhile living being floating in their gravy boats.

Just that I’ve  always been this frail-hearted person without an appetite for seeing, say mangled animal carcasses on a busy highway, run over by vehicles . Or a suspended headless corpse hanging on the entrance of a shawarma parlour. I tend to cringe, reimagining the pain the creature would’ve gone through under the tyres of a speeding heavy vehicle or a swinging butcher’s knife. It could’ve probably been easier I were a vegetarian alone, but I was a hopeless animal lover.

Over the years I’ve learnt to come to terms with the world around me, in which meat eating people comfortably outnumber the non-meat eaters. I’m no stranger to the killing and their place in a parallel food chain—  that lets cruelty and cooking coexist — I’m not a part of. Just that the sight of the absolute insensitivity with which it is carried about is deeply unsettling. Like the guy on the bike before, who was carrying them like a batch of gunny bags with absolute disdain. The dispassionate conditioning of his mind to see them as mere raw materials was a painful sight to witness.

I started several seconds after the morgue bike had disappeared over the flyover. I was trying to undo what I saw by focusing on things a tad more pleasant like the sight of crisp vadas blooming on a frying pan of a tea shop, a neurotic dog cleansing itself with it’s eager tongue and an elderly couple jogging together on the pavement. And just when the mood was starting to lighten up like that, a truck overtook me from the signal.

It was carrying cages— arranged in columns —with hundreds of hapless hens, suffocating against each other from within. Here was a colony of birds, most of them aware about their impending end. Some were screaming resiliently, some were protesting at the cage doors, while some were still, having given up already. If they thought the commute to the butcher’s was the painful part, they had no clue of what was coming their way. The eyes with which they saw their first sights after hatching out, would be plucked out as waste. The beaks with which they made conversation and consumption, would be no different. As if this wasn’t gruesome enough there were a few dead ones scattered across the floor, like rotten vegetables, next to the feet of the men overseeing the shindig.

History unforgivingly remembers the ones who oversaw the holocaust of thousands of their kind to upkeep the whim of their patriotism, ethnicity and creed. Yet the violence perpetrated to usher every Sunday, that too in a city alone is enough to pale every significant genocide to insignificance as a blob in history. “Livestock” to me is the worst euphemism that there is.The churn in the belly left a bigger ripple this time as the lorry went past. At the back of my mind I felt a guilt colored helplessness about not being able to do anything about all this, than just feel bad  But I was glad that home was only a minute away. Wish I could tell the same about humanity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Patience and guys serving ice cream

 

From the time I’d learnt to understand temperature from places other than my under-chin, I’ve known Chennai to be this hot place, humidly so. On an afternoon, all one would just need is water,vessel and some suspension of shame to prepare Maggi on a terrace. I don’t actually need a widget on the phone or a news flash to know that I live in a city where the sun’s love fluctuates between 42 to 45 degrees. I just need to observe as to how long it takes for the beads of precipitation to form around my neck to go on and smoothen my shirt’s creases, moments after I step out. So not much of a surprise that Chennai has always been this hotbed for all forms of ice-cream activities.

So I was outside Cream Stone, one of the better places carrying out such activities. I had initially found their ice creams to lack that character. The character that elevated some ice creams from a flavour to a favour. But like in a mature relationship with an average looking person were one slowly starts noticing the other good stuff, with time their cold stone preparations started growing on me as an acquired taste. I felt like a composer inspiring an orchestra with his stick’s wield; each time I told them to add more nuts, mash up a chocolate or leave the ice cream stiff from the other side of the counter.

It was a calm Wednesday night, well past eleven. Not the time of the day you expect to stand behind a multitude of men out to get their dessert fix for the week. But there I was, one among two dozen patrons, most of whom— I’m sure —didn’t go out to vote in the last election to avoid crowds. Probably getting an ice cream is far more rewarding than a chief minister.

So after elbowing past a few hapless gentlemen, I managed to make eye contact with my friend behind the counter.
French vanilla and dark chocolate, right?“, he yells to be heard over the raucous.
As always.“, I smile back.

In the next few seconds, roasted almonds and cashews get thrown into the cold pyre of ice cream without their consent, before a Ferrero rocher can further contribute to the collective identity crisis. And like that my favourite dish is prepared the way I like it on a priority basis without even having to intervene once. I smile again at my friend and he waves back as I walk out with my sin on a waffle.

Coming to think, things weren’t this Jarvis and Stark like between us some time back. In fact on my first visit, I was this standard template asshole who expected to be treated like royalty for stepping into a new franchise and he was this new guy from another part of the country, learning his job and the shenanigans of a new demography on the go. So what happened next was what usually happens, when high handed consumerism comes face to face with lackluster soft skills of cheap labour- Shopfloor friction. I lectured his manager about how to run a shop. Threw a tantrum. Created a scene that almost would’ve prompted a demigod to intervene as a civilian, only to walk away with a half paid bill.
A few hours later, I felt embarrassed by my performance earlier, especially the soliloquy on “customer is God”. I especially felt bad for cornering the poor guy who had served me.

He’s my first or on a really unethical meal day my second ice cream maker in a week. But I’m like his 100th bickering customer since morning, who’s been waving an invoice copy at his face with entitlement. Think about your favourite ice cream flavours. Now think about them surrounding your work station. You can do a lot of things with them: scoop them, whip them up, refill them, adorn them, take in their flavor, conduct an inter-flavour marriage and ogle even; but not have them. How thankless should a life be where all you do is deal in myriad flavours of ice creams with exotic toppings for a day job, only to give the resultant work of art to a person who’s riding the high wave of capitalism. And still we go about wondering how the crime rate keeps going up.

I could’ve handled it so much more better.

The next time I went there, few months later, I was conscious. I didn’t want an encore. I went up to the same guy who I had picked on last time. Don’t know if it was the number of people he had attended to in the past few months or the fact that the composition of my facial hair had changed since then; but he somehow couldn’t place me as the charlatan from last time.

I started the transaction with a sheepish wide smile. He smiled back. Then I audited the flavours and made started making some small talk.

“Where are you from?”
“Guntoor sir”
“I thought you were from the north, given your Hindi.” 
“I was in Hyderabad for a few years. That’s where I picked it.”
“So have you seen Bahubali?”

A movie buff, I’ve often felt the way to a man’s heart is through inquiry about movies in the language he speaks.

“8 times already. Will watch again.”, his face lit up like Anupam Kher on a Newshour debate.
“I can totally relate to it.”

And like that we became acquainted over Telugu movies and Hyderabad landmarks. This was so much out of character, initiating conversation and all. But I was glad I did that. And it felt nice talking to him.

That tête-à-tête not only made my portion bigger that day, it went on to establish a bond between us. Be it tossing in a few nuts, suggesting a new flavour to try, giving preference during peak time; he started doing these little things to make my visit special ever since. And I continued to ask him about things other than the ice creams, like his shift timings, his girlfriend or the last movie he had watched.

All I had to do was just step a little, a tiny weenie beyond the line of “just-business” from where I could wipe the designation to see the person behind . From there I could see an anxious sweet guy who had left behind his friends and family, in the hope of a better life here. Not just another ice cream-sculpting- pixie who was supposed to attend to my cravings within a reasonable window. This shift in perspective definitely didn’t make me a bigger person, won’t flatter myself about that. If anything, a lesser asshole than I was. A better version of myself. The one I should’ve been since much before.

Patience and parents

Ask for Luxe cinemas on the second floor. I’m standing right next to it
I was giving directions to my dad, who was at the basement car park. I had reached the mall before him. We had come to shop clothes for the two of us, for my sister’s wedding. A loner, I’ve always liked to do most of the stuff alone including shopping. But this time dad insisted on both of us going together, as he trusted my taste and wanted me to assist him look sharp on the D-day. And I couldn’t say no.

Fifteen minutes had gone past and he was nowhere in my viewing perimeter. I had by then already checked out of two shops- hiding a few good shirts in not so noticeable parts of the racks to come back, making mental notes of the price range and condescending a few patrons who came out of the trial room for the want of a quick sport.

My instructions were quite water tight to be there under five minutes. Yet fifteen minutes later, he’s neither at Luxe or the second floor.What’s he up to? Has he turned dyslexic or what?

I was starting to get worked up. I called him again.

“Where are you pa?! I’m getting late to work.”
“I’m on the second floor.”
“Finally. Tell me the name of the shop next to you. I’ll come there.”
“Louis Philippe.”
“I’m coming.”

I walked in long strides towards the Louis Philippe showroom at the other end of the second floor, 150 calories away from where I was. En-route I was cursing the health of the next generation of every individual who was blocking my way, in pursuit of a selfie or stood there making unhurried small talk in the narrow corridor I was trying to weave a way through.
A few moments later, I could see dad appear on my viewing perimeter. Closer I got to him something strange started happening.I was starting to get engulfed in an endless supply of guilt. He was on the bridge connecting the two corridors. He appeared dazed by the hustle and bustle around him, if I were to go by the look on his face that resembled that of a child lost in a festival. Probably all of this was a making of my head and he was quite sorted. But somehow I felt disturbed. The sight of my father standing alone as people kept emerging from all directions around him, made me realize how vulnerable he had become in the world I was an adult. All the angry words I had told him over the years, came screaming back. For all my entitlement and claims of self awareness there I was as one of the worst people I knew.

Sorry raja. I didn’t hear you properly. There’s a theater there. Did you ask me to come  there?” ,sheepishly he asked pointing in the direction from where I had just come.

What do you think Luxe is pa?”, I smiled, embarrassed and guilty at once. “Let’s go, get you some clothes.”

He hadn’t heard me properly. What would he have done I wasn’t here. He neither seems to know the place or fashion. I should hang out with him more. He needs me more than he likes to admit. Fuck my “I’m a loner” rhetoric. And god, I need to be more patient with him.

Every time I’m on the cusp of an outburst with my dad, I hope god or sanity has the better of me. Each time I use a cuss word- that would sound ugly in a roadside brawl even, at him -the guilt sinks in from the very next second. But by then I’m already on a free fall, mind and mouth incongruent to each other.
Whatever the reason be, he’s lived my life’s duration twice and a couple of years more. Unlike me, he’s unconditionally loved me always. His heart is now a soft place, softened by the fatigue of a myriad experiences and his proximity to a second childhood. While mine’s still a hard place, hardened by overbearing confidence and distant memory of a first childhood. It’s my turn to be the bigger man.

When I can be patient in a traffic signal under the afternoon sun; patient with an eternally unreasonable boss at workplace and summon patience in a painfully boring movie just for an actor I like; I can bloody well afford to be patience with this man.
This man who was patient till I uttered my first words. Who patiently ran along side with me, till I started to riding my bicycle without his support. And patiently supported me till I could take care of myself.

I can never give him back enough. But I can definitely be patient with him and gracefully so.