All I have of you..

When someone leaves your life, its not as if they disappear completely. They linger, they remain, but most importantly, they leave a person shaped void inside your heart which is difficult to fill by anyone else.

You see the things that belonged to them- shirts, sarees, shoes, files, papers, combs that still hold their tangled hair. You eat the foods they used to love, listen to the the songs they used to sing, you even read the books that lined their shelf. You try, in every way, to fill the gap between what used to be their daily life and yours. But there is always that distance. The fine line of mortality separates us from them and this line treads on heartbreak.

But what if you have something of theirs, what if you succeed in keeping such a lively, tangible part of them with you that it seems as though they haven’t left at all?

There she was, dressed in a brilliant jade sador mekhela and simple gold bangles. Her silver hair was styled into a bun, fastened with clips. In her ears, sat gold earrings and on her fingers were stacked multiple rings. Her gaze still fixed on me. Small wisps of silver escaped her bun and crawled down her neck. I inched forward to greet her.

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Under the glorious October sun, I hold her hand in mine. Soft, aged, wrinkled. And as I’d held it, I had felt the beat of her pulse pass through; regular and timely. Silently counting them in the same way one would mechanically count the stars that made up a constellation, I’d imagined each pulse to be as brilliant as a star. Each such star, I’d further imagined to be a verse of a poem. A poem running through her veins, mixing with her blood. A constellation flowing into the sky. This is what I have of Ma. And nothing beats this.

Today is Ma’s birthday. She would have been 63 today. I would have hugged her tight and she would have cupped my face with her soft hands and planted kisses….one on my forehead and each on my eyes. And we would have hugged each other for a long, long time.

Be well Ma!

 

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Traditions

He did not look me in the eye as I folded the piece of cloth around his head. Some priest said this act non-verbally announces others that the concerned members are in a state of mourning and that some untoward incident had happened in their family. Therefore, the sight of mundan shall mentally prepare the acquaintances to move with them with a note of caution. Indeed. The sight.

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Let me not weigh you down today. Instead, allow me unfold the history, beauty and intricacies of Hindu traditions and customs. 

Our priest told us about the the circle of life. He told us that everything in our belief system can be explained by science. That we are just a small fragment of the Universe, yet all the Universe resides within us. First came the explanation of the Tonsure; the act of cutting the hair or shaving the head after the death of an elder member of the family. In Hinduism, the underlying concept is that hair is a symbolic offering to the Gods, representing a real sacrifice of beauty. Hence shaving your head shows your grief for the departed soul.  

Hair on the head is treated as an adornment and as a symbol of vanity. On the death of an elderly person in a family, the Hindus consider the children not to be egoistic in nature but humble, devoted and submitted to nature. So they need to give up their adornment and vanity in humility. The death of the elderly member makes the inmates feel that they have lost the elderly protective guidance they had been always enjoying. The removal of hair indicates them that they must now prepare for the change with a sense of detachment and vairagya.

 

 

Then comes Pind Daan. In the Shastras, there is a line that says, ‘Yat Pinde Tat Brahmande’, meaning whatever is present in this little body is present in this Universe; our body is a miniature Universe.

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The Earth is round, every person in this world is born into a life cycle, also round. Whether it’s a human child, the child of a cow, of an elephant or of a bird, it doesn’t matter; its very first form is an egg. There is nothing in this world that does not originate as a circle, whose life isn’t cyclical and infinite. Round. Body. Pind. Accordingly to the Shlok above, everything is a Pind and within the Pind, there is everything.

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When we cremate the body, only the soul remains. It is said that the person that cremates it also has the right to give that soul another body. So we do something called a Pind Daan. A daan denotes charity, therefore a Pind daan means giving charity to the body of the deceased. All obstacles are said to smoothen out {for the soul} once this ceremony is performed. Every family adheres to this custom in their own ways, but giving is essential.
Round balls of dough mixed with honey and sesame seeds, signifying the Pind, are donated to the Bramhaputra. 

“You presume you’re a small entity, but within you is unfolded the whole universe.”

Aum

Mundane: Ritual of shaving head 

Vairagya: Detachment

Shastra: Sacred scriptures of Hinduism

Pind Daan: Giving charity to the body of the deceased

Brahmaputra: The Brahmaputra (/ˌbrɑːməˈpuːtrə/ [brɔmmɔput̪rɔ nɔd̪] is a trans-boundary river in Asia. It is also one of the major rivers of Asia that cuts through 4 countries: China, India, Bhutan and Bangladesh.

Invisible Threads

In David Mitchell’s ‘Cloud Atlas’, there was a line that comes back to me time and time again. It said,  our lives are not own. We are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.

How true is this. We are connected by invisible threads, forged over the course of days, months and years, and secured by bonds of community. We depend on each other, we rely on each other. Especially here in India, each small tradition and custom is inherently societal. It is based on the fact that it will bring us closer to our culture in some way. Every small action, from a prayer to a chant, to fasting, or to coming to grieve at the time of death; every one of these actions binds us to each other, our lives become inextricably linked. 

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I have seen so much love in the last few days. I have seen people come home and mourn for the loss of my mother in law in ways I did not know was possible. I have seen my family depend on each other physically, mentally, morally and emotionally in ways I did not know were possible. I have seen the young teach us about life and the old teach us about death. I have seen a holiness that can only be achieved through a kind of mutual dependency and respect.

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Yesterday I walked into my father in law’s room and saw my man  helping his father put on his shirt. No words were spoken, but so much was said in the quiet act of helping a loved one in the most mundane of gestures, at a time when their hearts were too broken to carry on. The wife and the mother ain’t coming back to them again. But they have each other. And for now this is enough. 

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