In Covid times, rites of passage and resilience

Spice of Life: I let go of the brittle bones of a bright scholar, consigning the same to the mighty river after holding them close to my chest for a few seconds. Soon, he mingled with his Maker
A devotee immersing ashes in the Ganga at Haridwar. The Covid-19 era has taught us two important lessons, one about the transitory nature of life and the other about resilience. (HT file photo)
A devotee immersing ashes in the Ganga at Haridwar. The Covid-19 era has taught us two important lessons, one about the transitory nature of life and the other about resilience. (HT file photo)
Published on Nov 29, 2021 07:28 PM IST
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ByVinod Khanna

The Covid-19 era has taught us two important lessons, one about the transitory nature of life and the other about resilience. It has never been easy to cope with the loss of a loved one. People are known to have gone insane or taken their own lives under depression from such a loss. Those who suffered such loss will easily identify with the following lines of poet WH Auden:

‘He was my North, my South, my East and West,

My working week and my Sunday rest,

My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;

I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong’

My first brush with such feelings took place when my brother, younger to me by 10 years, departed suddenly, shattering us all. The grief reduced us to living corpses for a few days, till we boarded a train to Haridwar to immerse his mortal remains in the holy Ganges. A middle-aged couple sat on the adjoining seat with a red pouch containing the remains of their only newlywed son. Listening to their story, we forgot our own grief momentarily. Reaching Haridwar, we found the railway station abuzz with mourners carrying the mortal remains of their respective kin. It was a great grief-dampener when we realised that we weren’t alone. At Kankhal Ghat, the flow of the river was fast and furious. Standing in icy cold and transparent waters, amid chanting of mantras by the priest, I let go of the brittle bones of a bright scholar, consigning the same to the mighty river after holding them close to my chest for a few seconds. Soon, he mingled with his Maker, while I kept looking on for some time. Watching scores of others doing the same thing, I took it as something that did not seem unusual which happened only to us.

Reaching Har-ki-Pauri, the family priest took us to his house in a narrow bylane near the ghat. He opened his ledger to show us names of an array of elders who had signed in it when they came here. My father recognised the entry he made in the fifties when he came to immerse the remains of my grandmother. There were signatures of his own great-grandfather in Urdu, who had come due to a similar unnatural death of his young son in the 19th century. Meeting so many relatives in the oblong register was like a family reunion. It was a revelation too, that life is not static. It flows like the Ganges. One comes here in happier times for a picnic, lets down one’s hair to have fun and frolic in its frothy waters, unmindful of this final inevitable moment of surrender that is always waiting in the wings.

My head bowed in reverence to our common forefathers who devised this system of coping with such happenings in life. I wondered, how we, who had lapsed into living corpses sprang back to life after coming here. The crux of Indian culture lies in numerous rituals, which may or may not improve one’s future life, but definitely helps to rekindle the extinguishing flame when all seems to have been lost, including one’s will to live. vinodk60@yahoo.co.in

The writer is a Chandigarh-based freelance contributor

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Monday, January 17, 2022