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Death: The great guru

I had heard before that cremation ground is the best place for learning one's spiritual lessons and the truth therein came home to me a few years back.

india Updated: Nov 26, 2003 18:37 IST

This is not a fictional account. I might have to change the names of people that I make a mention of just in case they desire it to be so. Rest all is true but there is obviously no way that I can prove that to you. The only motive behind writing this is to share with anyone (who is just as inclined towards) the little discoveries that I make in my attempt to see that which is not tangible but more real than what is. I really do look forward to hearing from whosoever wishes to write back to me about one's own feelings on the 'subject'. The link for writing back is given right below my own account. I hope to write to you every Wednesday and Saturday.

I thought no one had noticed my week-long absence but then one of you did. Yes, Mr Kaul, I refer to you and hey, that was a nice feeling. Thank you!

Honestly speaking, I am finished or at least I thought I was finished with narrating the 'external factors' that led me to my search and strengthened myfaith. I would no way have penned (or rather 'typed') a forced write-up! My journey now is inward, and it is almost impossible to explain and describe it. It gets far too subjective an experience and we all must carve our own niches.

...And then just as I thought that I am going to declare to my editor that I am through with the columns it occurred to me that there is one important detail that I had missed out on and maybe it would help someone somewhere. So here I am again.

I had heard before that cremation ground is the best place for learning one's lessons in spirituality and the truth in the statement came home to me a few years back. A very dear friend of mine since college days called me up to tell me that her sister had met with a terrible accident; it was a case of brain haemorrhage and she was on life support system.

I was absolutely shocked to hear the news. My friend's sister was just one year older and her college had been just a few steps away from ours. Because of this proximity I was fairly well acquainted with her and there was this general warmth we felt for each other.

My friend and her sister (I will call her Mini) had got married the same day… six months before the accident. I was there for their mehndi ceremony. I sat right there as those two men decorated their hands and feet with henna. Time and again, Mini would ask me to put her dupatta back in its place as it kept slipping off her shoulder. I fed her tea and biscuits with my own hands; she was dying with hunger she said.

Six months later, she was no more and I was sitting at her husband's house, waiting for the body to arrive. This was the first time I was to witness death in all its coldness. The body arrived, wrapped from head to toe.

As she had died a married woman, she had to be dressed up as a bride and it had to be done immediately as the body was swelling up fast. But none of the family members would move, all too grief stricken. The old ladies started to impart 'practical advice' to the immediate family members and that got too much for me to take and so, although the sight of a body wrapped in white sheet made me shiver inside, I took the initiative to start with the rituals.

I untied the knots that bound her feet and hands and the hospital gown had to be cut up. A couple of women and one of her other sisters and her mother joined me after sometime. The delicate part was to uncover the body of the dead and to yet keep the body of the woman covered, as few men flitted in and out of the room making necessary arrangements.

One woman carelessly left Mini's chest uncovered and there lay bare her breasts. Just then, a man passed by the room and I could see his eyes. I was putting aalta (red dye that Bengali women use) on Mini's feet that time. I rushed to the other side to guard her modesty when I realised that it meant nothing to her. The Mini who had been urging me to place her dupatta right after every few minutes cared a damn about the state of her body now. The body was cold... at that moment I realised what inert coldness felt like, I knew the smell of death. There were no protests from Mini, none whatsoever. As the ladies tried to put the blouse around, her head fell from one side to the other as if it were stone and wasn't it so? Sometime later, a strange liquid started flowing out from her nose but she didn't find that shameful. She just lay there, without any sense of shame, any sense of identity, any sense of belonging.

I have never forgotten that afternoon and my heart is heavy as I write this. How closely we associate with this body, how we self-identify with it and how false all our notions are. Our lives revolve around gratifying the demands of our body, which we will anyway leave behind when death comes calling. And yet, we are so far away from ourselves… we fight over such trivial issues and forget the important, the pertinent issues at hand. Nourish your bodies for sure but please remember to nourish your soul as much if not more. That is your forever friend after all.

Whenever I confront a troubled period I try to view it in the perspective of death and believe me that broadens my outlook much more than anything else does. The reality of death tells me the triviality of everything else.

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Previous Chapters

Replies only, with absolute humility
The lessons in the dreams
When the dead approach
The indulgent Mother!
Please mark me absent
The devil sits inside
The power in words
One of those dreams
The miracle, God and I
The compassionate One
The turning point
Smile at God
They live with God
I visit a Tantric
That sinister presence
A brush with the spirit world
On my way Home

First Published: Nov 26, 2003 17:24 IST