Politics Of The Funeral

Anita Desai (not to be confused with her more popular namesake) is an upcoming story-teller, poet and song-writer from Hyderabad. This blog is honored to feature this piece by her.

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Since my childhood I had come to see funerals as extremely poignant and solemn rituals. The thirteen days following the passing of a dear one would be simple, unpretentious affairs. All family members; relatives; friends and neighbors would be completely shorn off all kinds of emotional pretense except grief for the departed soul. That would be the time when even sworn enemies would offer sympathies.  However, recent deaths in my family exposed some funeral behaviors in contemporary urban families. I share below a few observations.


Genuine Condolences
For any funeral, there are always a few concerned elderly people who turn up to offer genuine words of comfort to the grieved. For them death is the eternal fact of life, unconquered by mankind. They put in their years of experience,follow all rituals of fasting in the presence of the body, shoulder the deceased on its last journey and take charge of necessary arrangements. Sometimes help comes from unexpected sources, those who may not even be close to the family but land up at their doorstep to bring in food &tea, and reassurance. Some kind hearted folks stand by as they recollect the past association with the deceased. Someone stood by as they had not known their father, and this kind soul provided emotional stability. Some friends of an elderly gentleman who passed away tearfully regretted that they could not be with their buddy on his last journey, as they received the news of his passing much later. These are heart-warming moments which reinforce our belief in humanity.

Payback Time
A funeral can be used as a platform to settle past scores.  Some relatives decide to show up only for the sake of visibility among other relatives, devoid of any emotion for the departed soul or the aggrieved family. One close relative, who had been incommunicado with the grieving family for years,surprised everybody by just walking in straight up to the body, stared at it for a few moments and walked out. The person was later seen outside the house chatting up people. Some closest relatives turned up only an hour before the funeral,  passed a few comments on the generous soul and left without so much as a sympathetic pat to the grieving family. Other acquaintances called up to say “they had something important to do hence could not make it"; some bluntly said "be practical, if we have time will come."For some others, death wasn't serious enough to even call to offer condolences. All this only to settle some past differences. What better time for payback.



Display Superior Skills
Most families usually have at least one dominating member who will use every opportunity to display superior skills irrespective of the occasion.At one such funeral, it became a living nightmare for all to put up with the know-it-all dominating attitude of one person. No one was allowed to take any decisions regarding the funeral, all menial tasks delegated to the soft spoken and all significantly visible tasks efficiently handled by the self-professed all-rounder. Of course, the finances were to be equally shared. Any opposition resulted in fierce humiliation. Such people are usually a pro at family events and know how to grab eye-balls by playing hard working perfectionists. On another occasion, the grieved family was openly mocked that they did not know the customary rituals. The poignancy of death is somewhat lost in such milieu. Well, you can't choose your relatives.

Dress up Time
By far, I found this aspect of funeral behavior most amusing. The women size up everybody closely. They minutely scrutinize everybody from head-to-toe -jewellery; clothes; complexion; demeanor. Anything amiss will only indicate "serious problems in life" and be an opportunity to fuel a juicy gossip. Gone are the days when one was expected to dress down in dowdy whites and wearing any kind of makeup would be blasphemous. Not anymore. Not necessarily a designer party outfit, but something eye-catching is definitely the need of the hour.At one particular funeral, the women were visibly upset when asked by the priest to take ritual bath, as that would spoil their makeup. In another case, two women were overheard discussing the old-fashioned wall paint. It's not their personal loss anyways.

Wrapping up
Time does not stop for anyone, life goes on. The grieving family comes to term with their loss, it may take months to overcome grief. It took me long to accept my father's passing. The image of the departed stays with those who have lost a dear one. Death is a fact every living soul will face sometime in their lives and so will the anecdotes described above.

16 comments:

  1. This is the kind of post I was looking for. Kudos Anita for presenting it so well. I have seen this myself in my family and neighbor circles. Our ability to empathize even upon a passing has exponentially decreased. Something has sealed our senses from feeling the other. Something has cast a shadow on our hearts.

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    1. Thank you Bhavana for the encouraging words. Its heart warming that you share my feelings. With the rise in technology the social values are sure declining. I was initially sad but as I wrote and re-wrote this piece I started seeing the humour in life. It becomes easier to accept all ups and down if we take things light.

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  2. A very candid post..death and funeral are situations where one is not trained how to behave. One gets clumsy around those scenes trying to comfort the one in pain. Even if one doesn't know how to handle it, I believe just staying there would speak for them...I believe a lot of thinking and thought process must have been put to come up with this.

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    1. Thank you for appreciating my post. I wrote this sometime last year in my most emotional moments. In the last few years I have lost many family friends and acquaintances. I have personally experienced each instance that I have described in the post. I have just tried to share my thoughts without judging human nature as good or bad. Have a long way to go in writing :)

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  3. You now your people by the way they behave at a funeral. In fact funerals are the best place to know who are the relatives that need to be dumped. A good post :)

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    1. Thank you Puru. Indeed at such crucial junctures we come to realise who are our "friends indeed". But I really feel no grudges towards anyone and this has been my biggest lesson even while writing this article. As long as our expectations from others are far and few we will be happy. And as Subho says, "writing is therapeutic", I have been able to offload a lot of my pent up emotions in my writing.

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  4. Very true, Anita! I find some people and their behavior at funerals very distasteful just like you've mentioned in the points above. And also why have large, lavish gatherings? Doesn't it suffice to have a smallish get together of people who mattered to the departed and loved him/her. A good post on a sensitive subject. Great to have you here on Subho's blog, Anita. Thanks a lot for visiting me and Subho for directing her there.

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    1. It is such a pleasure to be connected Rachna and thank you for the generous comments. We humans are extremely sensitive and insecure. Today, I look at these strange behaviours with a lot of humour and completely forgiving as I too may have done the same sometime, somewhere. Our vision is such that we see the minutest faults in others, but never our biggest drawbacks.

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  5. Am grateful to each of you for your generous comments on my very first attempt at blogging. Subhorup has given me great encouragement by giving me this opportunity and platform to share my deepest thoughts.

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  6. Truth they say is always simple and blinking at your face, yet, we humans tend to look the other way. The observations that you have given above are a testament to this fact and that is the reason why every reader can have an obvious connect to it. Keep on writing Anita & thanks to Subho bhai for procuring another gem of a post on this blog...cheerz :)

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    1. Thank you for the encouragement Dee Kay. I could not have dreamt of a better launch pad than SJD.

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  7. Well written!
    I totally understand this having experienced my own dad's death and my wife's mom....it's in these kind of places you tend to see different kinds of people..

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    1. Thank you Danny. The positive comments to the article have pleasantly surprised me. I was quite sceptical about having this published online; the topic is sensitive and as a beginner I developed cold feet. Though, I am now amused :-D that I chose 'Funeral' as the first topic for my blog.

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  8. it's a very well written post on an unusual topic. All of us must have observed all or at least one of the things that you pointed out. But it might be a natural course of events to get over those hard days. People's apathy or lack of emotions take our mind off our grief and we tend to see the more practical and larger picture of life. It could induce anger but that also might take be good in diverting oneself. It's not a perfect way of getting over by any stretch of imagination, but then to start believing back in life, isn't this a perfect lesson that it's not perfect?

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    1. Thank you Prateek for taking time to read my very first post on a blog. I fully agree with you. Life is made up of perfections and imperfections. It is not possible for human beings to feel any one emotion for a long time - angry, sad, happy, love. Our emotions change with every passing moment/event and nature helps us to move on. Even as I was writing this piece, each episode came back to me, but with mirth. And because I now see humor in it, maybe I have moved on taking all in my stride. :) Thanks

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    2. This was your fist post! Amazing! Welcome to Blogosphere :).
      You have a long way to go especially when you have a mentor like Subho Sir.

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