The home coming...



The clouds hang low with rain as I race back to the past to dig out my first memories. I was maybe a tad over 10 years, playing by myself in the forecourt of an old tiled house populated by my mother’s parents in the deep south of Kerala. With the darkness of night  fast approaching I was watching with interest yet another ant that I had captured being devoured by a kuzhiaana. (Literally: elephant in the hole, antlion in English). The kuzhiaana lies deep in a small sandpit near the walls of houses and makes a meal of any insect unlucky enough to slide into its hole. It comes out kicking up little spurts of sand before nabbing the ant and disappearing underground. It’s such a fast and covet operation that I never saw a kuzhiaana in the flesh.


A kuzhiaana's abode !
Image courtsey: Wikipedia.



The gate creaked open and the telegram man walked in. I called to my grandparents above the crackle of the state TV station. I was old enough to know that the telegram man inevitably bought with him bad news.
‘Your grandfather has died. We will have to leave tomorrow’, the living grandfather told me matter of factly.
My first encounter with death. I watched the darkness outside for a long time and maybe felt a certain sadness. When I went inside again, my grandparents were still seated in front of the television engrossed in the unfolding drama. Did that telegram really not come?


The next day we made the 2 hour journey to the small village where my father grew up. Down innumerable winding tiny lanes ending at last with a vision of silver and the breeze. Every time I go there it has been the same and every single time it gives me the goosebumps to see the endless lake and the sea just beyond. An old tiled house with broad verandas and sweeping views of the lake. My grandfather had a white cloth stuck around his face resembling a white beard. There was a lamp burning at the head of the body and incense sticks galore stuck in ripe bananas. Nothing though could mask the smell of rotting flesh in the room, the smell of death. We had to sit there for sometime as someone read the holy text and women wept silently. People were constantly filing in and out of the room.


Outside the men were pasting betel leaves with white lime and stuffing it with betel nuts and tobacco. When their cheeks were close to bursting they would spit it out colouring the earth red. Plates heaped with cigarettes were passed around. The women were either inside the house or in the smoke filled kitchen. The men stood around talking about the weather, current affairs and everything else but death.


A beautiful final resting place

Some of the branches of the enormous mango tree were being hacked and made into little pieces of wood. My uncle came out dripping wet after a ‘well bath’. The elaborate rituals and Sanskrit chants started for the departed soul. Soon the body was taken out of the house accompanied by a mass wailing I have not heard since. The pyre was soon lit on the banks of the lake, with the soft breeze and the sea just beyond. Everybody, the fishermen going about the day's work, the people on the opposite banks and those in the train that sped past must have been transfixed by the fire.The coconut tree planted there in my granddad's honour is quite tall now. But all those years back, I had a strange thought : 'This is not a bad place to die'


17 comments:

  1. I heart your descriptions of everything. Makes me feel like I was there and the rituals of course are only too familiar.Though I have not heard of an antlion my entire life!How is that possible?Well, well whaddya noe? Learn a new thing every day.

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  2. Well, the thing about funeral is that the grieving would want to always talk about the deceased and the others about the weather.

    You piece is rather descriptive and well written by the way.

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  3. Jeeves,
    Glad to know you like what i write. make sure you arrange for an antlion safari on your next trip to India. ;)

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  4. Jammuna,

    Welcome to my abode! Its funny but in my limited funeral experience in India there is not much talk about the deceased at all except for the gory details of the death. The smoking and the paan is now going out of fashion. Less incentive to go for a funeral now than ever !
    Many thanks for the comliment ! :)

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  5. The gal next door (20/20)January 17, 2010 at 8:21 AM

    Death and funeral -all of a sudden you really how much the person was loved when he lived, but then sadly it all fades away..people dissipate and disappear.

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  6. People dissipate and disspear... like that expression, gal, might use it in my next novel with your permission ;)

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  7. Beautifully captured and composed!

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  8. merci beaucoup mademoiselle !

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  9. You do have a nice blog here :)
    I saw your comment and thought id stop by to see what you've written :)
    And i dont regret it one bit!
    Thanks for the comment,though..it really matters :)

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  10. Raji,
    Glad you stopped by... i meant what i wrote. :)

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  12. a few days ago my grandad left us too...i had my semesters so i couldn't go. My mum obviously was beset with grief, but there was an interesting observation that she made. His death was sealed with a ceremony, there was a bhajan night, a communal lunch, realatives coming from all over, almost like a marriage.

    thanks for stopping by my blog, else i wudnt have discovered yours :-)

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  13. Loved the way u described eveythng..i cud visualize 'em..u write really well,i must say.

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  14. @maudlin: Sorry about your grandad. death is a strange affair, something im still clueless about ! but i do love the way the Hindus do it with all the ceremonies and stuff.

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  15. @ sepo & pooja : thank you for the praise ladies :)

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Thanks for taking the time to write :)