A morbid post- and mebbe, in bad taste too perhaps, writing so irreverently about it but it has always intrigued me – those moments in every funeral, when tears and sobs are suspended and the crowd, absorbed in and anxious about the actual act of burial, temporarily forget the terrible sorrow of bereavement, and focus attention on the this worldly, practical act of lowering the casket into the womb of Mother earth.
Even as a kid, I used to notice that there was always confusion and raising of voices bordering on irreverence at the most poignant part of the funeral, when the actual deed of returning dust to dust was being ceremoniously performed. The logistics of the process is a little tricky. A slip of the hand or a miscalculation in the coordinated act would cause a catastrophe, depriving the demised person the last moments of dignity.
Those sharp instructions ring out loud and brusque.
All eyes are riveted on the casket balancing precariously on the taut ropes held by those bold ones who have come forward to contribute their assistance and show their solidarity. One can sense the tense interest and almost hear the bated breath!
Rajan, pull the rope up a little. Your side is tilting’
Yes, that’s it.
The bereaved ones too look at the performance, with a new emotion which provides a prosaic, five minute relief from the pain of bereavement - the new emotion being anxiety about the safe and dignified delivery of the casket to where it now belongs.
Now –Now. Together – slowly, slowly - - -careful - - .
People standing behind crane their necks to see the dangerous journey of the casket towards it final destination.
The casket now rests at the bottom of the grave and the crowd heave a silent sigh of relief – and then some return to their grief while others pray, while still some others gossip or exchange pleasantries or share news about the dead person, the loved ones he/she left behind, the responsibilities not completed or a race well run - - - -
While the subject of the conversation lies oblivious to this terminal scene of the drama of life.
I remember two episodes which still make me smile when I think of them. It was the funeral of my mother and I was heartbroken. One of the pall bearers was a young man in his late twenties, a good friend. No sooner had the casket rested safely in the grave than this young man’s glasses (soda lens with pure gold frame) fell on top of the casket. All of us knew that he was helpless without his glasses. Besides, it’s pure gold, I caught myself thinking!!
Leave it, it’s ok, it’s ok, the poor embarrassed chap kept pleading, blinking his helpless eyes to bring his vision into focus. He, no doubt, thought it indelicate to claim his glasses in this moment of deep sorrow for his close friends. Just then the grave digger jumped into the grave on top of the casket .Though for some reason I winced, I couldn’t help smiling at his commonsensical, matter of fact tone when he declared loud, “Why lose it if it is still retrievable? Any way, she (pointing to the casket) is not going need it”.
More recently, during the funeral of a nun, it was a credit card that fell into the grave. The loser behaved in the same manner as our friend mentioned earlier. He didn’t want a fuss to be made over it. This time the comments came from behind me, from those relatives and friends who had come to attend the funeral. The remarks, however, were more or less the same as that of the aforesaid gravedigger , though exchanged in low voices.
Ask the grave digger to pick it up. Not safe to leave it there.
What do you mean? She (pointing to the grave) is not going to misuse it.
Laughter – in low tone.
She wouldn’t have even seen one, leave alone use it while alive and kicking. So it’s quite safe there.
What if someone tries to get hold of it after all of us leave?
Subdued laughter again.
That’s true. Quite possible. Kaalam mosamanu (These are bad times)
The credit card was retrieved, any way.
However inappropriate this script of the terminal stage of human life is, I sort of welcome it. These interludes serve as comic relief in a great tragic play.
It brings to my mind those famous lines: Death, be not proud.
For life goes on inspite of you, you terminator! You can’t throw a permanent pall over the living.