Monday, November 02, 2009

Grave Humour

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.

Slowly, slowly

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.

More laughter.

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.


  1. Wow... bold and refreshingly different :)

    Perhaps this is why our neighbours(in other states)celebrate death with such fanfare and loud music.

    For life goes on inspite of you, you terminator! You can’t throw a permanent pall over the living.

  2. Great post. I wonder if some of the humor is also a defense mechanism against the "this will one day happen to me" thoughts that inevitably lurk in a corner of one's mind at such times.

  3. Gee thats so true. I used to feel annoyed when grieving grandmothers suddenly stop sobbing and order someone to not forget to call some other people to tell the sad news and then go back to sobbing again.

  4. KPJ, I had a frankincense laughter. Marquezean situation. Do peck up more gems from life like these..

  5. Deepak.lekhni, cris & josh
    thanks for the pat on the back - was a little nervous about the propriety of the topic
    Josh - love the term 'frankincense humour":-)

  6. That was funny!
    In any case, feeling appalled at our abilities to laugh even in the presence of death is a very 'living' thing to do. I'm sure the dead will not begrudge us those moments.

    Love the new look by the way, and see what you have been spreading now!

  7. In these settings which point to our own mortality all of us look for the least excuse to smile or laugh. A very perceptive piece.

  8. i love your posts because you can express incidents like this so tastefully appealing to the reader!! funny that i was smiling at the end of the post!!

  9. The Credit Card would be fine, but the guy had all reasons to try retrieve the glasses, if you ask me. Not because it was made of Gold but because of the hardships he would've faced without them... :)

  10. Brought a smile. Really like the way you capture these very regular and mundane things.

  11. The grave digger's line was awesomely witty! :)

    p.s: The grave digger momentarily turned in to a gold digger too :p

  12. Karthik Sivaramakrishnan
    that's a good one :-)
    @ scorpiogenius
    lost credit cards are dangerous till neutralised
    @ mathew
    thanks. was a little hesitant to wite this
    @ prabhakar
    true.that's the human way of dealing with the bitterness of death
    till the dead tell us otherwise(BRRR)i'd like to believe that.


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