It was a lazy Sunday morning. Cooler mornings with a nip in the air were the announcement of summers.
People still coming out of their beds, women preparing Sunday special breakfasts in their kitchen. Everybody was busy with their usual activities. The car cleaner guy, who usually cleans the cars before the dawn had come late today, as it was a holiday.
He was quiet, but rapidly finishing his work, leaving cars of our neighbours squeaky clean. One of the uncles was also watching over him while enjoying his cuppa of morning tea.
A beautiful tent in the lively and vibrant colours of orange and golden was being installed in our neighbourhood for the celebrations of the first birthday of family’s little one. It was a huge tent covering almost half of the lane with latest flower decoration in the market. The little one seemed to be truly blessed to be born in a family that was celebrating her arrival in such a lavish way. The celebrations included Mata ki chowki followed by dinner.
The neighbours had also humbly invited us over the dinner a few days back for the first birthday celebration of their baby girl. It was my mother-in- law’s birthday as well. It being her English birthday – Feb -28th (yes, after Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, it’s Kashmiri’s who celebrate two birthdays of a person – one being the actual birth date and another according to the Hindu calendar).
Usually, we would celebrate with a small cake cutting session in the evening, gifts, followed by generous slices of pizza. But today, it was different…There were no celebrations. Nobody was even talking about the birthday. Still, our house was full of people (half of them standing outside). All one could hear was ‘silence’.
Shiv Shiv Shambhu, har har Mahadev Shambhu, Chinta Bhumi Apradha…The shrilling sound of the shloka chanted by men of the house (while bathing the body of my grandfather-in-law) filled the silence, leaving everyone in tears praying for the departed soul.
My grandfather-in-law was no more. His body was being cleaned for the final rituals. The water was dribbling leaving him all clean, paving way to his soul that was waiting to break-free and bid adieu to this materialistic world.
This was the moment and the words that occupied my mind for days. Dressed in an all-white attire – cotton cap, cape and shoes (something similar to what saints wear). He looked like a fresh soul, ready to take on the world in a new form.
I had heard that a death in the family brings vairagya for some time (vairagya – renunciation from the pains and pleasures in the material world). Seeing the lifeless body of papa (we all would call him that) – a man of his words, who lived his life to the fullest and never made any compromises, could even hold his great-grandson in arms, was lying straight on the floor, made me ponder over – how fools we humans are! All our lives we keep fighting over money, status, property and carry grudges for each other, but finally it vanishes in just one go.
Suddenly, we lose control over everything, even our own body. We take birth with empty hands and go empty-handed.
Papa carried calm expressions, his eyes closed, satisfied that he was brought home (alive) after spending 10 days in the ICU, surviving three endoscopes, unnoticed and sudden blood loss, bronchoscopy, endless tests, medicines and above all ventilator. This sad chapter brought me closer to life. Those are some days that teach one the value of life, relations, death and how life moves on.
I took some time to write this piece, as I wanted to experience how the emotion of mourning leaves your mind. During initial days, the shloka mentioned above would haunt me like anything, always playing in my ears. But slowly it kind of faded out. After 16 days of papa leaving for his heavenly abode, music gone from my ears not completely though. Things have gone back to normal with everybody doing their own chores in the house, but his absence is still felt and will always be.