Monday, March 25, 2013

No time for funerals...

This picture sort of says it all??? More to come...
This appeared in Mumbai Mirror...
                           No time for funerals and condolences…
To the best of my knowledge, my mother had never gone anywhere close to a crematorium – electric or otherwise. It simply was not done in those days for women to be present at funerals. It was a strictly male thing. A masculine ‘duty’. Women were meant to be protected from having to deal with the nitty gritties of death. They involved themselves with other social obligations at such times. Like my grandmother  would say after hearing about a death of a relative or family friend, “ Let us pay a visit and meet the grieving ladies of the house.” Women mourned privately. They said their final goodbyes from a distance as the body was taken away, wiping their tears  discreetly and  hugging the lady closest to them for comfort. I had asked aie and aji why women were not allowed to join male mourners and they had replied evasively. The ‘smashaan’ was no place for ladies, they’d said.  Traditionally,women had no role to play during the last rites. I had found this custom strange and unfair . But had kept mum.Since when did grief get divided along gender lines? I was fed some mumbo jumbo about menstruation, pregnancy and defilement.Absurd!  I made a personal pact with God and convinced myself  it was okay to break rules and say ‘goodbye’ properly to someone I loved deeply without worrying about divine repercussions. By the time it was my turn to see off loved ones, the social environment had changed sufficiently to ‘allow’ women into the crematorium…. and even light the funeral pyre.
Today, women don’t have the time to attend funerals or even offer personal condolences. I am ashamed to say it happened to me last fortnight. I was travelling when I heard the tragic news about Viren Shah’s death in Jordan. I had known Virenbhai for close to forty years . I remembered the twinkle in his eyes and the many happy evenings my husband and I had spent gobbling sev puri and other Gujarati snacks at his home in Mumbai, and later, in the Raj Bhavan in Kolkata when he was the Governor of West Bengal. I recalled listening to Virenbhai regaling his rapt audience with hilarious stories of his many political adventures. I couldn’t quite believe he had passed away in a distant country. While my husband made it to his funeral, I couldn’t. I said a prayer for Virenbhai in my heart, thought fondly about his lovely wife Anjuben,mentally reached out to my good friend, his son Rajesh…and that was that. Till… I could bear it no more. This was truly pathetic… disgraceful! I sent a heartfelt text message to Rajesh, and felt better. But only a little. I should have asked for time from Rajesh and his wife Bansri, gone and met them and done what is the appropriate thing under the circumstances. But I was travelling again (lousy excuse!) . This was just so unfortunate. Now, it will be weeks again before we can connect in a meaningful way.
And that’s how the cookie crumbles. But it really shouldn’t. Surely, we can all make time in our frenzied and hectic lives to honour the memory of those we have shared wonderful moments with? I was away when another stalwart - Kekoo Gandhi, died. And more recently, Kali Modi. All three were exceptional men – and true bon vivants – loved and adored by countless admirers. I knew them. I loved them. But I wasn’t there. This is going to be one of the tragedies of our times. Births and deaths will happen. Some of us will pause and note both. Some will make it a point to visit the family and express joy / sorrow. Some will say ‘Later.” And that ‘later’ will never come. I am feeling guilty. I am feeling ashamed. No, I am feeling truly terrible.
What should guilt ridden women do under such circumstances? I’d say try and make up the best way they can. It’s never the same thing. But it sure beats self-flagellation or going into denial. It’s a tough one. The next  generation of career women is going to get busier still.Work harder.Travel more. Soon, we may forget what it means to pay a condolence visit.There will be no one  left to pass on the protocol.Teach others how to behave at besanas , uthamanas , shraddhs and wakes . That will be as big a tragedy as the death of the loved one itself .
And then… who will mourn us when we go???


Jogeshwar said...

A very heartrending post. Yes we should find time to honour the memory of those we have shared wonderful moments. During my last visit to the post office, I felt very sad on realising the postman who served us from the time I could remember was no more. He was very diligent and delivered post on his bicycle even in harsh weather. In school I was fond of collecting stamps, but little mail came to us, so I asked if he could help. He would ask the home owners if he could remove the stamps on the mail he delivered to them and cheerfully brought me many stamps of various countries. I would proudly show my collection to my classmates. He would keep giving more stamps every now and then. He never took any money for the extra help, even when my mother insisted. He would also never ask for any festival, if owners remembered to give money he would gladly accept it otherwise move on.
The notice put up at post office read about his death, his diligence, honesty and cheerfulness about the way he worked and reminded how he deliver mail even on holidays. So callous is our system, for some reason he always remained as an adhoc. His family is now struggling to make ends meet, they wont be getting any pension since he was adhoc. The society has requested the people to remember him and donate some money to his son's bank account. I brought this to the notice of my mother and decided to put some money in the account every now and then, in remembrance of his diligence.

I think the best way to overcome the guilt is to remember to the loved ones left behind whenever possible. A lot many people would attend the funeral but only a few make it a point to visit the family like the way they did before the tragedy.

Tsomo85 said...

Worst is when your own better half says "ohhhhh goshhhhh not that night shift again" and certainly this guilt trip!!! That's when it hits and time to say enough is enough!!! And time to say goodbye to such a shift. Although our profession as a nurse is perhaps one of the most challenging & rewarding job. Being there for others, specially near and dear are far from it. Recently I realized the sooner we change our over loaded activities the better! Being slave to unnecessary materialistic things and egos are worst! When I look back 20 years from now, everything was perfect and memorable and often I've told myself if that's how I want my future to be remembered I should just take a chill pill & sacrifice half of that time just to cook meals, do laundries,and relax/ meditate with the love ones!!! When I was in India I've never once attended funeral but the "ram ram sath hai" slogan really scares me while traveling! But now these things doesn't scare me anymore rather it gives me joy; thinking ohhh they're so lucky to finally depart from suffering & I can start everything over gain, after all we live our entire life believing and behaving properly to the law of karma. Birth and death are perhaps most important part of my culture. Specially, when I've came from family where our own great grandmother have born again in our own family as a grand child. Strange huh??? But this is the world we come from!!!!! All these are like ABC of our world! And then they are more strange things that if I go on you might STOP blogging from now on. LOL So I better stop here and hide all these secrets!!! :D I'm so glad that practically US made me so strong, including the profession that I picked! Now I've no fear or desire since everything had been seen or known. Except for more time to meditation, friends and family. Hopefully I'll start to follow this mantra by this summer! Always enjoy reading your thoughts; they reveal a lot about your joyful life! May I too gain this kind of joy when someday when I become "mother."


Tsomo85 said...

Mistake: "& they can start everything over again" not I & then the double "when."

Btw looking hot with the Jaipur princess if I'm not wrong! lol

Tsomo85 said...

You sound very @nalimdutt if you know who he is,,,lol haha jk!!!
Jokes apart how thoughtful of you, specially when you have encouraged about the donations. That is something we should never forget no matter which funeral we attend. My mother judge people by the term people used for "donating" at funerals. Obviously we wouldn't dare say "oh I'm going to do some "charity." Unless if we want people to rofl behind us. Sadly, they are still people who embarrass themselves at such a emotional time!!! :)

Tsomo85 said...

And ya forget to add: avoid the term donation as well. In Tibetan we don't use these terms!!! :)

Nisha Shukla said...

Try reading Who will cry when u die :)

Tsomo85 said...

I find the "crying" business damn funny. No offense though. I mean, quietly tears rolling down the eyes seem ok but screaming and all that is bit too dramatic! Remind me of film "Rudali."

Ravi Patel said...

A lament and self-flagellation by the Gucchi Gucchi madame on not being able to pay her personal respects to Viren uncle. Why this hypocritical public display of 'remorse'.? If his friendship was so important to you then nothing stopped you from paying your respects to this most respected of our public figures. And the photo accompanying your display of lament, with 4 Hermes Divas feasting in some snooty little joint
just says it all. So so tasteless ( pun intended) !

Ravi Patel said...

And by the way Gucchi Gucchi was intended to be spelt that way>

NEHA said...

shobha mem your article is very nice. really point to ponder over the tadition of india . it is not about the bravery of indian women to go for funeral and all that but the thing is that how can women express her grief . she can express it in which ever way she thinks fit . at present also you didnt find any indian family in which they permit women to go in shamshan . there is need to create awareness among people . nice effort ..

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