The last journey in (soiled) India

Today is December 24. A week before, my father, who was 85 years, six months and a week old, passed away peacefully. He was at his residence, in his bed, when the end came. A moment before and a moment later, it is too late. It is inevitable, more so in ripe old age, after one has lived a full life. Yet, sadness envelopes. Human loss aversion is intrinsic. Human being without the soul is referred to as a mere body. The soul lives on, after death. We do not see it and hence we develop no attachment to it. It is what breathes life into the body. But, the physical form matters to us more and we identify with it more. Hence, the sadness when the physical body becomes lifeless. One more vindication as to the importance of the physical form in spiritual pursuits. Without the physical form to behold, spiritual pursuits are difficult for most.

Thanks to sane and sensible advice, we were able to give our father an end that was marked by as much dignity and peace as it could be possible under the circumstances. No one wishes their old relatives to be subjected to the indignities of modern medicine and treatment. It is such a poor reflection on both the modern, western medicine and its practitioners. Thankfully, there are quite a few practitioners with conscience and it is their sane and wiser counsel that guided me, as that of friends who had been there and done that.

It is hard for me to describe how I went through the rites that prepare the body for the last journey (Veedu varai uravu; veedhi varai manaivi; kaadu varai pillai; kadasi varai yaaro). God gives the strength. The cremation ground in Madurai – and it is must be true or truer for most cities – is a sight to behold for its gloomy, depressingly unclean, unkempt and unhygienic condition. It is not fenced. It is strewn with litter and garbage. Stray dog and stray sheep roam the cremation pits, looking for the leftover food that are fed to the dead relatives. It is in such surroundings that one bids good bye to the soul, wishing it a peaceful afterlife. My relative who accompanied me the next day when we went back to collect the ashes felt traumatised by the conditions and wondered why any sane person would come back the next day, instead of cremating the body electrically and collecting the ashes the same day. Simply put, these things could and should be done differently.

Modern science and past-life regression studies now validate most of the thought processes and assumptions behind rituals associated with the soul’s last journey before it reaches the other world. The soul needs to be nourished and supported on its journey. The rituals are as moving as they are meaningful. It is a different story as to how far people of our generation can expect our children to perform these rites for our last journeys. This does not mean that they are any less affectionate. Simply, the longer and more steadily we move away and move our children away from their roots, the more difficult it is – in simple practical terms – to bring them back to the roots. Unless, of course, their vasanas bring them back on their own. That is something that we know not much about and over which we have very little control. More importantly, physical facilities, arrangements and conditions such as the one described above are not going to motivate them one bit, to do so.

The breathtakingly wonderful contribution that this civilisation, religion and philosophy had made to the cause of human evolution and elevation is completely nullified and offset by the collective indifference and even hostility to the material conditions that are needed to foster spiritual practices, advancement and evolution. May be, let me pause a bit here. Or, is it that these conditions drive one to the point of vexation with material living in this country and drive them either towards spirituality or to a well-practised insensitivity and indifference or send them overseas?

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