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Obituary by A. K. Ramanujan

A fine poem of vyangya and vakrokti, it can outdo many and can recreate even in sorrow and grief.

Obituary as a poem is of kriya-karma, daha-samsakara, the way the Hindus dispose off their dead performing the rites and rituals with a pinch of irony and satire rehearsed through the characters of astrological and astronomical fellows and their excesses, what we do in the name of religion and karmakanda and lokachar, what the populace as the odd folks do it and believe it commonly. Who mocks at the astrologers and astronomers? Their assistants is the hidden answer. Hear them and see their mockery to arrive at. Can a palmist say about his own palm-lines? Had he been wealthy, he would not have been a palm-reader. The crisscrosses of fate, can an astrologer do with his charts? A khagolshastri too has to live on this earth otherwise he may fall into a ditch while stargazing.

Obituary is one of the best obituaries ever written by Ramanujan commemorative of life lived, past, spent with, remembered, rites and rituals performed, we mean kriya-karma and reminisced over all that is left as a legacy and heritage which he feels it in the death of his father.

The whole scene dances before the eyes, be it South India or North India, rituals are almost the same. How do the villagers take to? How do the relatives? What the priests do? Kriya-karmas on the ghats, kriya-karmas on the courtyard of the house by the two category Brahmins, one doing the outward funeral karma another making the household sacrosanct after the mourning prevailing around. The question of dana arises, dana to the purohita and to the main ghat Brahmin, but we cannot determine whose work is greater?

During the cremation time, one may hear, overhear about philosophical generalizations. What this body is made? How our karma-dharma? How our papa-punya? Who the Record-keeper of it? How the work of Dharmaraja? How the Vidhi of Vidhan, the Code of God’s Justice? What will it go with? Nothing is the answer expected. Oh, this clay’s body will mingle with dust! The body will turn into ashes. The goer has gone. Let it rest in peace.

Some would calculate, what did he, what did he not do? How had it been his death? What trouble did he bear? Which of the sons had been nearer to him? How much time did it take in burning? What does it remain when the body burns it to ashes?

The villagers wait for the shraddha, five types of sweetmeats and the feast to be given and the debts the sons will clear it after quarrelling among themselves or mortgaging lands. Some will criticize the food was served, some would about the quality of it.

The villagers eat and go away without thinking about the debts incurred and this is India, our society of patriarchs and village elders. They will try to find fault with the breaking niyam-dharma, kriya-karma, overseeing it all through village folks working as spies at their behest.

But the reasonable mind says if the dead will walk again, come back to life. The answer is clearly, no. They will not. The debater in us says it they will take and go away so cut your coat according to your cloth. None will remember you after eating however be it delicious. When men were able to eat at that time people used to. In every age food will matter as it is essential to life and living.

Who will be at the time of death? None can say it. Who will serve? This is a matter of question. Sometimes it has been seen that heirs start  quarrelling as for the properties of the dead father bequeathed or lying undivided. Some like to fuel and poke into a blaze.

How to dispense with the body? The body too turns into a burden. At  that time the cremators appear to be important as for taking the body to the ghat.

When one over lives, the descendants take it not in the right way. To get food is not so easy however rich be you. Can you cook? Can it be available to you all the times?

The last not the least, do the people gather for mourning and loss? Or, for the feast to be given at last? If a few fall ill after taking food of from over eating will abuse the dead man gone.

There is nothing to know. We know Indian society, family and villages.

Above all, Brahmin pagletgiri, what to say it about? The concept of swarga-naraka and its contractors, how to discuss it? Does one go to swarga, heaven on the basis of dana, gifts and donations?

We cannot change human psychology.

There is not Job’s mourning in it, but Pope’s pinch of humor and satire in it.

We do not know what son is he, a god son or a bad son.

‘Obituary’, what obituary is it? It is not an obituary, but a rumination over, a postscript written as an after-effect, an after-thought felt thereof as catharsis. There is something of wit and irony too, satire and humor in it.

When his father left for the heavenly body, what did he leave on? The poet ruminates it over after his demise. A dusty table was laid it on with a pile, heap of papers. He also left out debts for to repay and moneylenders to take. He went away, but left a bedwetting baby to be reared as a debt and that too son had been named after a toss of the coin which but shows it how astrological and horoscopic was he, how much conventional and astronomical. If he was as such, how would his grandson? Now guess you a Brahmin’s grandson, how much luck-finder will he turn out to be in life?

A house he left on for to live in with a coconut tree standing in front of it and the house leaning towards it. A usual man no different from others he burnt as the dead bodies do burn at  cremation.

How do the bodies burn it one after another? When he talks of some parts of the body burning to coal, the reference reminds us of George Herbert’s Virtue and the burning of the world to coal. What does it remain it here? Virtue is the answer. A virtuous soul never.  The cremators know it how the body burns it, how do the bodily parts.

As per the belief, how the coins were placed on his eyes? We cannot comprehend what is the ritual behind the placing of. Is it to hide from seeing as for the same eyes turned lifeless? Or, for something else taken for or meant by allegorically? How do the same eyes turn into stone, visionless, viewless, as lifeless particles? Or, for the money to be given to the ferryman who will make cross over the river of hell? Coins for the dead out of reverence or to pay respect with metallic, durable money, drabya as for dakshina or if needed grew up in classical antiquity.

How did he go to the railway station to throw the ashes and the bits of bones in the direction where the three rivers meet?

Do the people read obituaries in newspapers? What can it give to the bereaved soul? How are these written? The obituary which it appeared in the Madras newspaper was also seen it sold to the street hawkers selling it to grocery shops by kilo where jiggery, coriander and other things are given.

What did the father leave on as a legacy to? He ruminates it over to see the widowed mother and one more addition of the annual ceremony.

The poem reminds us of the gravediggers’ scene of Hamlet. It also reminds us of R.K. Narayan’s An Astrologer’s Day. Whatever be it the soothsaying

Father, when he passed on,
left dust
on a table of papers,
left debts and daughters,
a bedwetting grandson
named by the toss
of a coin after him,

a house that leaned
slowly through our growing
years on a bent coconut
tree in the yard.
Being the burning type,
he burned properly
at the cremation

as before, easily
and at both ends,
left his eye coins
in the ashes that didn't
look one bit different,
several spinal discs, rough,
some burned to coal, for sons

to pick gingerly
and throw as the priest
said, facing east
where three rivers met
near the railway station;
no longstanding headstone
with his full name and two dates

to holding their parentheses
everything he didn't quite
manage to do himself,
like his caesarian birth
in a Brahmin ghetto
and his death by heart-
failure in the fruit market.

But someone told me
he got two lines
in an inside column
of a Madras newspaper
sold by the kilo

exactly four weeks later
to street hawkers

who sell it in turn
to the small groceries
where I buy salt,
coriander,
and jaggery
in newspaper cones
that I usually read

for fun, and lately
in the hope of finding
these obituary lines.
And he left us
a changed mother
and more than
one annual ritual.
 

28-Jan-2023

More by :  Bijay Kant Dubey

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