Life is nothing but a relentless march towards death. That is the only certainty of life. Yet, life demands that we do not remind ourselves of our mortality. Life demands that we do not dwell on the transient nature of the existence of our loved ones. Life demands that we relegate death to the back of our consciousness. And at times of serious crisis, when it really is a matter of life and death, we try to keep afloat by not letting ourselves be reminded of it again and again, in all of death’s frightening details.
Though death is certain, it is never pretty. Though we must accompany our loved ones till the end of their mortal journey, till their mortal remains are consecrated to nature’s forces – we do that at a cost. We do it knowing that the heartbreaking images of those last minutes would come back to haunt us again and again, even when we try to console ourselves with the remembrance of moments that were spent in love and laughter. For that reason too, the moments of the final passage are personal, private. We must witness something that none of us ever want to.
Not surprising that we may even feel squeamish about it. When I learnt about my beloved uncle’s illness, after returning from the University, I was devastated. Elders in the family were whispering about how doctors had given him only a few months. As a callow youth, I was hesitant to visit him in the hospital. I could not imagine my beloved kaka, a giant of a man, who would pick up my book-filled heavy suitcase in one hand and me in the other when I returned from my boarding school – bedridden! I could not think of such to be my final memories of him. My father gently reminded me that it was my turn to be the strong one, to bring a few moment’s of happiness in my kaka’s time of pain. Till today, I have never stopped being ashamed of my squeamishness, and I have never stopped being eternally grateful to my father for showing me the way. [Though miraculously, my kaka recovered and we were spared a terrible heartbreak.]
Many years later, when my father passed, I knew it was time for me to confront those heartbreaking moments, moments that would be etched in stone. My cousin brothers offered to take my place. But I had to accompany my father – the man who had given me life, who had always stood like a rock for me – in his final journey. My father worked in the state Irrigation & Waterworks department, loved his work and always referred to himself as the ‘water engineer’. It was my duty to consecrate his ashes to one of his beloved rivers. I would give everything to erase those moments from my memory.
That is why I, or people like me, could never have imagined that there existed a section of people, who would make it their business to intrude upon such moments; people who deal in the macabre, who revel in the misery of others.
In an earlier era, families used to have framed imprints of a dear departed one’s feet. Not many families could afford a camera then, and rare occasions on which a person would have his/her photograph taken. When a loved one passed, his/her feet were smeared with alta (a red dye, typically women would paint their feet with it) and an imprint used to be taken on a piece of paper. Even though I understood the reasons, I never felt comfortable with the practice. It smelt too much of death. The reminder was of the passing, not of the living memory of departed. [Of course, with the proliferation of cameras (and now smart-phones)this particular practice has all but disappeared.] I had no idea there exist people who are immune to the ugliness of death.
No. I can’t bring myself to look at those funeral pictures that are flooding the social media. We all know the situation is grim. Every day someone at touching distance is contracting the disease and some (perhaps many) are losing the battle. How can anyone use such devastating images to score political points or to make money out them? The people selling the news are doing this because the numbers are not in their favour. After all is said and done, the percentage fraction (of people infected/died) is still far below many (so called) developed nations. But funeral visuals can very effectively make a point.
And then there are those. They do not even pretend to sell opinion or news. They walk from funeral pyre to funeral pyre, taking photographs. And they sell these photographs for Rs.20K (and upwards) apiece. Oh yes, these are not for domestic consumption but for the people for whom the misery of a former colony (who’s lately been trying to stand on its two feet) makes for great vicarious pleasure. Have we not seen these people before? The history of our freedom struggle is choc-a-block with stories of one brother betraying another for a few pennies thrown by the foreign master.
No, we should not call them vultures. Vultures are honorable animals, the sanitation workers of nature. These people are pathological criminals. Feeding off the misery of others. Selling their souls, defaming their own country and countrymen for pretty pennies. They are maggots in the gangrenous society of others.
And who are these people who put all the blame on the central government for the current situation? Have we not seen ‘corporate doctors’, consulting stinking rich clients online, ‘relaxing’ in private resorts in the middle of the first wave lock-down? Have we not watched ‘bindaas’ souls partying away the night to make things ‘bearable’, when they would not pay the school fees of their children (making the lives of teachers and other school employees difficult)? Do we not know of covid-infected families who hid their condition from everyone and even insisted on a ‘no-mask’ policy for their household helps? These are the people who are out with their sanctimonious rage. These are the people who find the most insulting, most derogatory words to describe our scientists, our administrators, our public servants who are working day and night to keep us safe, to make things work. Do you see a single one of these ‘outrager’s doing anything useful in this terrible pandemic? Are they serving the nation? Are they helping people? Have no doubt about it – these people are trying to pass their own guilt onto the administration and, in the process, trying to reap political mileage out of it.
Cry, our motherland – the land of our ancestors, the land of our ancient civilisation – cry. Cry, in the hope that your tears may cleanse the souls of your children. Cry, my Mother, cry.