The Comedy Around Death

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The Comedy Around Death

Death is a very sensitive topic — especially if you have suffered the loss of someone dear to you. I have lost a few people who were at the centre of my universe. And I have the greatest respect for this aspect of the lifecycle. One day I hope to learn and document the various customs around this part of life. But for today I would like to take a step back and look at some of the absurdities that I have seen in our family when someone dies. Day 30 of “One Day, One Blog, every day for a month” challenge.

https://www.usurnsonline.com/

I open the door for my maid who early by 30 minutes. As she is usually late by 30 minutes, I had to ask what happened today that made her arrive early.

“Meri mommy ka Maama “off” ho gaya”, she tells me in Hindi.

(Translation: “ My mother’s uncle has gone “off” …and, therefore, she needs to complete work and go back early before the funeral)

The Hindi delivered in a Marathi accent, with a casual attitude made me smile, in spite of hearing the sad news that someone has passed away. And that made me think — how inappropriate is it to smile when someone dies? Or is it?

My mind went back to all those times when we have smiled or laughed when surrounded by tragedy.

The cousin who calls only when someone dies

I love this younger cousin of mine. We get along very well because both of us do not believe much in small talk; we do not feel compelled to conform to social niceties of keeping each other informed off every single nonsense that happens in our lives. We are perfectly happy if an important communication is left as WhatsApp message.

But there is one occasion when he never fails to call. It is to inform us when someone dies. How does he end up being the harbinger of the bad news? His parents still live in our native place while mine had relocated long back. As he is the closest to us in our generation, the onus of this unpleasant task always falls on the poor guy.

While it is incredibly unfair to him, each time his number flashes on my cell, my first thought is, “Uh Oh…” Morbid? Perhaps. Kinda funny too.

Professional Mourners

No matter what the age when one’s parent or grandparent passes away the grief is a heavy burden to bear. In our custom, the offsprings sit near the body of the deceased, on the ground while the preparations for the funeral are on. That is when the “professional mourners” enter the room to pay their last respects.

These are usually a group of women in one’s extended family. They may have had little to no relationship with the person who passed away.

They enter and the performance starts — They hit their chest and starts howling. They will lament how the person ( who may have been above 80) passed away way too soon.

A particularly elderly relative passed away at 85. For the last 3 years, he had been bedridden with speech difficulties. I recollect a “professional mourner” lamenting how the gentleman who passed away asked about her children when they met just the previous week.

I almost asked the lady if she is sure she is crying at the right funeral.

Me-Too

My father-in-law was one of the nicest people I have ever met in my life. When he passed away at the age of 67, it was a tragic loss for our family.

During the mourning period, friends and family arrived at all times during the day to extend their condolences and spent time with my mother-in-law.

Almost everyone had a pattern to their commiseration. For the first 5 minutes, they would sit respectfully silent or at best asking about my MIL’s health. And then before you know it they have somehow taken over the conversation and made it about a loss they suffered.

I have often wondered why people do it?

Is it an attempt to say, “I understand your loss because I have experienced the same?”

Or is it more superficial as they cannot allow someone else to be the centre of attention and wants to make the narrative about them?

The dutiful daughter-in-law

I have seen this among the people in my Mom’s generation especially where all relatives stay in the same village. The “Daughter-in-law” is more like a shared resource — meaning, it is not just her husband’s father and mother who are her in-laws but their fourth cousin, twice removed is also her “in-laws” by whom she has to perform the “good bahu” act.

Now imagine that someone aged has passed away. The “daughter-in-law” is neither sad nor is she even close to the woman who passed away to care so much. But there are two things expected of her. She should cry as though her heart is truly broken not just for the old woman but for the whole family AND while holding that broken heart in hand, she should take care of running the bereaved household, offer drinks and coordinate food for the multitude who comes calling.

I have this clear memory of an aunt of mine — she is one of my favourites. Super fun to be around and clever enough so that she handles all age groups just right.

When someone in the extended family died, she would be right in the middle helping that family. You will see her sitting near the immediate family and crying with them, then looking grave while conversing with the elders and then giggling with women her age in the pantry — all in a span of 15 minutes. and then the cycle repeats. It is more amusing than watching an actor on stage.

Are there any such funny incidents around death that you have observed?

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Ruby Peethambaran

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