By Ratna Manucha
And then one day it’s all over. The Chosen One crosses over to the other side, leaving behind tear stained and grief stricken faces in his or her wake. One wonders if life will ever be the same for them again.
Then four/thirteen days later is the ‘Chautha/Tehrvein’ or the prayer ceremony for the dearly departed. The significance is that the bereaved family can now stop mourning and get on with their lives.
Something about ‘Chauthas’ confuses the living daylights out of me. The other day I attended one and it seemed to me as if the occasion was more a meeting ground for long lost friends and relatives, than anything else. Four days have passed and by now the members of the bereaved family seemed to have accepted the fact that the only finality in life is death. They now have small, pitiful smiles flickering across their faces, more out of social obligation than anything else. The tears flow intermittently.
So back to this chautha. After the prayers were over, some family members got up to reminisce about their memories of the departed soul. Among them was the old man’s grand-daughter. She was a pretty young thing and as I watched her speak, a random thought flashed across my mind, that she must be attracting a lot of attention among the crowd. Epiphany!
Well, formalities over and as everyone was exiting, what do I see? This young lady has been accosted by an old, grandfatherly type, right in the middle of the entrance. With the result that people were filing out on either side of them! It was almost as if he wanted to catch her before anyone else did. But he was in no hurry to finish his interrogation of his young subject.
He was deep in conversation with her, oblivious to the crowds milling around them. I stood behind them, trying unsuccessfully to squeeze past, but he seemed to be in no hurry. I couldn’t help but eavesdrop. The first two questions were innocent enough. The gentleman wanted to know what the pretty young thing did for a living and where she lived. The third question made my jaw drop.
OGT (Old Grandfatherly Type): ‘Are you married?’
Good Heavens! He couldn’t have been more obvious!
PYT (Pretty Young Thing): ‘No, Uncle, not yet.’
At that answer, there was an unmistakeable gleam in the OGT’s eyes and I could almost visualise the permutations and combinations of matchmaking doing a little jig in his head!
That was when I decided to call it a day and push my way out, past the milling crowds. Once outside, I was accosted by a long lost cousin who wanted to catch up on all the local gossip, as she had been away for some time. Over tea there was light hearted banter and bonhomie all around. It was almost easy to forget why one was there in the first place. Some might argue that the person who had passed on (God rest his soul) was old but how does that matter? A life is a life, young, middle-aged or old and equally precious for the family.
Even on the days leading up to the ‘Chautha/Tehrvein’ one finds people milling about the bereaved family’s house, sipping endless cups of tea and talking about absent relatives, who is connected to whom and sundry other stories. The dead person is now just a picture on the wall, looking bemusedly at all the aquaintances from his or her vantage point on a high table, decorated with flowers. It’s almost as if he or she is saying, ‘Hey, remember me? It’s because of me you all are here in the first place.’
By the way, did anyone in the family remember to give this person flowers when he or she was alive? And is he or she now feeling a part of the casual conversation or is he or she feeling a little left out? As Anne Frank so succinctly put it, ‘The reason why dead people get more flowers than the living is because regret is stronger than gratitude.’
After all, none of the sundry visitors really seem to pay much attention to that lonesome, beautifully garlanded picture on the wall, apart from the cursory look and joining of hands…and the dearly departed, for a few moments, is reduced to just that…a picture on the wall.
(Ratna Manucha is an author and educationist)