Gone with the Wind
She breathed her last at the dawn of a New Year. She was ninety-five.
“I will live to be a hundred years,” she used to say, when anyone asked about her health. She had a great passion for living.
She had married an army man at a tender age of fifteen; he was twenty-one then. He roamed from one battalion to another until he retired. She single-handed raised the five kids that survived.
The twins, whom she bore at her late age, expired at birth. The incident haunted her ever thereafter.
She had a happy family. It broke up when Grandpa died.
Of the three male offspring in her family, the first two moved away from the house one after another. The eldest son left home in the pretext of starting a business. The second eldest son took up a job elsewhere. They took away their share of the parental property when they parted.
The youngest son stayed with Grandma. He was the apple of her eyes.
Two daughters chose to marry distant relations while Grandpa lived.
Grandma had thirteen grandchildren from her five children. She was one of the luckiest grandmas to have seen a great great-grand child in her lifetime.
Grandma first developed an irresistible pain in her stomach six months before her death. The pain continued off and on.
She first tried all sorts of things she knew to cure the ache on her own. Nothing worked. She then invited home healers to advise her. Those who came gave differing names and treatments to her ailment. None of them could put her right, though.
She never fell so sick before; nor was she taken ill for so long ever!
She soon lost her appetite and started to live on water. She turned paler and thinner day-by-day.
It had been too late when her youngest son took her to a hospital in Kathmandu to see if she could be helped. The man in mourning, as she would describe a doctor in white coat, said he felt sorry for her. She was sent home to die.
Her health continued to worsen. She exhausted her speech first. Then her eyes began to play tricks on her. She sank into a coma soon after.
The wind blew fiercely the night she struggled with death. The dog in the house howled loud and long.
At ten in the night, Grandma lay in the courtyard, gasping for breath. Her dear ones surrounded her. Mama moistened her mouth with water. Papa wiped the fluid dribbling out of her mouth. Children sobbed. The priest sat on a straw mat, chanting hymns from a holy book as loud as he could!
Neighbors and relatives soon started to tread in—the news of Grandma’s terminal condition had spread fast. Many came prepared to go to the funeral. Some ran back home to leave a word. Several went and came back with a change of clothes. A few dashed home to grab some food.
Celebrations had well begun in the vicinity with firecrackers rocking the surroundings. The New Year had just begun.
Tears soon began to run down Grandma’s eyes. She did not want to die.
Everyone wept, knowing what was to follow. It was a waste of tears though—she had to go.
The wind went wilder. The dog barked even louder. She soon started breathing harder.
The moment had come! She once looked around, as if to bid adieu to everyone.
A sudden gust of wind swept her away—she had gone with the wind!
A hush fell. Inactivity reigned. People looked at each other before they began to cry.
Soon the dog stopped barking. The wind ceased blowing. Grandma had fallen into a ‘wake-less’ slumber—she had gone away with the wind!
Then began the unusual rush—everyone had a thing to do!
Some went for green bamboo poles. Several ran for the yellow Ramnami sheet of cloth. Some headed to get flowers and vermilion powders. Several ran door-to-door to borrow things that were not readily available at home and a few sat back to console the bereaved family.
Things soon started to fall in place with everybody giving a helping hand.
Grandma lay over the rough bamboo handcart, clad in the sacred yellow cloth with golden imprints all over it—Haré Rama, Haré Krishna. Thick garlands draped her neck and chest. Red and yellow vermilion powders covered her body. Her face glowed against the night skylight—gorgeous she looked as ever before!
The procession started from the house well past midnight.
The priest led a group of funeral processions, reciting rhyming prayers; others repeated them in tandem. He tossed a mixture of coins and white rice grains over the passageway once in a while.
A small fraction of funeral precisionists aided the priest. Some lighted the way for him with kerosene lamps. Several carried ritual stuff for him. A few chased away stray dogs.
Barefooted, Papa and three others carried the handcart with each of its four ends resting on their shoulders. They changed shoulders every fifteen minutes they walked.
The funeral processions engaged themselves in various activities, including walking. A number of them shed tears. Some talked to each other. Several yawned even while they marched.
Many held battery torches in their hands. Some carried lanterns.
Someone in the procession took a head count. It was a group of forty-three—Grandma was counted out!
The procession reached the cremation site at two in the morning. An advance team had booked a crematorium by the stream. Firewood was arranged. Two helpers were appointed. Things that were not available back home were obtainable for money there!
The funeral processions queued up to pay their final respects to Grandma—the ruling the priest had given was one at a time. Her body rested on the firewood pyre, put up over the crematorium. Thick logs of wood intersected one another from all sides of the pyre.
Papa paid his last homage to Grandma, as the priest read verses from the holy book. Papa then moved round the pyre three times, pouring the holy water on the ground from a silver jar.
He lighted a tiny piece of shaving with a flame of straws on ghee. He torched Grandma’s mouth with it, tears flooding down his cheeks.
Papa set the pyre on fire through the hollow spaces underneath it. The two helpers rearranged the firewood by turn. Grandma’s body soon started to burn.
The funeral processions started to assemble in groups. Adults broached the conversation whilst youngsters listened—they had enough time to kill.
The youngsters soon started to giggle softly—the chatter had begun to matter!
Some elders dozed off, as they watched the blaze sweeping across Grandma’s body. Nothing else—the warmth of the flames was to blame.
The logs crackled—the fire had started to show its pitiless face. Grandma’s body was soon charred to ashes.
It was all over. Papa returned home with his head shaved!
The ritual mourning commenced with Papa going into quarantine in a vacant room on the ground floor. He dressed in white from head to toe.
Those who missed the funeral came home the following morning. Many offered bouquets of flowers to Grandma’s portrait, which hung on the wall by the entrance of the house. Some burnt incense sticks. An earthenware oil lamp lit beneath her picture—Grandma looked as if she was watching everybody!
The priest came every morning to guide Papa do the rites—special timing was important for each activity.
He ate one meal a day. He slept on a bed of straws. Someone escorted him every time he went out of the chamber. A group of people guarded him all the time. The ritual demanded that none – not even animals – touched him!
Visitors to the house started to grow in number. Those who came asked when it happened. Some asked her age. Some asked if she had been unwell for long. Curiosity had raised its head after her death!
Everybody, who came home from the third day, brought baskets of fruit. The house soon became full of goodies, piled over the corridor. Grandma lived no more.
Her eldest son arrived home on the fourth day. He grumbled over the belated information that came his way. So did the second eldest son, who joined the mourning on the fifth day. The two daughters reached home on the sixth day—they had had similar things to say!
The mourners observed the day of cleansing on the thirteenth day of Grandma’s death.
Women in the household woke up in the wee hours of the morning to clean the house. They had done all the washings the day before.
Men gathered at the backyard of the house to cook a feast. The household expected a big number of guests that night. They had built a shed of tarpaulin over the courtyard the previous day.
The priest came in early that day. He soon began to check gifts against the wish list he had himself prepared the other day—it was full of items that Grandma needed in her heavenly abode!
The priest’s wife soon joined in. She had to stand for Grandma that day!
Papa lighted the sacred fire of dry shavings, as the priest rehearsed hymns from the holy book. The blaze flared up every time Papa hurled a mix of ghee and barley over the fire.
The priest then began the religious procedure of gifting of things. Papa handed gifts out to the priest’s wife, one after another, as the priest chanted verses. A heap of presents soon lay near her feet—Grandma must have been very happy!
The pungent flavor of bamboo shoot soup punched one’s nostrils. The feast was now ready.
The household first treated the priest-duo. Then they sat down to eat. Children first.
Papa took salt in thirteen days. It began to work on him before long. His tongue went numb; he felt drowsy.
Invitees kept coming and going till late in the night—time was not a barring factor. Those who had attended the funeral showed up in majority.
The family sat together to eat again, when everybody had left—one did not keep the leftover for the following day anyway. They talked about Grandma while they ate—everyone had a story to tell!
The gossip changed its course, when they started to talk about ‘what next’ for Grandma.
The eldest son in business offered to erect her statue. The second eldest son volunteered to establish a revolving fund in her name. The two daughters decided to organize religious undertakings for her. Papa undertook to perform annual rites in her memory.
When it came the turn of younger generation siblings to speak, all of them promised to be good human beings in their lives. Some vowed to set up charities in her name. Several vouched to build her memorials.
One of them pledged to write a memoir on her life.
Grandma was dear to all when she lived. She was dearer once she was gone!