Remembering the Departed - contd
by Sujaya Mohan
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One fine day, I was woken up by the sound of furniture being moved about. I went in search of her and found her moving all the furniture from the living room to the adjoining terrace.
Quite intrigued, I asked if she was planning to change the look of her house and she replied, “Arrey, no beta. It is my husband’s first death anniversary today. I have arranged for a small get-together. Why don’t you join us for lunch?” It took a couple of minutes for me to get back to my senses. For me, get-to-gethers generally meant gatherings, parties or reunions where people gathered to mark a joyous occasion. Somehow, I found it difficult to associate the term “get-together” with a sensitive occasion as a death anniversary.
Images of my grandaunt, mom and aunts scurrying by the house on such occasions flashed by my eyes. “Where do you plan to cook?” I asked, obviously aware of the confined space of her kitchen. She looked horrified at my question. “Cook?” she exclaimed. “No way, I have ordered food from a hotel”. I could not believe what I was hearing. This was coming as a cultural shock to me. “You are ordering food from a hotel? What will your priests eat?” I remarked with horror evident on my face. She was amused and understood my plight. “I have not invited any priests. We are doing nothing of that sort. I have invited people close to him. We will all assemble, pay our remembrance, eat his favourite food and then disperse.” I actually wanted to ask if she was joking about this whole thing, but thought the better of it.
At the appointed hour, the guests started pouring in slowly, each giving an affectionate hug to my landlady. There were exactly 12 guests. Once the expected guests had arrived, the program began. We first observed a 2 minute silence as a mark of respect to the departed. Then each of her cousins narrated incidents involving her husband. Some were funny and some were touching. Amidst all this, I observed that not a single tear was shed by any member of the family. Probably, they were better at handling grief. Meanwhile, the caterer arrived and arranged the menu on the table. “Arrey wah Chinese! I remember Dada loved Chinese.”
I heard one of her nephews exclaiming in delight. The second round of cultural shock wave hit me. Chinese food at a Brahmin death anniversary?
I then remembered her telling me that we would all be eating what he loved. The lunch consisted of exactly 4 items. After lunch, the guests started dispersing. The same event which took almost 3-4 full days of my family’s effort got over precisely in 3 hours. I just couldn’t wait to report this to my family back home. I imagined the reaction of my grandaunt if she had witnessed this first hand. I guess she would have fainted. This also gave me an insight on how the modern families living in big cities operated. Though everyone lived in the same city, they rarely met except for some special occasions as these. I had lived in Mumbai too and my mom, her sisters and other cousins made it a point to meet each other occasionally on some pretext or the other, but they all belonged to an older world.
As the last guest left, my landlady heaved a sigh of relief and plopped on her sofa. I did not ask her if she was exhausted as I knew what her answer would be, but I did notice the same sense of fulfillment on her face and that wistfulness in her eyes.
During the second anniversary, I was out of Pune on a project work and on my return asked her about the get-together. She replied, “No beta, this time there was no get-together as my son and daughter-in-law had to go out of town. I instead ate lunch at dada’s favourite restaurant and later watched his favourite Marathi movie.”
I smiled, drawing comparisons from two different worlds that I was being exposed to. In one, there was this headstrong woman, neck deep in traditions, who was hell bent on pleasing all the possible gods and goddesses for the wellbeing of her sister’s soul. In another, there was this simple nonchalant woman who relived the day by doing what her husband loved. Each had their own justifications and took pride in what they did. Through two different set of belief systems, each conveyed the same message to their dear departed that they were loved and remembered even to this day and would continue doing so till their last breadth…. ***