I lost my father a few days back.
That he was a great soul, a good teacher, more a friend than a father and that the loss is irreparable, etc though true and important, are extremely personal matters and not the theme of this post.
Then what is the theme?
A story from Katha Upanishad runs as follows. King Vahasrava performs a yagna in which he offers worthless gifts to Brahmans. Nachiketas, his son notices this and pesters his father to offer fruitful gifts. Vahasrava, in a fit of anger gifts Nachiketas to Yama. Nachiketas meets Yama and asks the most important question-what happens after death? Yama reveals the secret which is one of the best explanations offered by any religion on the post-death happening.
Thus Nachiketas learns the distinction between soul and body, the immortality of soul, the concept of moksha, etc. from Yama.
And what did I learn after my father’s death?
- We informed the relatives about his death. A standard question from them was “Is it going to be electric cremation or conventional cremation?” How is it relevant? In an electric cremation Asthi (ashes) is given within 2 hours whereas in conventional cremation it is given the next day. Sanjayanam is a ritual performed after obtaining the ashes. Hence in the case of electric cremation Sanjayanam can be performed on the same day and the relative can book return ticket the same night! Otherwise he/ she has to stay overnight!
- We took the body to the cremation centre.
“Sir, you have one hour. The next body is arriving at 3.30. You need to finish all your rituals before that,” explained the attendant at the cremation centre.
“What time will you give the Asthi? By 5.30? I have to catch the 7.30 train back to Chennai,” requested an impatient uncle of mine.
- By the time we got the Asthi and finished Sanjayanam, it was 6 in the evening. The Asthi was to be immersed in a river. My father died in Salem. We would have to go to either Mettur or Bhavani for immersion both of which were 50 kms away. The Pundit said that we could not keep the Asthi in the house overnight nor could it be kept in a neighbor’s house.
‘What if we keep in the boot of the car overnight and immerse tomorrow?’ suggested a very resourceful relative.
The Pundit perhaps had not faced this kind of a question earlier in his career. He tentatively agreed to the suggestion.
So the Asthi waited patiently in the boot of the car overnight!
- We mentioned my father’s death in the obituary column of The Hindu. Every now and then some distant relative or an old friend would call to express his condolence and a typical conversation would go as follows:
“I learnt about Narayanan’s (my father) death…I’m sorry…?”
“Are you his elder son? What’re you doing?”
What’s your brother doing?”
“How many children you have?”
“What are they doing?”
“Are you looking for alliance for the elder daughter?”
“I have a suitable boy in mind……”
And that was a condolence inquiry!
- For a good part of his last few years, my father stayed alone in Valady, my native village. A neighbor and a servant maid looked after him reasonably well. While he paid them monthly for their services, he had told us to pay them a reasonable lump sum after his death.
What constituted a reasonable lump sum?
“Rs. 25,000 each,” suggested my uncle.
“Rs. 50,000 each,” was another suggestion.
“Do they deserve that much when especially for the last few months Narayanan was with his son and not with them?” questioned the uncle who had suggested Rs. 25,000 as the compensation.
Discussions. Points and counter points. Fact sheets. Their performance analysis of the past few years.
Finally it was decided to pay them Rs. 50,000 each.
- As South Indian Brahmins we have to perform the last rites for 13 days. Every day the Pundit would come at 6.30 in the morning and the rituals would last for an hour. Thereafter we would be free till next morning. The free time thus obtained would be spent on ‘atma vichar’- one day it would be Sankaran Kovil by-election, next day it would be UP election results, third day would be Rajini vs. Kamal vs. Vijayakant…..
- My father’s pension account was in Valady. “It would be better to close the account when Hariharan is in India. So let’s do it during these 13 days. Otherwise Hariharan will leave the country and if the bank wants his signature on some paper, we will be stuck.” It was done.
- “You need legal heir certificate to dispose of the family house,” said a lawyer relative. We contacted an official of Salem Municipal Corporation. “Sure, no problem. It will involve some ‘expenditure’.” We agreed to the ‘expenditure’. Then the official wanted my mother’s death certificate as she was also a legal heir. My mother died 25 years ago and we did not bother to get her death certificate then. “No problem. It will involve some more ‘expenditure’” volunteered the obliging Corporation official.
- Everyone gave a farewell speech on the 13th day.
“Narayanan was a very, very independent person. He would not take help from anyone. I have to thank God that he gave me an opportunity to help him once,” said a relative.
“I was blessed with an opportunity to look after him once….,” said another relative.
What was the point? Were the phrases “thank God”, “blessed with an opportunity” polite garbs for the fact they in fact helped him?
- “One has to be practical. How many days will one be brooding over his death? Will you stop eating, sleeping? What’s wrong in settling the financial issues? What’s wrong in laughing, gossiping, arguing…..? In fact Narayanan was a great philosopher. He did not believe in these rituals or the outward show of grief,” argued a close relative.
Perhaps he is right. One needs to be practical.
I am back on my job preparing cash flows and forecasts.