Death is an experience that shakes your faith. Mine, never a sturdy one, constantly wavering in the storm of my questions, is being sorely battered. But not for the usual reasons. Every family hides its dirty secrets that get a forced airing on such occasions. Mine, to my utter shame, is having to acknowledge a relationship, even allegiance to vehement chauvinism. But this is a blog about relationships and what relationship is more complex than the one with family – unless it’s the one with God? Both have been severely tested for me this week.

My maternal grandmother, last grandparent, died after a battle with Parkinson’s this week. Last week I told my father that mothers and daughters have complicated relationships that men rarely understand. I guess that holds true for grandmothers & granddaughters too. I don’t think we ever saw eye to eye. We clashed, not in open, direct confrontation as I’d have liked but in hidden, snippy ways that were her forte. Even our choices of battlegrounds reflected ourselves, polar opposites and she won on that count. On the other hand, she was a strong, powerful woman, used to and enjoying control. Sound familiar? Yes, that’s the person I see everyday in the mirror.

It’s too early to tell how the social structures that she was a part of, indeed with much power, will shift or collapse in her absence. Now is for the rituals & practices of grieving, bereavement and letting go. The Indian/Hindu tradition is practically made for feminist rants. Some things I’ve seen and heard this week that’ve made my blood boil. Two women, both diabetic slaving away in the kitchen to provide a la carte meals and saying,

“If there is enough for the men, that’s all that matters.”

The men going out to discuss such important matters as which rituals to carry out & what to do – most foisted on women, all based on the slaving of women. But of course an entire houseful of women can’t be expected to take care of a simple pick-up of the coffin, afterwards.

“The ladies are alone in the house. I don’t want them to do that.”

I’v been ordered around, dismissed and condescended to in ways that would earn its perpetrators a swift kick in their precious jewels were they not older, related to me and this wasn’t a funeral. I’m bristling.

I had the unique privilege (and make no mistakes, that’s what it is) of going to the crematorium. 20years ago, when my other grandmother died, my father insisted on taking me along, against strong opposition from the rest of the family. Two years later, my grandfather followed her after having lived in his daughter’s care for that time. It was believed that his wife’s death represented the crumbling of all that he had power over, and without her, he had practically nothing left to give him his power, his identity. I was at the crematorium then too. 12yrs ago, my other grandfather passed away and I carried logs of wood to place on his pyre, along with the men.

I wondered this morning if I should. I’m not a child to be led by my father. I’m not even young enough to need to prove my strength & independence to the family. The one thing that drives my faith is truth & respect. Participating in a ritual I did not believe in, felt like dishonesty. Staying back would feel like deliberate disrespect to her, since I’d attended all other cremations. Either way I’d lose.

I’d been pushed enough to such uncharitable thought like I could go along, just to spite the male chauvinist pigs. There’d be nothing they could do about it and it would serve their porkish attitudes just right. But I refrained, I did, I escaped falling into that vicious place. When my father asked me if I was coming along, I shook my head. I watched them walk away to the car. Then, I bolted home to grab a jacket and raced back to get into the car.

It was a long, circuitous journey, doubtless benefitting the tout parading as Pandit/Funeral Emcee. I didn’t know if I’d done the right thing, was chilled then hot & bothered, hungry, guilty for feeling do, angry for the guilt and a confused mess. I had an interesting (and undoubtedly what she’d call inappropriate) conversation with the others on the state of the country, work & the generation gap in 2012. Armchair ranting is a good distraction.

Nearly an hour later, we arrived and she was waiting for us, laid out next to the electric crematorium. I shied away from any last minute rituals. Then, they lifted her onto the pyre. Her favorite kanjeevaram saree that mum bought her, she had specifically asked to be draped in, for her final journey. I made a mental note to tell mum that they did let her go through with it. The flowers were brushed away and then they wheeled her in and slammed the door shut.

I’ve seen this before but the shock of it didn’t leave me for awhile. She’s gone. She really, truly is gone. Once strong body that overcame paralysis 30yrs ago, the sheer grit that made that possible, the mind that continued to hold the strings of her family long after her body was being cared for by them, the hands that nursed my mother back to life, from her devastating illness in the 90s, the life that weathered losing a husband to cancer and then, even more shatteringly, her son to the same illness. Gone.

In the end, I think I did it for us both. For her and for me. Go in peace, Patti. You’ve won the right to it fair and square. My hurdles are yet to be overcome before I win that ultimate victory. You never stopped wanting, never stopped fighting and that’s how I’d like to remember you. Go in peace.

4 thoughts on “Faith At A Funeral”
  1. Hey Ramya, I came to your blog via twitter. I lost my mother to cancer a few months ago. And I went through a lot of what you went through, only a lot more intense as in this case my mom was involved, and I had been one of her primary care takers in the months before her death.

    It was painful to be told at various steps that being a daughter I couldn’t do anything for mom post her death, because I would ruin her “parlok”.

    Anyway, your rage reminded me of my own, so thought would share. The double standards we face are unbelievable…

  2. […] It is considered perfectly acceptable to be mean or rude to someone who has defied a social conventi… (“What does she think of herself, dressing that way?”). It is fine to treat a woman less than respectfully if she does not dress and behave the way a ‘good Indian woman’ should behave. It’s not that a woman who makes different choices about her life, does not need affection, love, support and yes, protection from unsavory elements. ButΒ since she chooses to flout those rules, all of these get increasingly restricted to her. Affections and respect are paid out in direct proportion to the adherence to social norms. That is what I mean by transactional. […]

  3. […] demons. I will not tread a straight path to my career, as I have to stop to fend off attacks from people who are close to me as well as those who compete with me. But since the only alternative is to live an oppressive lie […]

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