A tale of two cremations

I was very close to my father. We shared a bond which needed no words. My brother and my father, on the contrary, never got along. I never understood why. Sometimes it was quite silly, as my brother would say no, just because my Dad said yes, even if he didn’t believe in it. Whether they discussed politics, life, or sports, they were constantly at loggerheads. It pained my Dad and he often confided in me.

With Dad’s going, a part of me died. Literally as well, I feel, as one of my kidneys was cremated with him. I strongly believed that given how close I was to him, and being his eldest child, I would have the duty of lighting his funeral pyre. But his death happened in a place far away from home in a sterile hospital, where emotions held no value. The region reeked of patriarchy. Rigid relatives insisted that it was my brother as the eldest son who should perform the final rites. No one was willing to listen to my voice. I never forgave anyone for what I then called my Dad’s final humiliation.

The second time I lost a parent, it was quite the opposite. My brother was my mother’s absolute favourite. In her eyes, he could do no wrong. I always had issues with her— some which I spoke about, some which she didn’t bother to listen to. In any case, when her end came, I presumed that the person she loved most, my brother, would perform the funeral rites.  There was no other option. And so it came as a huge surprise, when my brother came up to me and asked me to perform the rituals. I really don’t know why he did that. The environment in Sevagram was more women friendly and open to change. And there were no rigid relatives around then. I went through the motions of the cremation mechanically.

When I think of these two scenarios today, I feel these were no coincidences. Everything was preordained in the cosmos’ scheme of things. These were lessons for both my brother and me. With the burning of the pyres, we burnt whatever misgivings we had about our parents. It was the burning down of the barriers which separated us. There were no more quarrels or squabbles. Everything was burnt down. Symbolically.  From ashes to ashes. From dust to dust.


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