Jan 20, 2010
I have been dead for 20 minutes. My sister and brother were in the Parish Priest’s cabin to discuss the funeral details. The plot would cost Rs. 85,000 explained Fr. Netto. “Ridiculous! 85K for a plot that measures 3x6?” I thought to myself. If I was not already dead, I would have had a heart attack for sure. “She did not want a permanent tomb Father, we will respect her wishes and go for an ordinary tomb.” My sister chimed in. “Thank you sis for honoring my wishes” I wanted to say.
“If you go for an ordinary plot, it would only cost you Rs. 5,000” announced Fr. Netto. I wanted to scream: “Father, didn’t you always preach in your homilies about this world being a transient place and that the soul is immortal and what happens to our body after death should be least of our concerns? Isn’t this hypocritical?” I had to thwart my urge to scream when I realized I was dead and the bull-headed priest was not going to hear me anyway. “By the way, you will have to pay extra money if you want bells tolled more than thrice on the day of the funeral” he added. “Its okay Father, three times would be just fine” clarified my brother. “If you want us to turn on all the ceiling fans and the lights in the church during the funeral service, it would cost you Rs. 400 more” Fr. Netto added. “Yes, let the fans and lights be turned on” responded my brother. “You will have to pay only Rs. 3,000 in advance and the balance can be paid after the burial.” Fr. Netto showed his Christian spirit. “Wow! How commendable! He trusts us enough to pay the balance after the burial” I thought to myself.
I knew living was expensive but I had no idea that dying was even more so. I was awestruck at the exchanges between my siblings and the parish priest. What a fool I was to even think that one’s soul mattered more than the body. After witnessing this plot for sale ordeal I was all confused. Oh, well, now it is too late, I can’t even change my will. Had I known earlier, I would have opted for a simple burial right in my own yard, under my favorite coconut tree. That way, at least in death I could have been useful as manure!
“Who’s the funeral arranger? I hope you didn’t call Irvin from Good Bye Arrangers. He is such a crook, he wants his payment in full right after burial on the same day. Those who have called him once don’t call him again” Uncle Jimmy came forth with his (unsolicited) piece of advice. “No, Uncle Jimmy, we are going with a different arranger. We too have heard about Good Bye arrangers, our arranger is Eternal Rest. He is well known for his customer service.” explained my brother, who was overseeing all the arrangements. “Just make sure they bring enough coffee, it would be a shame if they run out of coffee at the cemetery” added Uncle Jimmy. “By the way, please don’t invite every Tom, Dick and Harry to stay for supper after the burial. This meal is for close family and friends, tell your sisters to exercise caution while extending invitations.
I just love the pomfret curry and the dry shrimp chutney they serve. We could help ourselves to the left-overs and enjoy them for a week you see” Aunt Mercy chimed in trying hard not to drool. “Aunt Mercy, you rest assured. Eternal Rest arrangers usually give their catering contract to ‘Eat well caterers’ and they usually bring more than enough” clarified my brother. One has to appreciate Aunt Mercy’s frankness. I am amazed at people’s priorities at funerals. Some times it feels like the condolences, the tears, the words of compassion are all a façade, most people are outright pragmatic- what is in it for me?
Have you sent the information to the newspaper? If you type something fast, I can take it to them before their office closes” volunteered Cousin Arthur. My sister handed over a piece of paper with funeral details to Arthur. Let me see, Aunty Joanne grabbed the paper from him. “Hey, you need to add that she is the great grand niece of Late Mrs. Bonanza, the freedom fighter.” Lord have Mercy, I thought to myself, if you go back three generations and forward three, the entire newspaper page will not be sufficient. “No, Aunty, let’s not go that far, we are all proud of our great grand aunt but this is not the occasion to gloat about our ancestral heritage” Arthur was too quick to grab the paper back from her. ‘Good for you, Cousin Arthur, and thanks for not letting her steal my thunder.’ I thought to myself.
My baby sister was flying in from the Mid-East and had requested that I be put in cold storage for a couple of days. Personally, I did not want to be placed in the mortuary. I have always believed that loved ones should visit and spend quality time when people are alive. No matter how much formalin is injected into the corpse, the person does not look the same he or she was before death. Mummification might have worked for the Egyptians, not for us. When they finally brought me home for one last time from the mortuary I just heaved a sigh of relief (Oh, well, you get the point). It was just too darn cold in there and being there for 48 hours under spine-chilling, subzero temperature was a nightmare. My brother who had heard the horror story of a body that was decomposed right in the mortuary because the technician forgot to turn the storage unit on had made sure the switch was on after placing me in. It brought back memories of the 1994 snow storm of Illinois during my student days. It was so severe that they had to shut down the University for four days. Clad in four layers of clothing, wading through snow and ice to make it to class at 8AM used to give me the creeps.
Uncle Joe was in the front yard, nervously wiping his forehead with his nicely folded white handkerchief. “Why don’t you order some plastic chairs, if there are more people there is no room in the house and while you are at it, ask them to get a couple of pedestal fans too. Its going to be stuffy in here he predicted. Uncle Joe’s concerns were legitimate. ‘It was a hot summer day but I could not choose another day, could I?’
People slowly started streaming in…. some solitaire, some in pairs. “Poor thing, this was not her age to die.” Someone exclaimed after taking a good peak at the coffin. I tried to figure out who it was but did not seem to recognize her. ‘Interesting, I thought the time of death and age of death and manner of dying was in God’s hands; humm, this lady seems to know more than God’ I smiled.
I turn around and good Lord, it is Aunt Elsie! She’s carrying a wreath that exceeds the circumference of her hips. I am sure it weighs at least 10 kilograms, I meant the wreath. There she was trying to wade through the front door. After two knee surgeries and a hip replacement surgery, her tenacity to balance 116 kilos (her weight) on those pencil point shoes is highly commendable. Funeral announcement in the local newspaper and in the media network carried a post script at the end: “In lieu of flowers, family appreciates donations to Ave Maria Palliative Care.” Looks like Aunt Elsie didn’t seem happy slipping in a folded bill into the charity box which lay on the right side of the casket on a little stool. My niece and nephews had taken extra care to find a nice little box, decorate the same with silver crepe paper and the youngest had even placed a skull and a set of bones on the same. I had to fight my urge to chuckle at her sense of humor, you see, one had to respect the solemnity of the occasion.
“She doesn’t look dead, she looks like she’s just sleeping.” Lo, it’s my neighbor, Aunt Carmine. ‘What kind of a comment was that?’ I said to myself. I am sleeping, you fool! but this time, I am not waking up.’ Wonder what she expected to see….eyes rolled up, tongue sticking out? Umm, whispered Carmine to Sellu who was sitting next to her. “ I think they went in for a third class coffin, not much decoration either.” I wanted to scream in her ears this time ‘Hello! I’m dead! The brass handled teakwood coffin with elegant sequencing, the vibration of the band beats, or the piles of flowers don’t really make a difference to me!”
All my adult life, I have been a strong opponent of funeral and wedding extravagance- the fire crackers, the flowers, the meaningless flaunting of wealth. After my school trip to the fire cracker factory in Chennai and after seeing the charred hands of those little children in the factory when I was fifteen years old I had vowed to myself that I will never buy or enjoy fire crackers. All the family functions (where I have had a say) have taken place without fire crackers. One really needs to ponder over the impact of fire crackers on global warming and the double dose of pollution- both air and noise! By the way, I don’t have anything against florists either. So, please don’t get me wrong. I loved flowers and I loved gardening but I did not expect people to bring me flowers when I can no longer admire them or smell them. And, those of you who can make sense, please do not waste money on flowers at funerals. Give your loved ones flowers when they are alive and show them you really care when they can appreciate them. ‘Oh, well, I think I am digressing here. Let’s go back to my funeral, shall we?
I wish I could thank my mother for fulfilling every wish of mine when it came to funeral arrangements. The mass was over and the priest asked the eulogist to come forward. I hope it is a short one I thought to myself. Just then, this tall, overweight lady in her mid sixties came up to the altar and unfolded a sheet of paper. I wondered who she was as I was seeing her for the first time. “It better be a short one,” I wanted to tell her “people usually don’t have patience for a cock and bull story at a funeral.”
“She was such a gem…..font of patience and understanding. Nothing could ever make her angry…..” She stood there lying through her teeth and the people in church just nodded in assent as if it was all true. ‘What a farce’, I thought to myself. At one point during the eulogy I had to force myself not to laugh. She possessed all these qualities which we should all emulate…. “Strange, isn’t it? Even though they couldn’t stand your sight when you were alive, when you’re lifeless, you become such a role model to one and all…… Outright hypocrites! I did not know I had such great qualities!” She went on for sometime until the parish priest gestured to her to cut it short. He was worried about the next mass that was going to begin in five minutes.
Finally, it ended and I was on my way to the cemetery. “It is about time they gave me some rest.” I said to myself. “Have thine own way Lord” the choir was trying it’s best to keep it in-sync. You could tell from their croaking that they did not really want to be there but had no choice. I really pity them. If anyone needs a cup of coffee badly, it is the parish choir! People thronged around the freshly dug tomb. The singing stopped and the pastor began the Lord’s prayer. Crrraccck! Suddenly there was this sharp, crackling noise nearby. I too tried to look in the direction of the sound. One of the old tombs had caved in, two rows down from where I was being interred. My two overweight neighbors were standing on the tomb of Mr. D’Souza wanting to get a good glimpse of who’s shedding the most tears and lo and behold, Mr. D’Souza taught them a lesson. ‘Yes,’ I said to myself, ‘it is a good lesson for all those insensitive people who stand on tombs in total disregard for the feelings and sentiments of their loved ones! Finally with much struggle, the ladies were helped to get out of Mr. D’Souza’s tomb. Luckily they sustained just a few cuts and scratches when the tomb caved in.
It was now time for lowering the casket into the grave. The men were really struggling to coordinate the task of lowering the casket trying not to fall in first. I really felt guilty for not taking care of my weight. Had I been a little lighter, the entire ordeal would have been a painless one. The casket reached the bottom of the tomb and those who loved me did not mind getting their hands dirty with dirt. Fistfuls of soil kept falling on the casket. The Asst. Parish Priest made the final announcement: “The requiem mass will held on Thursday at 8AM.” “I guess they are going to settle with just a breakfast instead of a three- course lunch” exclaimed Mrs. Furtado, my neighbor. ‘What has a three-course meal with an open bar got to do with the repose of a soul?’ I wanted to ask her but thwarted my urge and decided to rest, yes! Rest in Peace. Just then, “Lavi, aren’t you getting up? It’s quarter passed six.” Mummy thundered from the kitchen. Oh, my goodness, I am still alive, oh, no, was this all a dream?” I shook myself off and jumped out of bed.