Friday, February 4, 2011

R I P

A lot of you had probably gathered from little snippets of posts and information that my father-in-law had been unwell these past few months. Well, he finally succumbed to all his little age-related problems and passed away yesterday. Given all that he went through these past few months, and especially January, he is definitely in a better place. May his soul rest in peace!
Hindu rituals are long drawn out by nature, and funerals are no exception. And for long I have wondered and questioned the purpose of the 13 day ceremonies. When it comes to religion I am a complete non-believer, I am not into rituals, but I am a firm believer in our ancient culture. Thats what makes us "us". When I go to a temple, it is not with a religious purpose, but I go to marvel at the gorgeous temple architecture, I am inspired by the faith with which people worship and wonder from where they get the energy to stand in line for hours to get a glimpse of their deity, I get completely intoxicated in the fragrance of vibhuti, camphor, frankincense and incense, I am mesmerised by the priests' Vedic chanting, I love the rough feel of the cold stone flooring beneath my feet, I love running my fingers over the grooved surfaces of the temple columns imagining the stone cutters working on it....and then I cannot wait for the delicious ghee laden "prashad"!

But coming back to funeral rites.....I never disbelieved in them, I just could not figure out the reason why. Why 13 days? Why all the elaborate rites? Why the strict rules about the food that the near and dear ones of the departed could consume? Why all this talk of purity and pollution? Why wash the body with water and dress them in their best? Why does the son drench himself and perform the last rites in wet clothes? Why all the fuss? What does it all mean? And I have even gone so far as to telling my close family to not do any of this for me when I am no more. Feed some hungry people, reflect on all the good times we had and call it a day!

But it is all starting to make some sense now. I am realizing more and more that it helps with the grieving process. It gives you a time to set aside each day to come to terms with the sadness. It helps you reflect on the circle of life and understand its meaning in the universe. It follows the basic tenets of Hinduism which are dharma, samsara, karma and moksha...namely ethics, rebirth, action and liberation. A particular feature of the Hindu ritual is the preparation of rice balls offered to the spirit of the dead person during the services. In part this act contributes to the merit of the deceased, but it is also thought to pacify the soul so it does not linger in the world as a ghost but pass through the realm of Yama, the God of death! A few years ago I would have scoffed at this - yes. But now I see how it can bring so much peace of mind to the near and dear. It brings closure.

And then I used to ask myself why visitors would question you on the manner of death - how, why, when??? Was he/she sick? Had they been ailing? How insensitive to be asking these questions at a time like this. But I see now that they want to share your grief, and if they are to be genuine about it, then yes, they need to know the details so they can feel your sadness and understand your emotions.

So for the next 10 days we will be busy with these ceremonies. My father-in-law was an amazing person - quiet, gentle, unassuming, thoughtful, non interfering! A great story teller who had a seemingly endless supply of stories for all the grandchildren. I have told my husband jokingly (also half seriously) that if he is one tenth like his dad when he grows old, I will be happy! I cared for my father-in-law for 5 years ever since we returned to India, I knew his food likes and dislikes - he loved pizza, chocolates, ice cream, sweet Indian desserts....hated vegetables but loved potatoes. He loved politics, Indian or US, it was his life, and he instilled a great love of public service in my son, along with a very definite sense of justice and fair play. He loved The Lucy Show...in fact we named our red dachshund Lucy cos she was red and funny!

I will miss his presence in the house. I will miss seeing him in our prayer room, always praying for the welfare of his children and grandchildren. I will miss seeing him in our living room watching all the antics of our Indian politicians on TV. I will miss seeing him walking in the yard looking to see what fruits had ripened, and stealing guavas before they had reached their peak. I will miss him dearly. 

25 comments:

Travel Bug said...

My condolences, Kamini to you and your family.
Indeed you were fortunate you got an opportunity to be his DIL.
Rest in Peace.

Anu@My Dream Canvas said...

My condolences Kamini to the entire family. A wonderful, warm and touching post.

Roshni Mitra Chintalapati said...

so sorry to hear about your loss.

"I am not into rituals, but I am a firm believer in our ancient culture". You just echoed my thoughts. Now as my children grow up in the US, I find myself being drawn more and more to my own culture and hopes of instilling a bit of it in them!

Archana said...

Gosh, Kamini I am so overwhelmed with emotion right now. So well written, so true, so very sincere. Condolences to you and your family. May his soul rest in peace.

Rupa said...

My deepest condolences to you and your family. I had no idea about your FIL's condition. You and your DH are so lucky to have spent the last few years with him, very few of us get that opportunity when we live abroad. It is indeed a difficult time but as you so well pointed out, these seemingly drawn out rituals and the support of near and dear ones will help you heal over time. I always feel that there is a deeper meaning to each and every elaborate Hindu ritual. Unfortunately we are not given those rational explanations all the time, we are just told to follow this or that ritual. That leaves us feeling like most rituals are just long drawn out and meaningless. But once you get the spiritual meaning behind those rituals, it all makes sense. May your FIL rest in God's hands and may time heal your loss. PS: Sorry for the long rant.

Anpu said...

My deepest condolences to you and your family.
To add to what you wrote in your post, I sincerely did not know what it mant to lose a dear one, until my dad passed away. Today, when I say I am sorry or offer condolences, i mean it from the bottom of my heart. Yes all those rituals are long drawn, with the 'Madi' and 'Achram', but when the Pujaries explained the meaning behind the rituals, we truly wanted to follow them. Yes the 13 days, is also the time for your relatives and friends to come together and share the loss and reminese of beautiful times spent. My take was that we had been given such a privelged life, that we wanted to make this final journey worthy of him.
I am with you on the fact that he is now in a better place, where there is no pain. It kills you to see your loved ones become vegetables. So look back on wounderful years you spent with him, and pls do not respect his memory by crying...
We actually packed all my dad stuff and donated to an Old Aged home. His wedding suit went to the postman...:-)And yes...no tikka on his picture, as he is still alive in our memories...
Take care...sorry for teh long write up...

Anpu said...

i meant disrespect his memory...sorry

Once Upon A Tea Time said...

My condolences to you and your family, Kamini. You have written a wonderful outpouring of love. Take care.

purplehomes said...

Really sorry to hear about your father in law.But like you said may be he is in a better place right now and at peace. Your post brought tears to my eyes. Its beautiful that you moved all the way to India to take care of him. Ofcourse he will be missed dearly by your family but you took such good care of him that should help. Lots of love to you & for your family.Take care.

Sreelu said...

sorry for your loss Kamini, I am sure he is in a better place. I grew up having grandparents and great grandmother around, they were such a source of inspiration with their stories, patience and good habits. I still see my great grandmom in my dreams , you post reminded me of her. Take care.

Shalini said...

So sorry for your loss. Your post was so touching and emotional to read. As hard as it is to go through, it's so important to grieve, and to eventually just remember, relish and savor the times that he was with you.

Iniyaal said...

Sorry to hear about your Father-in-law's death. It is touching to read your thoughts on missing him. I have always questioned the necessity of elaborate events and rituals in our tradition. Reading your post, for the first time I am looking at it in a different perspective.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for your loss Kamini. You have seen meaning in sadness. A beautiful homage of sorts for an elderly person - your father-in-law. May his soul rest in peace.

- Manu

Sanctified Spaces said...

My deepest condolences to you and your family.

Rekha said...

Joining you in offering prayers to the rested soul.

Sudha said...

My deepest condolences to you and your family Kamini. It is tough to lose a loved one, no words can bring solace. But as you have rightly said time is the only healer. Take care.

Vinita said...

Celebrate his life. :((

Anu Gummaraju said...

May He rest in peace. And may you have the courage to bear the loss. Remember him in good times.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for your loss Kamini and this is a beautiful expression in words in respect to his memory. Prayers to your family.
~Soni

Rupa said...

My condolences Kamini....May he rest in piece....and he will be in my prayers today....
A big virtual hug.....very touching.

Kamini said...

Thank you all once again. You have no idea how comforting all your comments have been.

Designwali said...

my deepest condolences to you & your family.

Chrysalis said...

Being a strong believer in the Vedic Philosophy I feel that if a chapter has ended here...it surely heralds the start of a new life somewheer else. Peace to you FIL and strength to all of you.

The rituals if done without understanding can be meaningless...but if we are lucky to have a Teacher/Guru/Priest who can explain to us the true meaning of Vedic practices...we will be astounded by the depth, reason, and power of them.

May you find peace and resolution in the process.

GB said...

K, it was a life lived well and that's all that matters isn't it? My thoughts and prayers are with you and yours. and as always, I find myself agreeing with everything you wrote --my take on region, rituals and culture is essentially the same as yours.

satchitananda said...

kamini,

very interesting reading. i too am not ritualistic. spiritual yes and i believe in some power beyond ourselves. we too did an elaborate ceremony when my fil passed away, but i must admit, i did not feel one bit comfortable with the whole business.

i too have said the same - feed the poor when i am gone. period. no priests, no rituals. once i am gone, it matters little whether i am offered rice or not. wherever i am, i am sure my needs will be fully taken care of there.

btw, read the book "no garlic, nor onions". enjoyed it thoroughly.