Indian Village Funeral: By Richard Clarke

Last week in the village in which we live a woman died. She was the mother of a man we work with Ramesh, in the Quality of Life Trust. That afternoon we heard the drums, typical of such funerals, and Ramesh called us and asked us to join him. We walked about two hundred meters to the village and spent the next few hours there. We asked for permission to take photos, and some of these are in this article.

Coming into the village, under the awning is mother's body

As we enter the village we see people gathered under an awning. The mother’s body is in the center of the group on her bed. People are gathered around the body grieving and paying respect.

Remesh - center

Ramesh is sitting with the men. He’s in the middle.

Village drummers

Drummers are important to the funeral. Their music announces the death to the village. After the drums start, people come from up to one km away to join in the ceremonies.

Gathered around mother - women on one side, men on the other

Often the sexes are separated. Here naturally the women and men seem to select different areas to sit.

Decorating the car - building the wood frame

Much of the activity of the afternoon was in preparing the car that would take Mother to the crematorium. First a wood frame is built.

Village boys posing for a picture

The village boys seeing the camera naturally want to pose for a picture. Here they are looking tough. We’ll make some prints of this photo and give one to each boy.

Decorating the car getting started

They have started to decorate the car. Notice in the foreground bamboo sticks covered with flowers. These are bent and inserted into the frame for decoration.

Woman joined together in mourning

The woman, grieving, would approach each other and stand and beat their chest in a gesture of mourning. Then they would get into a group hug circle and sink down into a squat. They would moan and cry together, swaying back and forth. This death was particularly painful to the village women. Mother was only in her mid fifties, young to die, even for an Indian village woman. She had had a hard life – her husband died 15 years before and she had to support the kids without much help from anyone. Somehow she was able to send at least one of her boys, Ramesh, through college. Ramesh said that she was very sad though, due to her deep poverty, and especially do to the fact than none of her children were married, and she had no grandchildren.

Decorating the car - working on the back

The villagers are working on the decorations for the car. Here they are bending the flower-sticks and inserting them into the frame on the back of the car.

Decorating the car

Now they are adding the flower malas to the central frame on the car.

decorating the car - neraly done

Decorations are nearly done.

Villager dancing to the drums as people carry puja materials

As new people join the funeral the drummers escort them in, and ‘drum them’ into the group. Here a man is dancing as people bring puja items into the funeral.

Preparing the body

Now they start to prepare Mother’s body. They will clean up the body, re-dress her in a fine sari, then perform puja, before placing her body on the decorated cart.

Ramesh helping prepare his mother's body

Ramesh (second from left) is here helping prepare his mother.

Getting puja items ready, needed to prepare the body

The men are getting some puja items ready.

Pouring water to use in preparing the body

Water for the puja is being poured. This was not only sprinkled onto mother, but onto the people in the crowd. They especially sought out Mother’s three children and made sure they got pretty wet.

Mother's body fully prepared

Now Mother is fully prepared. Such loving care was taken in this preparation. And this was something that almost everyone in the village took part in. Very much this was a village ceremony, not just something done by the family.

Carrying mother to the car

Mother was then carried to the car. I took part in this. She seemed so tiny, so light. She had been ill with cancer, supposedly, and stopped eating three months ago. Ramesh and his two siblings had taken her to several doctors for cures, and, as a last resort, took her to a “miracle shrine” when the doctors didn’t improve her health.

Going to crematorium

Now the car is off to the crematorium. The drummers will lead the way, then the car and the mourners.

Rajindar S. Luthar (1926-2004): By Harsh K. Luthar

The Last Summer

Yesterday was the fourth anniversary of my father Rajindar S. Luthar passing away. I think about him often. He was my guide and counselor.

Like me, my father was a professor. His area was mathematics which he loved teaching. He was also a scholar and enjoyed publishing. He founded a Math Journal called Delta which eventually merged with another journal. He was an excellent cook and enjoyed entertaining at parties. He was truly multidimensional in his views and approach to life. We talked about everything. Politics, food, men and women, money, religion, gurus, relationships, marriage, sex. No topic was off bounds.

My father was not much into visiting temples or holy places but was a staunch Hindu and exemplified all that is best and noble in Hinduism. He often had dreams of various saints, rishis, munis, and gurus and loved to describe them in minute detail to me. He told me that he dreamt about Jesus Christ as well. I asked him how he knew it was Jesus.

“I just knew”, he said, in a matter of fact way.

Throughout his life, my father was very psychic. One time when he was in America, he dreamt that someone very close to him was being electrocuted. He immediately woke up and started praying. The person in the dream was my younger four-year-old brother who had been caught in live electric wires when we (our cousins and us) were playing on the roof of my uncle’s shop in India.

That was back in 1964. From 10,000 miles away, my father had dreamt that someone he loved was in trouble and acted to send his protection and prayers. My brother was very badly burned all over his skin but miraculously survived. He gradually recovered fully and the burn marks on his body eventually disappeared.

Although he was a mathematics professor, my father enjoyed talking about philosophy and religion. He was tolerant and liberal and accepting of all people but at the same time full of humor; sometimes irreverent humor, about religion and gurus. He told me many stories about fake gurus in India. “All these gurus, pretending to be so holy and pious; they love women, sex, and money!” He would say and then have a hearty laugh.

Because I was interested in all those things having to do with yoga and meditation, my father often cautioned me about gurus when I was a teenager and suggested that I be very careful. “Many gurus even like young boys!” he said to me many times in warning. My father left no stone unturned doing his best to make me aware of the realities of life when I was young. Sometimes I thought he was way too overprotective and controlling.

When I reached 30, I started thinking that he did his duty as a father well. When I reached 40, I realized that he was much wiser than I thought. By the time he passed away, I had realized that he was a sage.

Now, I remember my father as kind and generous with smiling eyes. At times, he had a huge all consuming laughter that drew others in. I miss him every day.

A Dedication to My Father on His 70th Birthday: By Harsh K. Luthar

My father was my protector and best friend. I wrote the following in 1996 when my Father turned 70 as a dedication to him. The picture is of him at 72 holding my daughter. It was taken in the summer of 1998.

The last wonderful summer my father and I spent together was in 2003. Several months later in November of 2003 he fell ill. After that I was only able to see him at the hospital. My father passed away in early 2004 at the age of 78. I think of him everyday.

Summer time with my Father – 1998

A Dedication to My Father on His 70th Birthday in 1996

My father was a mathematics professor. He is now retired. I saw him spend countless hours writing papers and constructing new math problems. He involved the whole family in helping him with an undergraduate math journal, Delta, that he had founded, and of which he was both the editor and the publisher. It was too much work for one man, but my father persisted in doing the impossible for years. Delta later merged with the Mathematics Magazine issued by the Mathematics Association of America. We were all happy when that happened!

My father spent a lot of his evenings grading math exams. This used to irritate my mother. “Must you spend so much time reading student exams? Give them a grade and get it over with,” she would say. He usually replied, “What do you think I teach, sociology or philosophy? Can I just read the first and the last line and give a grade!” Then he would laugh heartily feeling he had uttered a profound truth.

My father actually loves the humanities but is of the opinion that everyone should have concrete skills to earn a living. He never hesitated to express his views to me and others about education. Once, in order to demonstrate the superiority of learning math over other disciplines he said to his colleague who taught astronomy the following: “If our students know math and statistics they can get a job at the plant (he was referring to the local GM Plant). If they take astronomy and don’t get a job what will they do? How will they eat? Maybe they can go to your house and you can all watch the stars together on an empty stomach!” My father thought what he had said was quite funny, although the astronomy professor did not. The following poem is dedicated to my father.

PROFESSORS DON’T GROW OLD

Professors don’t grow old

they just grade away

like a master jeweler

who has to differentiate

between precious rubies and stones

who with a heavy heart sings

and then has to part

with diamond rings

that must end up on

someone else’s finger.

Professors don’t grow old

they just grade away

like a gardener who

asks the birds to stay

in the nest he has made

so they can rest in the shade

of the tree of wisdom

carefully pruned

standing in the luscious grass

only to see them fly away.

Cool breezes and the

fresh waters of knowledge

is what we received

in the college

that was my father’s heart.

Yes, professors don’t grow old

they just grade away

and then slowly fade away

to pictures on the walls

leaving nothing behind

but the touch of ideas

given with humor and kindness

and their smiling eyes

bubbling forever in our mind.