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.

Quality of Life Trust – India: By Richard Clarke

My wife and I have started working with Quality of Life Trust – India – http://www.qualityoflife.in/.

They are located right next to Tiruvannamalai and working on village issues. India is going through many changes, and the villages are seeing the most change, so we thing this is a good place for our efforts.

There are two projects they are working on. The first is with the elderly in the village. Some have no place to live and are sleeping on the doorsteps of houses, etc. In some cases it is the doorstep of the house they owned. Then their children got them to give the house to them. Then there was a problem like drinking, and the child lost the house, and the parent had no place to live. The Trust is providing meals to these elders, and helping them with medical treatments. They hope to build some kind of housing in the future. My wife has experience working with the elderly and will help this project.

The other project is for composting toilets. In villages many many people do not have toilets. People will go in nearby fields. Sometimes they are bitten by snakes. Always there is the concern for personal privacy, expecially for the women. There are also problems of disease, etc. This project is building a kind of toilet developed else where in India that does not need water or a sewer connection/septic tank. To add to the appeal, and based on what these local vilages said they are also adding a shower room. This trust has gotten funding from another trust, Bless, and has just started a project to build 50 toilets in the village. I am helping them with project management. These toilets seem to meet a real need, and in addition they produce high quality fertilizer that can be used in the fields.

Working with them this week I got a chance to see the excitement that this was creating in the village. As we were at on house, planning for the foundation (and taking down some banana trees) the neighbor got so excited that he had the crew go to his house and see what kind of site that he had to build on.

These are small things that have a real impact on the lives of the villagers. You should see how proud the man was to be involved in this project, and making life better for his family.

Love Is Not Something You Get: By Dr. Harsh K. Luthar

Grandfather and Granddaughter

Once I was sitting and talking with my father when he received a call from one of his close friends in India. They talked for a long time. I went into the kitchen and ate some vegetables my father had prepared from his garden along with some garbanzo beans made in the classic Indian style.

During the meal, I could hear some of the conversation. After I was done with the meal, I prepared some Chai and slowly sipped on it. Half hour later they were still talking. When the conversation ended, my father appeared very silent and thoughtful. I asked him what happened.

My father told me that his friend’s wife passed away six months ago and that his friend was very lonely.

“Old age can be very difficult. I was mostly listening to him,” said my father.

“Well, you both talked for a while and I hope it helped,” I said.

My father explained the situation and said, “I don’t know if it helped. We are old friends and he seemed sad and he was reflecting on his life as we talked. He kept saying throughout the conversation that although he had had many friends in his life and had been married and had children and a family, he never really received genuine love from anyone.”

Hearing about my father’s friend, I also became silent. This is the human condition, is it not? We all know the truth of it. We want attention and love but often do not receive it. Many people, as they get older, embittered by their life experiences become sad and cynical.

My father went into the kitchen and started eating lunch. I prepared another cup of Chai and sat down with him. “What did you say to your friend,” I asked my father.

“I did not say much. We just talked,” said my father.

“No, I mean when your friend said that he had never really gotten love from anyone, what did you say? How did you console him?” I asked my father.

My father said, “I told him I loved him.”

“What did he say in response.” I was very curious.

“He said, he knew that. That’s why he called. We are childhood friends. But he still insisted that he really had not gotten the kind of love he wanted from anyone during his whole life,” said my father.

“What did you say then?” I asked being fully engrossed in the scenario.

My father said, “Well, as we were saying goodbye, I told him that love is not something we get, it’s something we give.”

“Love is not something we get. Its something we give.” I remember my father saying that many years ago.

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