It was 8:15 in the morning. The sky was a pale shade of blue that occurs only before a shower. The smell of wet earth that accompanies rain was in the air but on this day the clouds seemed reluctant to shed their weight anytime soon. So the weather stayed just perfect. I started down a cobbled stone path descending towards the perfectly white building at the end. The path was blanketed with moss and dew which seemed too beautiful and slick to be safe. In the end the moss gave way to mud which seemed an odd little thing in front of the perfectly white building. Inside were what seemed like endless shelves of reinforced steel doors 3 feet by 3 feet in size. The steel cold doors seemed to guard their secrets intently as we walked down the aisle to drawer number 16, which housed the body of the person I used to call ‘mother’.
Men clad in white – who I hadn’t noticed till then – moved the body onto the steel table in the centre of the room. From the corner of my eyes I saw a girl – four and a half years older than me – crying profusely. Curious, I followed the girl’s gaze to the body. Its eyes were partially open, as if woken from a slumber on being forcefully removed from its refrigerated, steel home. Strangely, the blood stained chudidhar was not replaced with something more clinical to match the perfectly white building where the body was stored. One must admit however that it was a beautiful chudidhar, a bright shade of pink and fascinating embroidery that is not easily forgotten. The wailing intensified: the women in the room were abandoning all etiquette and swooning about, while the men seemed to be completely in control and on top of the situation as they arranged for the body to be taken to the cremation ground.
As we walked out with the body in tow, the girl who was in tears held out her hand. The sound of her tears made my eyes wet. She was so helpless and distraught that I wanted to put my arms around her and tell her that everything was okay. I suspected however, that the words would fail me, so I just let her hold my hand in hers. Right then, the mud didn’t seem so out of place and the building, it would seem was not entirely white. The trepidation of the clouds got on my nerves. Rain wasn’t exactly good news for a funeral pyre. As my sister and I ascended through the rocky terrain towards the cremation ground, I just remember thinking that it was not a good day to be incinerating a loved one.
Mother was deeply religious and as the Hindu rituals go, I changed into a wetted white towel wrapped around my waist. The priest told me that I shouldn’t wear a shawl, so I complied. My feelings of insecurity could wait a bit longer. I proceeded to apply oil on my mother’s face and feet. My fingers went dead as I touched her face – cold as ice. I traced my fingers over her eyes, pulling them shut. Mother was deeply religious, and as Hindu practices go, a son was to light the fire that would take the deceased to heaven. In that moment, I was glad to be alive to set fire to my mother’s body. The flames rose higher and higher, propelling the smoke into the clouds. We stood there for hours watching the fire do its bidding. As the last remnants of my mother’s body turned to ash, I put on the shawl and turned to my sister. I gave up and gave in to her embrace as the tears ran down my cheeks unbidden. It was the last time I would see mother.