Sunday, August 18, 2013

Rituals of Funerals and the star gazer

The rituals of death are as weird in our south asian-sub continental-pakistani- middle class- muslim- Lahori cultures, that i get surprised after all these years , still! I am sure its similar all over the world to some extent but we take the trophy i am sure when it comes down to the variety and contortions of these practices.
How to present your dead ones is one thing, but how to touch them, what to recite and blow on what part of their bodies, and what to do and what not to do that will take them to heaven straight, when should the Qul (recitations) be held the next day or the one after, how many thursdays should be family GT prayers, and when should be the Chaleeswan (the 40th day of prayers held for the deceased) etc. The funny thing about Chaleeswan is that i don't know its origin, and neither do most of the people around me, apart from its coalition with the Chilla (40 days after giving birth to a baby and the mother's stay home period).
Anyways. I have observed the presence of certain characters at these unfortunate occasions. Being a woman, i cant categorize them in the men's compartments, but in the ladies areas, there always is this one alpha female who Know It All! She can be a relative, neighbor or friend; mostly in her late 40s/early 50s; generally a widow and is well dressed with good skin and donning a mute make up also. This character will come up with traditions seemingly unknown to everyone else but she will demand them in such a way that everyone will pretend to start working on them in agreement. For example , a certain Surah from Quran to be recited in a particular number, or while standing at a particular place around the dead body, or even be recited by a certain relative. Or not to put flowers on the deceased skin, or not to touch them on face by females, or placing the photocopy of a certain Surah of Quran under the Kafan (the cloak) before taking him/her to be buried, etc. Se can be found reciting Quran louder than the others as well!
      Then there is always someone present at the funeral, who is in a hurry. She keeps looking at the clock, or incessantly shaking her leg, or quickly finishing her recitations, Sipara or the Date Seeds whatever. She is completely oblivious to the sad people around and can't even have the courtesy to look sad. This person is mostly over dressed, with painted nails and a designer bag.
       You will also for find mourners. As a distant cousin's daughter (7 years old) once asked me at a funeral "Why is my Mama acting so much today? " and i was like "What do you mean sweetheart?" and her reply amazed me and i found it hard to put my smile away. She said "you know whenever someone new walks in, Mama starts crying, and then she is fine and talking, till some new guest arrives!" And that is how the moaners play their part.
      But i guess all these people have just found their place in the society by where and how the society and circumstances have placed them. Of course there are genuinely hurt people, who wish the best for the deceased's family and help out with chores honestly. But sadly these are the people that go unnoticed, and only the other truly caring ones notice them being busy with the needful tasks and the true traditions.
      And how can we forget the actual sad ones, who have lost their loved one! They are completely oblivious to these characters surrounding them and living on. Orhan Pamuk has written something beautiful on the first page of his superb book, "My Name is Red". It is the corpse addressing the reader: "...  Before my birth there was infinite time, and after my death, inexhaustible time.  I never thought of it before: I'd been living luminously between two eternities of darkness."

( P.S: it is so typical and cliched of us south east Asians to begin or end a speech/ piece of writing with a famous person's quote etc :P )

Thursday, August 15, 2013

when the providers become the dependents....

  Life never ceases to teach you... the learning never ends no matter how old you get. There always is a new chapter, a new lesson, a new word or a new aspect to the same old story that you had not properly grasped. And there you are , rubbing your nose into it, learning it all over again.
   I was 21 when my father was diagnosed with cancer. Non Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Last year of college couldn't have been any tougher i guess. Being the only child and being the best friend of my Abbu , I didn't want to finish college the same year, but he couldn't bear me wasting a year of my life because of his illness. So he forced me to continue, amidst all the chemo and all. I was lucky to have the tutor i had (Rashid Rana) who really supported me well and i ended up with the distinction and an award. Now when i look back, i really don't know how i managed all that! But that couldn't stop my father from leaving me. Exactly a month after the thesis show he passed away, leaving me and my mother in a state that i don't have words to define even today, a decade later! Wow. it has been 10 years! and i have survived without him...unbelievable!
    But here i am a decade later, facing a worst situation with my mother. Knowing what she is going through, dealing with another cancer, unable to stop her from slipping away, is again undefinable. I have a roller coaster relationship with Ammi, where we have to disagree on every single thing every day, and yet come together in the end. But today she didn't resist , today she didn't deny .... and i feel at loss winning an argument without her opposing me. 
   What the hell ! 
A person who has never asked for any sort of help from anyone, whatsoever, when comes down to a point in life when they can not stand up without support is painful to see and i don't really want to know how it feels! The circle of life seems too wicked to me today. Its nature...almost merciless. Its cycle... pointless. 
   I remember, a few days before my father passed away, the son of his long lost friend came over to visit (that friend who he hadn't met for over 25 years also died one week after Abbu's demise) , and Abbu said something that rings in my ears from time to time. He said " Can i tell you something Lalay dear... In the end only memories remain. But if i tell you the truth, a point comes when even they cease to exist."  ..............................
And here i am trying to jot down the memories, the experiences, the life...... 
only for it all to be withered away.... someday.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Independence, Pride and Shame

The currents on which all the urban Pakistanis are riding, is on the ship called Pakistan, and it has two terraces. The one for those who are ashamed and the other for those who are not. Why , What and How can be discussed and debated for hours and hours and never come to a resolve .  But we can generalize them loosely.The ones on the Pride Dick, i'm sorry i meant Pride Deck are the ones who enjoy emotions like Heritage, Separations from the non-believers, Ancestry, Lineage, Patriotism, This land is mine and That is yours, This is my religion and That is yours, I am right and You are Wrong, Narcissism, and a joy of being happy with who you are etc. etc.. While those who are on the Ashamed Terrace also enjoy some of the feelings enjoyed by their nemesis like Narcissism, I am right and You are wrong etc, but they also have other emotions which might not be too joyful ; for example the looking at the bigger picture, the understanding of religio-political conditions, safety situations, the practice to one's basic rights, availability of opportunities and facilities to common man etc etc.
    Now it is very very difficult to decide who is right and who is wrong, but on the auspicious day of our independence from the Goras, who ruled us Muslims for a very long time, while we had ruled the Indians for so long in our worries, that is how the history goes right? I am not complaining or complementing, i am just observant to the fact that Every dog has his day :P right?
    Since we all have a purpose to the phenomenon of our birth, i just wonder at times...Why now??? Why here???
hmmmph ....???

Anyways...Happy Independence Day to you all... wish us to be truly independent and truly free someday from the prison of the self and all the narcissism that it runs on by default.