Telegraph Calcutta

From Ashes Unto Bashes


There are many ways we die. Far too many to begin to recount in such a small and structured space. Some of us die of memory and its having forever escaped the frayed palms of our grasp, the flatten echo of our enamour and entreaty. We die far too many ways than we would ever get to know. Ask the author of How We Die. Or ask the dead. Ask them how they died and what of, and if they would even ever tell you. Dead men do tell tales, but they are not always about how or why they died. They may tell tales about who killed them – they do, more often than not they do – but that is always not about how or why they eventually died. About that flicker of a moment that they ceased to be body and became soul, solely soul. Those tales they seldom tell, because maybe there is not enough in that flicker of a moment to make a whole tale of, it comes and passes before a moment has passed. Khat! Title of tale. The tale itself. And end of tale. Khat!

But Khat! is never quite the end, is it? More things happen after Khat! More things are required to be done after Khat! Khat! is the end of one thing – call it life, go on, indulge yourself – and the beginning of another. Like the vanishing of Mahadeb from his cart on that pavement is not the end of things. Yes, he probably did make a similar report alighting from atop his stove and vanishing into the dark not-forevers: Khat! Khat! he jumped, and Swooooooooot! he went, all the way down Sooterkin until he became smaller and smaller and was visible no more, as if he were a demo in some physics class, a mass withdrawing further and further and further until it became no more than a point and then vanished from visibility and became part of the infinite. Swooooooooooooot! And yet he may show up. Come back. Sit where he requires to. Sthaan bhrashtam naa shobhyatey,remember? To desert one’s appointed station isn’t the right thing. Not the right thing to do, Mahadeb, you exist in violation of your appointed destiny, or so they believe. Come back. Assume the void atop your cart. Stoke your stove. Churn your leaves. Dig out the sugar. Boil the milk. Get your brew right, as you have ever got it. Serve out your tea. Folks await. Things remain to happen after your vanishing. As things remain to happen upon the dead.

What things? Things about how the dead travel. They do, of course. Death is not journey’s end, no. The dead need to move. They need to travel. To wherever they would, who knows where the dead go. But we have our send-offs. They are, admittedly, fewer ways for send-offs than there are ways to die.

So how do we go? Some are interred, given to the earth, off which we came. Laid in, buried. In ornate casks, or not. Some are lowered all by themselves, even the final shroud lifted, skin of the earth unto skin of the earth. And there’s more earth and a drop that may escape the eye ducts, or many. Yet others go enthroned, the fortunate and favoured ones – seated, bedecked, bejewelled, as if not dead, as if having merely assumed another posture, an eternal posture. Then there are those that are left to feed surviving life, given back to nature for nature to feed upon and live on. And there are those that are consigned to fires. To pyres. To turn to ash and become one with the pancha tatwas, the five elements – wind, water, fire, earth, ether. The olden Celts would pile their honoured dead onto a timber-laden boat and set it sail. Then an archer would dip his arrowhead into fire and aim. The boat would sail away, flaming – Smoke on the water; And a fire in the sky! Similar rites abound on land, not far, if convenient, from waters. A pyre. A burning. A submission to nature of what had come off it.

But there is also a way to go that TheBoss-OfAllThings orders:

Yaar kaa janaza hai zaraa dhoom se nikle. A gnashing and plundering of the remains. A vultured claiming and a clamoured distribution of them. The remains! The remains!! A festival of how many ways we took the remains, an encashing of ash. Looto mere bhai! Lutao mere bhai!! Precious dregs, give them a Selfie send off, let’s have a party, for the Party!

How should you care

From you what I earn

I’m using you square and fair

But you are only an urn.

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