I wanna go simply when I go, they’ll give me a simple funeral there I know”, sang John Denver in Forest Lawn. The entire song, however, is a description of anything but that. In Kerala, the people seem to be taking inspiration from the song. The final farewell is getting grander with every passing day.
It is no small undertaking! The preparations start immediately after the old chap has breathed last. Photographs from better off days are taken out and A4 size colour printouts taken with a few words expressing sorrow for the departed soul. These are then posted on the electricity poles dotting the road from the house to the mortuary and then to the cemetery. Lest the present generation forget that such a person as this one ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth. Black flags fly from skinny twigs at half-mast. Bedridden the deceased must have been for the last few months with nary a person to make health queries or spend a few minutes by the bedside, but in death the person gets royal treatment.
With almost all children now settled in far-off places, no death is complete without a trip to the cold storage — the mortuary. A short period of presence in the ice box till all near and far are at hand for the final salute. On the D-day, a procession makes its way from the mortuary. Heading the procession is a jeep with speakers on top and a man inside belting out spiritual hymns. If the funeral is slightly low budget, a pre-recorded CD will belt out the numbers. Youngsters on bikes with black flags and colour photographs of the deceased person are followed by cars all moving at a snail’s pace. Bringing up the rear, the ambulance with the body decked up in an open coffin. For those who can afford, mobile mortuaries are available so that the body can be kept for display at home itself. Outside the house, decorators have got the porch ready with temporary sheds and festoons in appropriate black.
To record things for posterity, videographers are at hand. There used to be a time when a few photographs from the local studio was enough. Now everything has to be on CD. Sometimes one even wonders whether somebody will ask the dead person to give a smile or tilt his/her head so as to get a better picture! Besides, sundry well-wishers who come are ready with the cameras on their cellphones. There are news reports of a funeral being transmitted over the Internet so those who could not come were able to be at the funeral sitting in their homes far off.
As Dylan Thomas wrote, “Do not go gentle into that good night/ Old age should burn and rave at close of day/ Rage, rage against the dying of the light”. That will not be. Stiff and frozen in death, the celebration can take place only if he/she is in the box. In life, the person lay without anybody coming asking for him/her; but in death they are the centerpiece of the show. It is all a celebration; only that the theme is black. The heart and mind are, however, anything but dark and gloomy.