The unrelenting second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has brought untold misery to hundreds of thousands.
With the death toll still on the higher side, the crematorium and burial ground workers are continuing to work overtime. The traditional ‘offers’ at these grounds, for instance, the choice of wood to cremate the deceased, are no longer available as families jostle for space to give their loved ones a dignified send-off. Indeed, the struggle for people to rest in eternal peace has become just as challenging as the struggle to stay alive.
Living Near the Dead
Living near a crematorium has reduced living to merely breathing — just enough to get through the day. In the early days of May 2021, the terrace and balcony floors had become like a blanket torn in patches with loose thread on all sides. The shadows of the burnt wood and ash residues from the cremation ground would cover the floor much before the evening sky would turn grey. The heavy smoke billowing out of hundreds of funeral pyres surrounded our homes, eventually becoming the air we breathe.
These days, we are breathing the dead — and it smells of people’s grief.
This harrowing present is making those living on the periphery of the crematoriums confront their fear of being not just being in the proximity of dead, but also of death itself. The regular conversations at home have an unpleasant and ominous background sound of ambulances. It is a constant reminder of how there is enormous pain and despondency lurking, and how we all are still stuck in a rut.
Long Nights, Contemplating the Fragility of Life
In Hinduism, as in other religions, a lot of importance is given to the last rites — in this case the cremation process — as it is the final act of the soul being freed from the body, as is believed by many. However, at a time when mass cremations are happening across Delhi and people are being made to wait in queue to finish the last rites of their loved ones, the traditional rituals are not being performed properly.
While some may choose to turn off the TV and stop watching the morbid news and heartbreaking visuals of burning pyres and grieving relatives, others are witnessing these horrors in their own homes, and don’t have the choice to ‘switch off’.
For many of us the days are spent transfixed to the TV, watching the gut-wrenching portraits of bereaved families at the cremation grounds and thinking about the fragility of life.
Each night is longer than the last, and the nights pass by with failed attempts at shrugging off the persistent fear and anxiety.
Looking at the remains that settle at our homes in the form of dust or ash, we cannot tell a person’s caste, gender, class, religion, or any other identity-marker, but it feels that they belong to a kindred spirit.
In these desperate and dark times, we are left to ponder how does one honour the dead under such circumstances? Can one continue living their life as usual when their country is burning?
(Kavya Wahi is an English Editor at Indiannica Publishing Pvt. Ltd. This is a personal blog and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)