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Revisiting India

by Chandroo D.


It has been almost a decade since I last visited Mumbai and Pune.  What eventually pulled me towards both the cities was the sudden death of a close family member after a lengthy ill health.

On 28 September 2012, my wife received a call announcing her elder sister’s sudden demise.  We immediately flew down to Mumbai the same night in urgency to be in time for her funeral rituals in Pune.  Arriving Mumbai around midnight, we stayed at a hotel close to the airport to recuperate before taking a three hours car ride to Pune in the morning.

My sister-in-law, second child in her family, was an extremely joyful person I had ever known.  I first met her back in late 60s when I was dating my future wife.  The very first good trait I noticed of her was that she never ever complained or argued at any time.  A simple loving smile or a short laugh is how she would display her feeling, no matter what problem or argument she came across.  Perhaps she bottled up all her anger or fear within herself.  My last meeting with her was during early 2012.  She was still the same - bubbly and full of cheerful high spirits.  She simply took life as it came along with a smile. My final memory of her that way will always be embedded on my mind eternally.  I will always miss her dearly and I am sure so will all in the family who loved her.  May her soul rest in everlasting peace.

The drive for about half an hour towards Pune moved at a rickshaw speed due to the chaotic traffic.  The cars zig zagged all around us with no care or courtesy.  Most of the drivers however seemed experienced and drove close and avoided any accident.  Intermittent horning and sudden braking was the order of the day.  Once we got onto the new Mumbai-Pune highway, it was a smooth ride all the way to Pune.

India’s economy is growing rapidly but sadly so is the dirt and the unhygienic conditions around the streets.  Many streets are full of trash.  Trash is India’s plague.  It chokes rivers contaminates streets and natures rats, mosquitos, stray dogs and cats.  Locals are probably immune to the existing conditions and stench while walking through the streets but as an overseas visitor, I immediately sensed it.  Infrastructure of the roads is still lacking immediate planning and attention. The surfaces of the roads often wash away during the monsoon creating potholes everywhere. The repair management team is said to be in the hands of politicians, who are probably finding a solution or ignoring it.

Arriving Pune, we checked into a hotel and immediately headed straight to the deceased’s family home. Sad and tearful mourning spouse, children and immediate family greeted us and we too break down in sorrow with them.  It is sad to see someone you love and care about passing away at such a young age considering the fact that her mother reached 90 years of age recently. Time only will heal the sadness and sorrow.

I have been to funerals in Hong Kong and the way it is normally conducted is when the body is cremated in an indoor closed electric chamber.  However, on this occasion, the family wanted to conduct the cremation the traditional Hindu open-air way.  The body was placed on a large pile of wood and fully covered by more wood. The eldest son then recited the appropriate Vedic prayers along with the priest and lit the fire.  Camphor and ghee were added into the flames. This was my first hand experience in watching such a method of cremation and I immediately went into a deep thought, seriously pondering over life’s journey from birth to death.  We arrive empty handed and leave empty handed.  Life too, has an expiry date like all products.

William Hazlitt, essayist (1778-1830) said it very philosophically - Perhaps the best cure for the fear of death is to reflect that life has a beginning as well as an end. Why then should it trouble us that a time will come when we shall cease to be? To die is only to be as we were before we were born.

Following the cremation, a 12 days prayers and holy book readings were held at the family’s home.  Family and people also gathered for a meal, in which the deceased's favorite food was cooked. I presume the 12 days of being together with the family is to keep them company and discreetly encourage them to face the reality of moving on and continue living their own lives normally.

Time for us to also move on, so I and my wife departed Pune to join my nephew, nieces and their spouses to stay overnight at Aamby Valley.  Aamby Valley, with a perfect cool weather, is a self-contained aspirational city, surrounded by misty mountain peaks and luxuriant foliage.  It was a sudden contrast compared to busy streets of Pune City!  Having not met my part of the family living in India since years, I will always cherish the time we spent with them that day and specially the casual dinner together out in the open air verandah.  There was nothing but laughter and joy around us.

Next morning, after breakfast, we all drove to Mumbai. Following day, a special lunch meeting was organized by my number one niece so that we could meet up with the rest of the family and the new generation.  It was a wonderful unforgettable gathering too.  Niece number one had always tried persuading me to visit Mumbai and I had always put it off, but as destiny beckoned I am so glad I visited her and met up with the rest of the family.

Two weeks in India, part of it spent in sorrow and part of it in joy equally balanced our state of mind.

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