Deathly Hollows

Mr. G died two days back. I didn’t get good sleep that night. It was too soon. Even he had kidney problems. He was in an unconscious state for several months. He had recently opened his eyes, but did not respond to any commands. He was there. He was just there. It was way too similar.

I went to the mortuary yesterday, for the first time in America, and second time in my life. We were asked to assemble at around 2:15PM and the viewing was supposed to be between 2:30PM and 3:00PM. I entered the mortuary well before 2:15. It looked like an upscale corporate office or a bank. The employees were all in black suits. We were told that the room in which the body is kept is too small and thus only ten people at a time would be allowed to view the body.

Mrs. L and the two kids walked in at around 2:20. She was crying. Though much younger, she reminded me of my mother. Maybe her white cotton saree. Around 50 people had gathered.

The employees at the mortuary suddenly started playing a different tune. They said that since the family did not want the body embalmed, they cannot allow anyone other than immediate family members to see the body. Apparently it is against the United States law. The elders and the leaders in the group started talking to the employees. But, they were not ready to relent.

At 2:30, Mrs.L, her kids, brother-in-law and a priest were allowed to go inside to see the body. 50-odd people were getting restless, even though we were all in the air-conditioned room. Obvious questions erupted. If it was really against the law not to allow people to see the body which was not embalmed, then why did they tell us that they would allow groups of 10 people at a time, to begin with? Something was not right, but nobody wanted to start an argument at that time. But, several people went and requested the authorities to be allowed to see the body. Finally, it was announced that there was a major miscommunication between the employees and the few people who had arranged the viewing. We were told that there is a big difference between Hindu and Christian customs and that is the root of the miscommunication.

Me thinks otherwise, since I know that the people who arranged the whole thing have horrible communication skills, to say the least. The differences between Hindu and Christian faiths have nothing to do with this.

After much persuasion, the employees at the mortuary agreed to take as around the building to the place where the body would be actually cremated. We would all get a glimpse of it before they press the electric switch. So, all of us walked out and stood in the hot sun for several minutes. I have to say that it was one of the worst summer days and most of us were hot by instant headache.

Finally, the body was brought into a small room in front of us. An instant queue was formed to view the body. The first three guys went in and saw the face. I was the fourth one in the line. By the time I could go in, the employees at the mortuary closed the casket and pushed the body into the electric machine. Mrs.L’s son was asked to press the button.

Essentially, most people did not get to see the body. We were told that once a human being dies, the body becomes state property. I am really not sure how true that is. I haven’t bothered to research that.

What amazed me was the total lack of human element. Maybe it is the cultural thing. The whole procedure was like a bank transaction. The fake smiles and the wrinkle free dresses were nauseating. It was pure business, just like any other.

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16 Comments on “Deathly Hollows”

  1. Aram Says:

    After the fun “talks,”
    seriousness “finally”.

    Apt title and a timely (for me) post – reminder to me to arrange my shavadaana to St.John’s, unheard, unseen, unsung.

    ” It was pure business, just like any other.”

    — Undertakers’ is quite a big business among the Christians, I believe. There was a joke in Mumbai about Pinto Travels who were running long-distance bus services as well as Undertakers. Joke that even in tragedies like bus accidents, they would make money.

  2. Vasuki Says:

    So sad, when everything becomes business and there is no human element left.

  3. rads Says:

    You know, all this sounds strange and fishy. Ive been to 3 and all 3 had viewings and each had the time and a non-rushed service to go with.
    Something does’nt seem right…

  4. neel3 Says:

    looks like thepeople in the mortuary are in rigor mortis…too dead-end

  5. krupa Says:

    Sometimes people become so efficient….that they forget to be human!

  6. praneshachar Says:

    I think this is the major difference between India and US. here we give cultural and religious values and most importantly the human touch in such cases and all sympathisers will be genuine (except in cases of highfly pliticicians, film people etc.,)
    what ever is narrated shows simply business like work not with human touch
    any how let soul of Mr.g RIP and family of the departed get all strength to bear the loss

  7. suparna Says:

    whole narration made me imagine it very inhuman… some kind of a drama ….. Regardless of whatever miscommunication was there , i feel they should have let friends /relatives in … it might be a daily business for them .. but not for the diseased close ones …


  8. I was reminded of my granny’s demise at a hospital in Bangalore. When we admitted her, no one, including her knew it would all end like this. Just in a few hours she was a dead body. Pretty late night, all the employees of this BIG hospital came out asking “Oh! Ajji hogebitra?” Sadness reflected on their faces, they all empathised with a Huge family that was the victim. There was no black suits, nothing in that environment…. Donno about the mortuary, but this might have been the scene there too.

    RIP Mr.G.

  9. nilagriva Says:

    How a Mr G. who was a “he” in life suddenly gets referred to as “the body” and “it”!

    This never ceases to amaze me.

  10. Atman Says:

    Nilagriva,

    Atma Uvacha:

    I am immortal. I roam all the worlds in the universe in one form
    or the other.

    The body is but a shell in which I dwell.

    When I become tired of it I discard it like you change your shirt.

    I am Atma wandering until my mukti when I become one unto Him.


  11. @ Aram:
    Naaah, your comments made me think you are 22? No, really? So, are 28? 🙂 Even then St. John’s thingy is nowhere close. Plus, I want you to keep commenting on this blog for a long long time 🙂

    As for Pinto travles, certainly a tragic joke.

    @ Vasuki:
    I know….

    @ Veena:
    I am sure he will, thanks.

    @ Rads:
    Yes, I think somethign was wrong there. But, nobody was in a mood to start a big fight.

    @ Neel3:
    Well, that is quite unfortunate, isn’t it?

    @ Krupa:
    Human…what human?!?!?

    @ Praneshachar:
    I certainly agree that there is a LOT of cultural divide and that certainly adds into the equation.

    @ Suparna:
    Socially and culturally it is quite different and I am nto sure they understood our points. Zilch!!!

    @ Srik:
    Sorry to ehar that story. It hit too close home. The BIG hospitals make me angry. I will stop right here before I go ballistic.

    @ Nilagriva:
    True. I am just too scared to think on those lines.

    @ Atman:
    Again, it is scary to be philosophical. Thus, I restrict philosophy to my poems 😉 Yes, I certainly get your points. But at the same time, I have too many questions.

  12. Aram Says:

    Thanks DS. I was 22 probably around the first time you left India for the U.S.

    I can only quote my favorite Bach, “What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the Master calls a butterfly.”

    Waiting for the Master’s call!


  13. @ Aram:
    If you were 22 then, you are really not all that old. So, don’t wait yet 🙂

  14. Vittal Says:

    It’s clearly a cultural thing – It was a very different experience for me when my wife’s (well, gf back then!) cousin died in an accident back in 2000. It was more like a family gathering and they even had food.


  15. @ Vittal:
    That certainly explains it.


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