"A profound unmitigated loneliness is the only truth of life"
- R.K. Narayan




There was a husky sulking around the room. The body of the grand old lady, wrapped in gum-taped plastic sheets underneath a hastily wrapped silk-sari, lay in the middle, motionless, within the cooled glass enclosure to keep her from rotting in the summer heat. While the female relatives sighed and consoled each other, the men just stood around discussing hospital bills and funeral arrangements. The lady's daughter sat in the corner, her swollen eyes buried in her palms that couldn't hold her tears back. The son-in-law had gone out to get the priest, without whose supervision the body could not be cremated.

Once in a while a relative would peer over and look at her pale skin, and the plain face bereft of any emotion. "What a peaceful face," they would say, "at least she died peacefully."
 
"That's right! Dying in one's sleep is such a fortunate way of dying," quipped the lady in green sari, "for her kind of life, this was a perfect result. Which Indian mother could bear living with her daughter's family for long? The son-in-law's temper gave her tremors all day long. And the way he used to beat up the wife. No mother can bear to see her daughter harassed so much."
 
"But what could she do? She had no other place to go.." bemoaned an aunt sitting beside.
 
"That's why she joined the yoga class. It took her mind off things and also helped manage her asthma."
 
"But that did not help her, I guess. The doctor's report says she died of an asthmatic attack which lead to cardiac failure. These yoga classes nowadays are of no use, I say," cribbed the aunt, "she probably just went to the classes to escape the son-in-law's torture."
 
By then, the priest arrived and all relatives gathered around the body. Express ablutions were performed and holy water was sprinkled. Every time the priest made the daughter apply vermilion on various parts of the body, it seemed the eyes twitched. But apparently nobody noticed it in the din of the son-in-law's clamour. 
 
The cooler was turned off, the glass case opened, and the limp body was transported to the cemetery. It was festival day and, being ominous, not many had brought the dead for cremation. They placed her before the furnace and prayed one last time. They took turns to touch her feet and hum a mantra. Her feet felt warm - like those of a live person - but they surmised, it was due to the heat in the room.
 
The furnace door was opened, and in went the body. The door quickly closed in order to avoid the relatives witnessing any of the gory stuff that happens inside.
 
Once inside and just before the flames burst out, for a very brief moment, Sumana opened her eyes. In her culture, it was said that prayers made just before death are answered by God himself. Her lips trembled for two quick prayers. First, she prayed that, with her out of the way, her daughter would not be blamed and abused anymore, and that her husband would start loving her. Second, she prayed that her yoga guru, who taught her such a perfect version of the shavaasana, should live a long life.
 
She closed her eyes and the flames burst out...


Notes: shavaasana - a yogic practice which, when practised perfectly, takes the live human body to an almost death-like state where most bodily activity can be stalled. Something, in my opinion, like what many animals do during their winter hibernation.

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PS - in remembrance of Sumana, who passed away very recently with peace on her face and a queer smile on her lips, and whose body was so incredibly tight that it seemed to be holding on to something deep within itself.
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