Saturday, January 26, 2002
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L

Coping with the death of a loved one
Khushwant Singh

THERE are two schools of thought on the subject — eastern and western. Orientals believe that the best way of coping with death of a loved one like a parent, spouse or child is to cry your heart out till you are drained of tears. The custom vaine (chants of lament) and breast-beating were regarded as cathartic. All this is followed by chautha, chaleesveen, bhog, antim-ardas or a prayer meeting in memory of the departed soul. Friends are expected to call in the belief that grief shared is grief halved. Westerners believe that grief is a private matter and should not be exhibited in public. Shedding tears is unmanly. One should put a stoic front and get over the shock of loss by oneself.

I had to cope with the problem myself very recently. Being an agnostic, I could not find solace in religious ritual. Being essentially a loner, I discouraged friends and relations coming to condole with me on the death of my wife. Most of them ignored my request and came to see me. I found this commiserating with me on my emotional trauma. I spent the first night alone sitting in my chair in the dark. At times I broke down. But soon recovered my composure. A couple of days later, I resumed my usual routine of work from dawn to dusk. That took my mind off the stark reality of having to live alone in an empty home for the rest of my days. But friends persisted on calling, and upsetting my equilibrium. So I packed myself off to Goa to be alone by myself. I am not sure if it will work out.

Count the blessings of old age
January 19, 2002
Vajpayee, the poet
January 12, 2002
When Indian writers meet
January 5, 2002
Behind the mask of a terrorist
December 29, 2001
An exercise in futility
December 15, 2001
The power of self-destruction
December 1, 2001
Jaipur and its Rajmata
November 24, 2001
Meting out humiliation as punishment
November 10, 2001
Women like her do not die...
November 3, 2001
The Karnataka-Canada connection
October 27, 2001
Making English an Indian language
October 20, 2001
Worshipping the mother of all rivers
October 13, 2001
Salman Rushdie: Genius or eccentric?
September 29, 2001
A Telugu saga set in 19th century
September 22, 2001
A blot on the face of Mother India
September 15, 2001
Leaving for the heavenly abode
September 8, 2001

Everyone has to evolve his or her own formula of coping with grief. People who believe in God turn to Him. Words of the 34th Psalm are pertinent: "The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit".

Jesus Christ who was an Oriental was not ashamed of weeping before everyone when he lost a friend. So it is recorded in the Bible (John 11-33-38): "When Jesus saw many weeping and the Jews who had come along with him also weeping, he was deeply marred in spirit and troubled: ‘Where have you laid him?’ he asked. ‘Come and see Lord’, they replied. Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’"

As one would expect, Osho Rajneesh made light of the darkest of subjects, including ways of coping with grief. In his collection of sermons Walking in Zen, Sitting in Zen (Full Circle), he cites the case of an Italian, Perelli, and his method of getting over the shock of losing his wife: "At the funeral of his wife, Perelli made a terrible scene, so terrible and heart-rending, in fact, that friends had to forcibly restrain him from jumping into grave and being buried with his beloved Maria. Then, still overcome with grief, he was taken home in the rented limousine and immediately went into complete seclusion.

"A week passed and nothing was heard of him. Finally, worried about the poor guy, his late wife’s brother went to the house. After ringing the doorbell for ten minutes — and still worried — the brother-in-law jimmied the front door, went upstairs and found his dead sister’s husband busy with the maid.

"The bedroom was a mess — empty champagne bottles every where.

"‘This is terrible, Perelli!’ the brother-in-law declared in shocked tones. ‘Your dead wife, my sister, has been dead only a week and you’re doing this! You’re doing this!’

"So busy was Perelli that he managed only to turn his head. ‘How do I know what I’m doing?’ he said. ‘I got such grief! I got such grief!’"

Gods never fail

If you have run out of luck, lost everything you owned and are reluctant to work for your living, there is a formula for survival in comfort. All you have to do is to find a big peepal tree (for good reasons botanists call it ficus religiosa) and set up your abode under it. Smear its trunk with saffron paste, put a grey stone against it, and next to that keep a garland or two of marigold flowers and a platter of copper with a few coins in it to encourage others to do the same. Then blow a conchshell and ring bells to announce the advent of a new incarnation of one of the gods of the Hindu pantheon. You will be in good business: plenty of money in offerings, no accounting for it to anyone, no taxes. And much respect from the community. This can only happen in India.

This is the theme of Namita Gokhale’s latest novel Gods, Graves and Grandmother (Penguin). In her story a family of kothawalis (prostitutes) once living in a large haveli and patronised by rich zamindars, merchants and even the sahib log lose all their money and find themselves on the road to destitution. Ammi is too old to be of service to her clients but still has a melodious voice to sing bhajans. Her daughter who has all that a courtesan needs to have, suddenly loses all her hair and elopes with a fellow who does not mind having a bald mistress. Her daughter is still a gudia (doll), too young to be deflowered. So the destitute grandmother and grand-daughter arrive in Delhi, find a hospitable peepal tree, set up a make-shift temple and a hut to sleep in.

In no time business picks up. Now they have an ample-bosomed flower seller, three leper beggars at a respectable distance, a shastriji who can chant appropriate mantras in Sanskrit and, most important of all, a pehalwan (wrestler) who makes a handsome living collecting raakhi (protection money) from shopkeepers and helps landlords to evict recalcitrant tenants and tenants to grab landlords’ property at a big fee. He also has a clout with local politicians. The slab of stone becomes the centrepiece of a huge marble temple. When Ammi dies, she is buried as a saint. This adds to the sanctity and income of the temple.

Gudiya grows into a beautiful girl. She is not happy studying in a school run by a kind Parsi lady who tries to adopt her as her daughter. She fantasises becoming a film star and assumes the name Pooja, the daughter of a wealthy zamindar. Then falls in love with a handsome but good-for-nothing clarinet player, member of a band leading wedding processions. Decked in a colourful pseudo-military uniform and riding a white horse, he appears to her as Prince Charming, god Kalki of the future. She is more than willing to lose her virginity to him when he takes her behind a cluster of bushes. Instead of Gudiya, alias Pooja, it is Kalki who disappears to try his luck in Bollywood.

Gods, Graves and Grandmother is a satire on present-day India. Namita Gokhale has skillfully strung different episodes like beads of a rosary to portray the seamier side of Indian life and morality.

Mystic experience

A spiritual seeker meets a guru. The guru advises him: "Go out in the rain and raise your arms. That will bring you a revelation."

The next day, the man with spiritual quest reports back. He tells the guru: "When I followed your advice, water flowed down my neck. I felt like an idiot." The guru replies coolly: "For the first day that’s quite a revelation."

(Courtesy: Rajnesh, Shimla)

Computer virus

Banta opened a big departmental store in Ranchi. One of his customers, Banke Bihari Lal, complained that he had got a wrong computerised bill in the name of Banke Jharkhandi Lal. When Banta asked his manager Santa, about this mistake, he replied, "Sir, it is the fault of the computer. Earlier Ranchi was a part of Bihar but now it is in Jharkhand. And I gave instructions to the computer that wherever the word Bihar comes, it may automatically convert it into Jharkhand. That is why Banke Bihari Lal was converted to Banke Jharkhandi Lal.

(Contributed by J.P. Singh Kaka, Bhopal)