Notes on Death in Our Times

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Being a chemistry student, I tend to interpret every situation in terms of the second law of thermodynamics which states,” every change in universe tends to move from less random state to more random state”. But, the only limitation with this law is that it does not specify the rate at which these changes tend to occur, unlike chemical changes which are rapid in occurrence, socio cultural changes are often resistant to change but, in contemporary times, we are fast pacing in erasing our socio-cultural customs and traditions thus leading to cultural assassination with the axe of so called modernization. Our own Kashmiri language has become almost alien in our own households. Our state has seen quantum jump in increase of middle class population which tends to camouflage itself as per the demand of the times; just for the tag of being called advanced people they tend to erase their own cultural identity. Fashion which was vogue yesterday becomes obsolete next day; new customs, trends and rituals have infected our society like tumor and it is spreading rapidly to the country side.
The institution of marriage illustrates the point. It has already been spoiled by our extravagant and lavish lifestyles and `it isn’t hidden secret anymore, but now we live in a time where death is virtually celebrated not mourned; there was the time when mention of even the word death invited shivering down the spine and incident of death in a locality enveloped the whole locality in a pall of gloom, terror and darkness but this isn’t the case anymore
Death is like an uninvited guest; it can’t be avoided but the way and manner in which post death events are managed in our households, have become a grave matter of concern. A few days ago, I received news about the death of our relative and within no time I was ordered to pay a visit to grieving family for offering condolences. I was reluctant , at first , being emotionally weak and therefore often tend to avoid visiting such places but this time I was left with no reason to hide, as my mother came up with her fact book, “ the family you are going to visit had visited our home when your grandpa had passed away, they had brought one dozen of orange fruit with two hundred rupees as condolence gift” while reading from dog eared pages of copy on which she maintains a record of every person who had visited our home on occasions of happiness and grief. Like others, she believes in reciprocity in dealing with relatives. I was instructed to carry two dozen orange sand four hundred rupees as condolence gift as arithmetic progression was applied to what they had paid to us when they had visited our home. (It is very simple mathematics: double the quantity what was given to you it becomes your due when you have to pay visit to their home). I dressed myself austerely and started my journey reluctantly on reaching the native village of the grieved family. After enquiring about whereabouts of the f family I found it. Outside the home, nearly two dozen cars were parked. As I opened the gate I was received by man who appeared to be receptionist to mourners {virtual guests} and who guided me towards the tent, which was well managed with matting and cushions.
The atmosphere inside was not a state of mourning as everyone seemed to wearing the dress of smiles on their faces. Two men sitting beside me were discussing about their fruit business and cause of low market this time while a few well-dressed men had brought newspapers with them and were perusing these. The majority, including the custodian of the grieved family, was fiddling with cell phones and the silence inside the tent was occasionally broken by the Imam Sahab’s occasional lip service prayers; people discussed their household chores, shook hands with family members of the grieved soul and left.
For an hour, I observed this till I became restless; so I began to enquire about the point of the deposition of the condolences gift that I hadn’t forgotten to carry with me. I was guided to a separate room were a young bearded man seated on a chair with a copy and a pen was maintaining a record of it. The room was full of fruits boxes. Being well known to the family, I was not allowed to leave without lunch. I protested that it was not an occasion for eating but I had to give up before their stubborn insistence. I was taken to a separate room and after nearly an hour when our number inside had increased to nearly twenty men, lunch was served. It was no less than what is served on marriages with the only difference being that everything was done hidden. The real motive for which I had paid visit was lost in gossips in the tent and eating wazwan in the room. I doubt this, in any way or manner, reflects respect or even morning for the dead. But, it merely is a manifestation of our lost cultural nd religious moorings and anchors.

—The author is an MSC in Chemistry and is NET/ SLET qualified. He can be reached