I was required to go to Vaikunth, a crematorium in Pune, for the final rites of a family member. He was 91 years old but was always positive and smiling. All were in somber mood for obvious reasons but also had a comfortable feeling that he had led a reasonably satisfactory life and had seen all good things that can happen in our lives. We were waiting for our turn to start the process, we were third in the queue! Then I saw the board displayed above.
The board indicated how the final rites of your loved and dear ones can be seen by live streaming where ever you are in the world. Wow! Hinduism is modernizing or is India modernizing? Want to see a movie, go to Netflix, want to order pizza go to a site, order it! Want to see the final rites, get them by live streaming. What is happening? Is this good for the human race? You are too busy to travel for last rites? Or you want to brag, “I have seen so and so persons last rites on live streaming”. Emotions? Heard this word before but I am not sure what it means. When a person dies, two things are important, how close you are to that person or how you are related to that person. If you are out of these circles, on both the counts, then your presence during final rites does not become important.
What is the purpose of the seeing the last rites on live streaming? What do we achieve by doing this? The hospitals now provide facility for keeping the dead body in mortuary. This allows dear ones to travel from around the world for the final rites, within reasonable time. What is so important in one’s life more than attending the final rites of your near and dear one? After this you never see the body again; but if you are comfortable with that then probably next best thing is live streaming. Or is it? Maybe you will say, “Hey bro or sis! Could you adjust angle slightly? I can’t see the face! Ya, that’s better, now!”
In Hindu culture and for that matter in most cultures, taking photos or videos of the departed ones is not the norm! This generally happens only in case of very well-known public figures. Their lives as well as deaths are public! What could be the reason for this? First and foremost is that in olden days there were not many cameras; it is a tradition that is continued, though now cameras are everywhere. Personally, I prefer this tradition of not photo graphing the dead person. I remember at a funeral, years back. In the funeral place, somebody was taking photographs. Those were for that person’s son in law (grandson of the lady who died) and his family who could not travel, taking an eight-hour flight! I stopped him from taking the photos as others in the group did not want confrontation!
Though I am not an atheist, I have reservations about chanting of mantras, following of rituals at funerals. The more I see them, the more I am convinced about the futility of these things. These rituals are supposed to be saviors in the life after death. Is there life after death? My understanding is that when the human race did not know anything about nature and science, the knowledgeable people of those times, came out with rituals by creating fear in the minds of the people. This turned out to be a good business and it made sense to continue with the same. I keep on talking to various experts about this, but nobody has been able to convince me the utility of the rituals and mantras, except probably mental peace. Do I follow what I think (preach will not be the right word)? Yes, when my mother died, we went to the crematorium and without any ritual we took her to the furnace! I have attended many funerals, body is pushed inside, door shut and the furnace blower starts. That sound of the furnace blower motor, makes my heart heavy and moistens my eyes. To me the real final journey just starts, to merge the body with the nature. I have always thought, that when we are born, there is no chanting of mantras, there are no rituals. Then why should we have them at death? Birth and death are only two absolute truths in the world. Someone is either born or has died, there are no two thoughts about it. All other issues have more than one side to them. We should accept the death as we accept birth; of course, our emotions are bound to be different when someone dies.
When we change so much in modern times, why do we not change in our way of thinking about death? Another thing is that the modern world has created physical distances, though you may be close electronically. Or it creates mental distance too? It has also created a busy culture, fast paced life. But is it really so busy that we cannot attend funerals of near and dear ones? I will share a story with you. Someone had an accident, died after about ten days of treatment. So, it was not a sudden death in that sense! His both children were in the US. His daughter flew out. But the son had some issue regarding Visa status. End result, the son did not come home for the final rites, in fact he never came at all during that year ! Of course, Visa status is more important! Friends, to me this is just not on! Modern life? Do you need a tradition to attend your father’s funeral? Is this a conflict of modernity and tradition? No way. But why such decisions are taken only that family can tell. I am sure that the son will keep on having nightmares till end of his life for this decision!
Am I modern? No, I am contemporary, but would I keep the same thoughts in death too? Yes, direct to the furnace, no mantras and rituals! That’s my take! A Living Will?