I have often written about marriage ceremonies of different communities, but I do not think I have written about their funerals.
Christian funerals are the best. By best I mean the most moving, pictureswue, ceremonial. The church is a beautiful place of peace and solace, the sun filtering in through the stained glass, the singing echoing among the vaults and the tall roof. Hindu temples are noisy, generally crowded, mosques are too stark, often badly lit, have no room for women.
There is a sense of participation in a Christian funeral. The congregation prays with the priest, it sings together. Everything is in a language that you understand. There is also that little tribute to the dead from somebody who has been intimate with him in life.
Perhaps, the ceremony goes on a little too long. But the final butial is swift and soon over. The dead are dressed, booted and gloved, as well as they were on their wedding day. Many of them are in their wedding suits. One last look at the departed, then the coffin is lowered through a clever system of pulley and straps into the ground, as a two-in-one plays I want To Go Home or something equally appropriate (so much better than professional priests chanting empty words), and the undertakers are replacing the freshly-dug soil on to the coffin. Dust thou art toÖ
The graveyard itself is a pretty place, trees, green mounds, flowers, tombstones, the kind of place you would like to lie in for rest of your immortal life.
I am not very gamiliar with Muslim funeral rites. They also do bury their dead and their largest cemetery in the city is at Chandanwadi, next to the Hindu crematorium grounds. It is interesting that the grounds for the disposal of bodies of Muslim and Hindus are so close together, and, in fact, share one large outer wall, used for film advertisements.
I have been for the burial of a good and close friend of mine. I had expected a neat and well-laid greveyard, instead there were mud mounds everywhere, a number of them overgrown with bushes and wedds. And there was no coffin for the body to be put in first. I understand that the Muslims do not like to make too much fuss over their dead. Which, I think, is a good thing. The dead should live in our hearts and our memories, not under the ground and in tombstones.
In that respect, the Hindus are the best. Within a couple of hours of the death, the body is consumed by fire and turns to ashes. There are two methods: the traditional wood fire (a municipal caretaker at Chandanwadi sells the wood by kilos and tons), and the modern electric fire where the body is consumed within minutes in a furnace.
Unfortunately, the funeral grounds at Chandanwadi are as badly kept as those of their Muslim neighbours. Banganga is a better place to die in, by the sea, the sound of the waves (at Chandanwadi you hear the sound of the passing suburban locals), the smoke and the sea breeze gently mingling together. And the great thing about the place is that you do not have to be a Hindu to die there. That is what is meant by the tolerance of the Hindu religion.