091 It’s all in the mind : A place for the dead

A place for the dead
The familiar faces I knew,
Left one by one,
Some old,
Some young,
Wrapped and covered in whites,
Boxed in coffin with unpolished raw wood,
Engulfed in the flames,
Forbidden to stay back till the end,
As the men stayed back,
I asked if I can’t stay back because I am a woman,
Or because it’s not allowed by the rituals followed,
A question I never got a response.

I walked passed the Mongpham (cemetery),
One sunny morning,
A sight which I never forgot,
The fires were gone,
And I saw the son trying to gather the remains of his mother,
I spotted the unburned remains,
Remains of flesh and blood stuck on a bone,
Which the son covered beneath the soil,
Soil he dug from the side of the cemetery,
I walked past without stopping,
Thinking all the way,
About what I saw all so clearly,
Thoughts heavy for a child’s mind,
Maybe it was part of her leg,
Maybe she kicked books when she was alive,
Or maybe she kicked people,
It was etched in my head being told by many,
That your feet won’t burn,
If you kicked books or people,
I passed the cemetery once again on the way back,
And I saw a neatly shaped grave covered with wet dark mud from the pond,
And beneath the cemetery lies the remains of many,
Many who once were close to someone’s heart.

I heard murmurs of leaving a mark,
With the black mud of the pond,
To the body of the dead,
In the hope to check,
The return of the soul within the family,
A beleif of reincarnation,
People whispered on possible spots to leave the mark,
Advising to avoid the face area,
Reminding of a case,
Where a baby was born with half the face darkened,
Even showing the imprints of a hand,
Concluding the dead must have been hated,
For someone to leave such a mark,
As though the mud were splashed with a big giant hand,
Right on one side of the face.

I grew and the community grew faster,
And with the growth,
There were less land and more people,
Brothers fought,
Chopping their ancestral properties into pieces,
New constructions cropped up,
With tiny houses,
The latrine of the older brother right in front of the younger brother’s house,
As is the norms of land division,
With the eldest brother getting the land in the front,
Leaving the Ningol (married women sibling) a sense of homelessness,
As her home, the home she grew broke into pieces,
Both in land and in the heart,
People reasoned she never belonged there,
So why the sense of homelessness?
She was after all a Ningol,
Married and merged in her husband’s home.

Many sold their land and moved,
Far away to far flung villages,
And the rich people from far flung villages bought the land,
Adding to the mix of new faces around,
The community was no longer the community it once was,
Where you knew everyone walking in the street.

It was crowded,
And there was no place even for the dead,
The pond next to the cemetery was filled,
Giving a good size land,
And out grew a modern looking center,
A cemented center,
A proud landmark for the community,
A center which even has an eating joint,
An eating joint filled with the young and the old,
Relishing the hot puff up tun with hawai thongba (puri with daal) in the morning,
And Bora kanghou (popular afternoon snacks of Manipur) in the evening,
The eating joint located right where the grave was,
The grave where I saw the son gathering his mother’s remains,
And the dead beneath were forgotten,
Ancestors to many becoming nameless with time.
And never known to the many news faces,
It’s said the dead is dead,
And they can’t feel,
It’s more for the living,
But my heart couldn’t quite agree,
On stamping all over the dead,
Knowing that they are beneath.

Now the dead of this community goes to another common cemetery,
A single spot,
Reused and stands lone as of now,
And only time can tell fate of this cemetery,
Being in the prime location,
It’s said the dead is dead,
And they can’t feel,
It’s more for the living,
But my heart couldn’t quite agree,
On a place which I couldn’t visit,
Filled with fear and taboo,
Marked and entered only when there is dead.

Then I continued asking my questions,
Questions about the dead,
About what I saw,
I heard from the men,
The men who completes the funeral,
The details of the funeral,
The gruesome details,
Said they axed the body parts to burn it completely when needed,
Said they knifed a bone from the forehead,
And yes they drink,
And we both know what drink we are referring to,
Even though it’s a dry state,
Said they had to,
Said they need to,
It could be a traumatic experience for someone who volunteers for the first time,
After all these men aren’t professionals,
They are the young people of the community,
To go through what they have to do,
It’s said the dead is dead,
And they can’t feel,
It’s more for the living,
But my heart couldn’t quite agree,
on the axing and the knifing.

Then I thought about the burial without any cremation,
It’s said the dead is dead,
And they can’t feel,
It’s more for the living,
But my heart couldn’t quite agree,
Of the worms crawling and eating the flesh.

Then I thought about meeting dead elsewhere,
Away from home,
My heart couldn’t quite agree with letting someone go through the process of preparation and transporting a dead body,
Couldn’t forget the fear and trauma,
I had seen in my sister’s eyes,
When she had to go through the process at a young age.

Then I thought about an electric crematorium,
Finishing where the dead is met,
No transportation,
No axing,
No knifing,
No worms,
Just a press of a button,
One might ask,
How about a last viewing ?
Then I preferred a beautiful memory when alive,
Probably a beautiful picture with a smile, smiled at the peak of happiness,
Than an imprint of a lifeless body.

My heart agreed with an electric cremation,
Initiating with pressing a button,
Ending with collecting the remains,
Carrying back in a beautiful urn,
Yes in a beautiful urn.

Then I thought of a cemetery filled with greens,
Tall trees and blooming flowers,
A beautiful garden,
With no fear,
Giving an instant connection to nature,
Feeling peace as you walk by.

Burying the remains with a choice of plant which will grow marking the grave,
A choice one could even choose while alive.
Or Maybe immersed in a beautiful pond,
Filled with clear water,
With the lotus and lilies blooming,
A choice one could even choose when alive.
Won’t you tell me if you feel the need,
The need for such a place.

I would choose the pink cherry blossom tree or the pink magnolia tree,
Which will stand big and tall with pride,
Giving shades in the hot summer,
With beautiful pink blossoms in the spring.

A cemetery closest to nature,
A cemetery to be created,
A cemetery which the living will treasure,
A cemetery of beauty,
Where you can walk without any fear,
Where you can be free from any taboo,
Where the ancestors will rest in peace,
A place which you can go back to visit,
Spent a moment when you want to,
For years to come,
In memory,
In rememberance,
To be connected,
Even in dead,
In the place where I was born,
Tucked near the beautiful hills.

Then I asked if there is any electric crematorium in Manipur,
Some said No,
Some said the power in Manipur isn’t enough to support an electric crematorium,
But I cannot be sure,
And my questions continues,
Searching for answers from,
From tales shared from the heart,
Tales spoken in low voices,
With a quest to create such a place,
A place opened to all,
To those who seeks such a place,
Welcoming one and all,
Irrespective of caste, creed or Religion,
Won’t you share your experiences ?
Won’t you share what you feel ?
Or you prefer the silence as it’s a taboo to talk about ?

~The End~

An Experimental attempt to put thoughts in writing by Monica Ingudam.