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We, the living

It is standard practice among most of us, in times of crisis, to pray. Some of us even pray, promising ourselves or the Almighty that we will do something specific, should things turn out the way we expect. Now, with Hindus, it is invariably some kind of offering at a temple to their favorite deity or the family God. The last three weeks have been a grueling time for us at home, and during the stay at the hospital when my mom underwent surgery, I decided that this time, instead of offering something at a temple I will sponsor meals at the local orphanage. Made more sense.

As my mom and I were talking about this, she also told me that when she dies, she does not want the elaborate rituals that go with the incidence of death in a Hindu family. Expenses around a death can be as much as Rs.50,000 to a Lakh – including priests’ fees, donating a cow, hiring a place to carry out the rituals most of us don’t really understand, entertaining the family and buying them new clothes, etc. Don’t ask me why. So it was written, and so it is being done. There’s an explanation for this, of course but we are not concerned with that now.

Mom says that we should just cremate her body at the electric crematorium and any money we want to spend could be done sponsoring a needy child’s education or through donations to organizations that support handicapped children. I was overwhelmed by her attitude, which has always been generous to say the least. She reminded me of a favorite poem of mine that I would keep reciting often. I learned it when I was ten years old – when I was studying at Mount Mary High School, Bandra, Mumbai – and it is engraved in my heart ever since.

Just emphasizes that service to mankind is indeed service to God.

Here it is.

Abou Ben Adhem

Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An Angel writing in a book of gold:

Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the Presence in the room he said,
“What writest thou?” The Vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord
Answered, “The names of those who love the Lord.”

“And is mine one?” said Abou. “Nay, not so,”
Replied the Angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerily still; and said, “I pray thee, then,
Write me as one who loves his fellow men.”

The Angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blessed,
And, lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest!

— James Leigh Hunt

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Cheers!

Vidya

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    Nanny Goats In Panties
    January 21, 2009 at 6:25 pm

    I’ve never heard of an electric crematorium. Or have they always been electric, but I just never heard the word used with them? Or is it an Indian thing? (I’m from the U.S.)

  • Reply
    Vidya Sury
    January 22, 2009 at 1:01 am

    Dear M –

    “Crematorium” tends to be used generically to mean graveyard (where they bury the body), graveyard (where they burn the body) depending on which religious rites one wants to follow. Thus ‘Crematorium’ specifically becomes electric – when in goes the body and out comes the cup of ash. I am sorry to sound so irreverent :-). So somehow, I have never heard the Electric Crematorium being referred to as anything but. You see my convoluted point? When we say ‘cremate’ the body, it could well be in a graveyard or optionally at the Electric Crematorium. Phew.

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