Saturday, August 30, 2014

Mukhagni: Putting Fire Into The Mouth Of My Dead Mother

By Sadho Ram
Couple of weeks ago, I came across a set of very intriguing images on my Facebook News Feed. The images were such that it immediately attracted me towards them and reminded me of my father’s funeral pyre. I’m sharing one from the set below :
Artwork by Urs Fischer

Usually it takes over three hours for a body to turn into ashes and cinders, but, I remember very clearly,  when I put fire to my father's pyre -- his body completely deteriorated after over two decades of alcohol consumption and having poisoned a week ago -- melted in manners as if it was made of wax (just like the sculpture in the picture above).

The fire didn't even last for an hour. I stood there, right by the pyre, not at all feeling the warmth of it, because there wasn't any. It was surprisingly cold, almost like the night in an usually slightly hot month of May.

Although, not my first, the experience of seeing my dead father's body melting into the fire was surreal for me.

About four years before this, I had also put fire to my mother's body. The images of that night are still very vivid in my memory.

It was the night of 30th August. The year millennium. We had all come to the Jangipur Ghat in West Bengal. It was here where all the Hindus came to put fire to their dead loved ones.

There's a term in Hindi for it - 'mukhagni', which translates to "to put fire into the mouth of a corpse at the time of lighting the funeral pyre". And you actually do put fire inside the mouth. I remember when I was told to do so, I freaked out. Even protested. Shouted.

“How can anyone ask me to put fire inside my mother's mouth? Don't you know it would hurt her.”

No one said a word. Everyone just looked at me with pity.

“Why can't you all see how calmly she is resting? Why would you ask me to put this burning stick inside my mother's mouth?”

What do you expect, I was somewhere around 13 then.

It was agonising for me to comprehend the fact that I will have to perform that one task which will eventually wipe off her existence from the face of this earth. I couldn’t come to term with it back then. I’ve not managed to come to term with it even today.

I remember my father, who was otherwise lost in his grief (I had never seen him in such heartbroken state), coming to me and trying to explain to me why I must go ahead and do what the pundit was saying. I still couldn't. So he held my hand, asked me to close my eyes and took it toward her face. He then took me towards her feet and put the burning stick there. As soon as it was done, couple of relatives and staffs started piling the candlewood logs on top of her. I shouted at them. Again. Almost breaking away from my sobbing father’s arms.

"Stop. Stop. Why are you putting all these heavy woods on her? She can't take the burden. Please stop."

"She is beyond all that now, son," he whispered into my ears, holding me tight.

"Your mother is beyond pain and suffering. That thing burning there is no longer your mother. She is finally at a place where she can find peace."

Today is 30th August. And it's been 14 years to be exact now.

But I'm still not sure if she is really at a place where she has found peace.

You see, I don’t believe that those who were not allowed peace while they were here, can or will ever find peace anywhere. She was not allowed her share of joy and peace, and I refuse to believe anyone who have tried to tell me how she is now in a much better place. She is dead.

There is no better place after life.

So stop telling me what you don’t know. For it’s the one thing I don’t need people telling me about someone who they never knew.