I’ve been to Pashupati several times. I’ve wandered around the temples. I’ve watched (and stayed as far away as possible) from the monkeys. I’ve seen ‘holy men’ from Indian and Nepal roll and light up, roll and light up, smile, and light up. I’ve seen smoke float by as the deceased burned from across the river.
I had never actually been to the ghat.
I have never actually stood by to watch the earthly body of someone I’m connected to give into fire and embers. It’s been over a week and yet there is a sense of…something…that remains with me. Something of how our lives are…meaningless. fragile. temporary.
Looking at your friend as they observe mourning rituals is strange. Identifying members of the family by their bare feet, is strange. Not being able to say ‘namaste’, not being able to hug or even touch those you so desperately want to comfort…is strange.
Stranger still was the air. The entire time I was in Pashupati, I felt dizzy. As if just floating off into a high, or coming off a trip that you were lost in for a while. A sense of things not being real. As if everything was happening through the lens of a documentary, seeing things in snapshots, viewing everything as unique combinations of color and light:
The feet of my friend’s father peering out as the pyre was being prepared
Dalda melting on the pavement as it waited to add fuel to the pyre
Mangy dogs who pant and sit by the feet of those who do not kick them away
Children picking up coins dropped by another funeral procession
Landless and homeless people sitting in the mounds of their belongings
The tourists. oh the tourists, the tourists, the tourists.
And above all, the throngs of tourists opposite to the ghat, watching, leering, cameras in hand. At one point I wanted to go over and ask them all to leave. How can such a sacred part of life be a show for tourists? I cannot imagine how they would feel to have us lurking by their funeral processions, taking photos as they wept at their loss. How could they think it was okay to watch and take photos as grand mothers grew faint with grief, as well wishers came and went and came and went. Where in all this do we premit those in loss to grieve in dignity?
The whole thing, the experience of it, I can best only process it in fragments.
And even as I write this still, the vacant high of the ghat comes back.
In the end, we all go the same way-ashes to ashes, dust to dust.