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Fiction

RITUALS

Satish and Vishal entered the crematorium. Both of them were grieved at the loss of their friend Prakash due to some unknown illness.

Satish, Vishal, and Prakash the ambitious, studious, and hard-working students,  were classmates in the third year of graduation. But unexpectedly, Prakash became ill and before the doctors could conclude the cause of illness, Prakash left this world.

Satish and Vishal joined the funeral and they went to the crematorium. After performing some rituals, the body was laid on the pyre of logs of wood. A lot of flowers were put on the body. Many pieces of sandalwood were kept around the body. Prakash’s father who was in his fifties, then moved around the pyre dropping a stream of water. The priest was chanting mantras non-stop.

When the entire procedure of the ritual was over, Prakash’s father lit the fire. After ensuring the pyre was set ablaze, slowly the people started leaving the crematorium.

Satish and Vishal met Prakash’s father and took his permission to leave the place.

Out of the crematorium, Satish and Vishal started walking towards their house.

“Vishal, they performed so many rituals. Do you believe in rituals?” Satish said.

“Not exactly. The priest says some mantras and tells the family members to follow certain procedures. And they follow blindly. I find it difficult to digest,” Vishal.

“Yes. Sometimes, I think it is foolish,” Satish.

Both of them were lost in thoughts.

“But Vishal, this ritual, Hindus have been following for thousands of years. Our ancestors had a deep knowledge of life and death. Along with astronomy, humanity in this part of the world was scientifically quite advanced. They knew about many distant stars, our solar system, and about comets."

“Yes. But the rituals sometimes can not be believed,” Vishal.

"We don't read our scriptures. Forget about the original Sanskrit Vedas, Upanishads, and such wealth of knowledge but even the translated versions in vernacular languages, we don't take efforts to read and understand them. And we take pride in ridiculing our rituals without any attempt to get into the meaning of the teachings in the great treasure,” Satish said irritated.

"Don't you think using logs of wood to burn the bodies unjustifiable?" Vishal.

"Yes, Vishal. When the ritual started, there were ample trees. But now the circumstances have changed. And now, the electric incinerator is put into use.

My grandfather died six months ago. We used an incinerator for cremation. But some people want to stick to old tradition and they use wood instead of cremation furnace,” Satish.

“Is it? Really, the rituals must be changed per the circumstances,” Vishal.

"Yes, we have done it. And do you know why do Hindus burn dead bodies?

Hindus believe that the death of a person does not mean that is the end but rebirth is part of their life cycle. So, they believe to destroy everything related to the previous birth. That is why they burn everything about everything of the body,” Satish.

After they reached home, both of them had a bath, a part of the ritual to be followed by everyone who had visited the crematorium.

Fifty years passed.

Satish’s close relatives and a few young men, his select students were around the bed in the special room of the hospital. A few were waiting outside the room inside the hospital. All were worried that probably those were the last few minutes of his life. But Satish was fully conscious and was trying to tell something to those who were standing very close to him. That was Rohit who took his ear close to Satish’s mouth. Rohit took care that tears did not wet Satish’s cheeks.

“Please, do not forget what I have told you. I have pledged my body to a hospital.”

Satish took a pause. After a deep breath, he continued,

 “My relatives may oppose this idea. They cremated my wife when I was away in the USA. They did not listen to my telling them and did not care for her pledging her body to a hospital. When I die, do not let them do their way. They all love me. "

After another deep breath, he said, “But they just don’t agree with me on this matter.

You take responsibility for my body donation. Do not listen to them. I want the last drop of my blood to be used for society.”

Satish took his brother’s hand in his trembling hand.

“Babu, I know, you all loved me. I am going without the slightest grudge against any one of you. I have always received respect and regard from you”. Satish took yet another deep breath. "My only last desire is to donate my body to the hospital. You must go against your ideas of following rituals and respect my final wish.”

“No Dada, you tell me anything else and I will follow it completely. But please do not tell us not to follow the rituals. Barring this, we will do everything else as per your wish. You have given away everything for others. We never disagreed. Though we wanted to get preference for any of your acts of donations, you considered the deserving person above all the relations. Your own family never got any favours from you if a more deserving person came across you. And there is no dearth of persons in society needing some help. Dada, you had cut off the word "self" from your dictionary. But we want your consent on the final rites on your body. Dada, excuse all of us. But please let us follow our traditions, rituals.” Satish’s younger brother Babuji said in a choked voice and with teary eyes.

“No Babu. This is my last wish. I have pledged my body. You overruled my wife's desire of donating her body when I was away at the time of her death. But not this time. Why do you want to stick to traditions and rituals? But please. Don’t let my only desire remain unfulfilled.” Babuji did not say anything. He could not control his sob. He turned his face and let his tears flow uncontrolled.

Satish looked at Rohit. “Rohit, do not disappoint me.” Saying this Satish left this world on the eternal journey.

And the persons around the bed wept uncontrollably. The news of Satish’s demise made the small crowd waiting outside the room sobbed silently.

After the first burst of emotions, Rohit came out of the room. Babuji followed Rohit. He held Rohit's hand and said, "That is the end of a great devoted life. He loved you students so much, we used to feel jealous of you all. And you were not two or three but over fifty. Sharing his love with all of you.” He shook his head emotionally. All the present had their eyes filled with tears.

“Okay Babuji, I will inform the body donation workers and they will come as early as possible," Rohit said.

Babuji controlled his grief and said, “Rohit, do not be silly. Our family members are against body donation. None of us can bear the idea of going against our traditions. We want to follow the rituals which have been part of our tradition.

Soon, we will call an ambulance and we will take the body to our house and then after performing the rituals there, to the crematorium."

"No. Our Sir has taken a promise from us that we will see that his body is given to the hospital. And we want to keep his promise. Otherwise, his soul will not rest in peace.”

"Rohit, are you telling me about the soul resting in peace? What have you learned from that great person? He was against all these myths. Yes, He wanted to donate his body to the hospital but that is a wrong idea. Last minute I told him, he could tell me anything he wanted us to do but for this body donation. He knew that we would not do this in any circumstances."

“But Sir, Satish sir had told us repeatedly to guard against this idea of yours. We will not allow cremation." Ajay, another student said in a firm voice.

“See children, I know you were very close to your sir. But do not forget that I am his younger brother. I know him more than all of you collectively know him. However strongly you feel against the body cremation, we as his nearest relatives would carry out cremation in an electric furnace in the nearest crematorium if not using a pile of logs of wood."

“No Sir, please remember that we nearly 50 students can stage a protest in front of the hospital.” Akshar showed his anger.

Babuji caught up with the relatives getting ready for the cremation of Satish’s body traditionally.

In a short while, a team of the ‘Body Pledging group’ arrived at the hospital. They had a few documents to be signed by their close relatives. Rohit presented the ID card that Satish Sir had received when he had signed his willingness to donate the body. The persons from the body pledging group forwarded the papers to be signed by the relatives to Rohit. Rohit took the documents with a pen to Babuji, Satish’s nearest relative, for his signature.

Babuji returned the papers to the volunteer of the organization without signing the papers.

The volunteer was shocked. He said, “Sir, Mr.Satish had agreed to the donation of his body.”

“Yes. The ID card says so. But we do not agree with this. We will not give our consent to this.” Babuji said.

“But we need to do some processing within four hours. Otherwise, it would be too late.”

“ We are waiting for one of our relatives to arrive and then we will take the body for cremation," Babuji said.

"No. But our Sir had told us repeatedly to send the body to the General Hospital attached to a Medical College for students to learn physiology. He was insistent on this. He had even told us that his brother may oppose this. But he told us to fulfill his last desire." Rohit put forth his idea.

Babuji said,” Please do not pay attention to these young men. You may please go back.”

“No. We have Mr.Satish’s statement expressing his desire to donate his body. Unless we get a substantial reason for denying this, we will not go," the volunteer said.

“And Sir, we, all his students, number nearing fifty will stage a protest if the desire of our sir is not fulfilled.”

"We don't care for the protest. We have called for an ambulance. As soon as it arrives, we will take the body to the crematorium. We want to stick to our tradition following the rituals.” Babuji said.

‘Come on friends. Let us block the gate of the hospital for the ambulance exit,” Laxman said.

In no time the students quietly gathered outside the exit gate of the hospital.

Babuji realized the seriousness of the protest.

He called Rohit and said, ”Rohit, we can’t yield to your demand immediately. We will need some more time to reconsider the matter.”

“But we do not have much time.” Satish.

“Yes. Now, how do we handle the situation?” Babuji started thinking in this direction.

Suddenly, he got some idea. He said," I think, today we will keep the body in a morgue. Tomorrow, we will take the decision. “

“Ok. If you need more time to think over your decision, it is ok. But we want Sir's final wish to be satisfied," in a choked voice Rohit said.

They discussed with the hospital staff and made arrangements with the morgue of the same hospital.

With a heavy heart, all the relatives and the students left the place.

While leaving the hospital, the students were thinking over the decision of keeping the body in the morgue.

"Let us consider whether it involved any trick to fool us," Rohit said.

"Yes. There can be a trap. But I don't understand why Babuji is so adamant about the cremation of the body following the rituals."

“It is a matter of emotional attachment,’ Vikas said.

“But I think Babuji is a seasoned person. He may fool us and will execute his idea.” Abhijeet expressed his doubt.

“I have a scheme. “ Sagar said. Everyone was all ears.

“We should take out the body before they come to the hospital. And take it straight to General Hospital. With sir’s ID card for pledging his body, we can complete the formalities. Then we can call Babuji and tell him.” Sagar explained.

“Yes. That is perfect. How can we get charge of the body?” Shivam asked.

“I know the Morgue attendant. I will talk to him. Quite feasible” Yesh supported the idea.

“Let us not talk in the air," Ashish said.

"What do you say, Rohit? Are you ok with it?" Santosh checked up.

“We should take Babuji in confidence before our final act," Rohit said.

“ But do we have any proof about Sir’s telling us about body donation? Just having an Id card is not solid proof. " Antim said.

“I knew this is an important matter. I have recorded the entire conversation on my mobile.” Sanket said.

“That is wonderful,” said Rohit. 

"Ok. Yesh. Let us contact the morgue attendant. Let us go.” Abhijeet said.

Rohit instructed, “You do the preliminaries and give us a call. Sushant and I will reach that place in ten minutes. Then we will think over the matter and decide our course of action.”

Abhijeet and Yesh moved quickly and met the morgue attendant. He agreed to show them the place where the body was kept.

Sushant and Rohit joined Yesh and Abhijeet at the morgue. The attendant opened the place and let all four of them in. It was pitch dark and shivering cold. The attendant put on one light. All of them started moving between the rows of the racks in which bodies were kept after processing, carrying out embalming. The attendant pulled out one rack. And all of them had a look at the dead body. They had goosebumps. They saw the body had its eyes shut and the mouth stuffed with cotton. The close look at a dead body, without any emotions on the face, was horrifying to look at. "No. This is not our sir." The attendant moved forward. All four of them followed him. He pulled another rack. And another dead body. The boys were scared. After 3-4 such unsuccessful attempts, the next rack showed up Sir's body. All four of them broke down. The attendant closed the rack quickly. He put a small red cloth hanging out of the rack as a sign of identification. They noted the physical position of the rack and quickly came out of the morgue.

Emotionally disturbed, they decided on their plan in coordination with the attendant. The scheme was chalked out.

“The next day when Babuji and Rohit would meet the morgue attendant, they would be involved in the necessary formalities. Meanwhile, before the attendant takes Babuji to identify the body, the helpers of the morgue would take out the body from the rack already earmarked by the red cloth and take it straight to the ambulance waiting to go to the General Hospital. After the body is placed in the ambulance, Rohit would take Babuji to the ambulance and show Sir’s body to Babuji, and would tell him they would take it to the General Hospital,” Sagar said.

The young men reached their respective houses.

The next day early in the morning Babuji called Rohit to meet at the morgue at 9 a.m.

Immediately, Rohit informed all other members of the executing group. Made arrangements with an ambulance for taking the body to the General Hospital. Also, he spread the word among other students to be present at the exit of the morgue at 9 a.m.

Babuji reached the morgue at quarter to nine. Rohit was waiting for him. Babuji came close to Rohit and said, “Rohit, We were thinking over the matter all over the night. And finally decided to honour Dada's final wish. We will take the body to General Hospital and complete the formalities." With teary eyes, he further added, "Let us get going." Rohit was relieved. The confrontation was avoided.

Babuji was surprised to see the ambulance waiting. Rohit told him that was arranged by the students. They went to the morgue. The attendant brought the body out quickly. Babuji was surprised that he did not have to identify the body.

The body was put on the stretcher which was then taken into the ambulance. When the ambulance reached the gate, the crowd of students shouted in unison,

“LONG LIVE SATISH SIR.”

Soon the ambulance entered the General Hospital. Babuji completed all the formalities of body donation. Rohit and Babuji embraced each other making each other’s shoulders moist with tears. The traditional rituals of cremation were swept aside. The contemporary need of the hour for human bodies for medical students was held high.     


July 07, 2023 07:25

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