‘The Law is an Ass’

It was reassuring to read a report in the press recently that the Ministry of Finance had decided to supervise the activities of Undertakers and Funeral Parlours.

People paying in advance for their funeral arrangements are happy to know that the government will ensure that they will on their death get the service they paid for. But I still hope that this supervision will be limited to the financial aspects of their operations. Certain aspects of the operations of these companies concern the Sanitary Services, and I hope we are not going to see the repeat of the situation which happened a few years ago when one Minister of Finance thought – and was allowed to get away with it – that he could run every aspect of Mauritian life by making little amendments in the financial regulations, messing our lives up in the bargain. My present appeal is directed to the Minister of Health, and not Finance.

Hindus traditionally travel from their homes (or other places where they die) to the cremation ground on the shoulders of their relatives and friends in what can best be described open home-made palanquins made of a bamboo frame and surrounded on the four sides with green leaves and flowers, with the bottom strewn with kusa grass, and the top open to the sky. These contraptions have their own beauty, but can hardly be described as coffins. That is how all the previous generations in my family have travelled to the funeral pyre to meet their Maker – open to the sun, the rain and the wind, in full view of the birds overhead. That is how I want to go too.

In order not to be a burden to my family, I have contacted an undertaker. I have no difficulty whatever that all the staff there are Christians; I am not seeking their prayers and their rites – these will be carried out as per the tradition in my family – the undertaker has no objection to that. He will even be welcome to add his own prayers privately, given the sinner that I have been. But the one big problem is with the journey from my home to the cremation ground which with changing times must be done by car: that must, apparently according to current sanitary regulations, be done with my body in closed coffin which itself must be carried in a closed, covered vehicle. There is no way that I am going to put up with such suffocation, even if I have to pre-arrange a revolution to prevent it.

The law as it stands may be all right for Christians; in fact, it seems to have been made by a Christian government for its loyal Christian subjects. But times have changed. I know for a fact that Hindu funeral processions are often led by open vehicles carrying the body, most of the time an open jeep. This is what I had expected to happen, for instance, in the case of my late wife who passed away last year. Sadly at the last moment the jeep turned out to be a vulgar, undecorated lorry, which had hardly been cleaned and washed after its latest trip. I was persuaded by relatives, in spite of my unbounded anger, to accept the situation because they had misunderstood my instructions. I was thus condemned to make my wife, who had been the acme of chic at every single moment of her waking life, travel in that beastly lorry from Quatre Bornes to the cremation ground in Palma. I still don’t know which was greater at that moment, my sorrow or my shame; for sure my anger was very great.

But imagine my shock and surprise when told recently that what was done was illegal. Her body should have been carried inside a closed vehicle! The Law is an Ass, I found myself repeating. If any in the Police Department don’t know – one must be prepared for such things these days, given the Education being dispensed since the departure of SSR, even, and particularly, during the days when his son was Prime Minister – what I have just stated is a quote from Charles Dickens. Police Officer, before you rush forth to arrest me, google “Dickens” to find out more about him, if you don’t already know.

I appeal to the Hon Minister of Health – if he does not want to have a revolution on his hands – to bring in the necessary amendments to legalize my wife’s funeral ex post facto, and mine also, preferably ex ante-facto, if I may use such an expression.


*  Published in print edition on 26 June 2015

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