I died today. Accident of birth had placed me into a Hindu family exactly 70 years ago.
However, I chose to die a Buddhist and breathed my last breaths chanting my catechism. Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo!
Up till now, I was called Ramen Balasuyanen. RB, for short. But now, I am just the Body. The Hospital has already informed my family of my expected demise. With any luck, they would in turn have advised Elie and Sons to collect the Body, to prepare for the funeral tomorrow.
I died as I had lived, in perpetual conflict between the comforting Idealism of the heart and the cruel Realism of life, a conflict that I managed to reconcile very rarely throughout my entire life. Instead of quietly passing away in my sleep, I died in absolute agony, with severe heart failure and crippling, agonising arthritis. Instead of being surrounded by a caring family, I gasped my last breath all alone in a sideward of the cardiac unit of Candos hospital.
My wife was too preoccupied with herself and her family. Besides, with the passing years, we had drifted way apart and she no longer cared that much. As for our only child, he was far too busy with his own life in the UK. He will probably fly in tomorrow for the funeral — just for the show!
However, from what I have seen with other dead people, I sincerely wish they would not keep the Body and people hanging about too long. If my son’s flight is delayed, please friend, do not postpone the funeral and make everybody suffer the needless wait. If my son had really cared for his old man, he would have come to see him while he was still alive. Now it is too late, and it makes no bloody difference whether he is present at the funeral or not.
My decline had started some ten years earlier. To celebrate my 60th birthday, the wife persuaded me, against my will, that we should visit the land of Uncle Sam. So we called up the travel agent and without much ado, got ourselves booked on a group tour. This tour would take us to Singapore, then on to Hawaii before we flew to the west coast of the USA. The whole affair would last a month and Dr Veera, our family doctor, thought it would be wise to have a thorough check-up before we started out, given that we would be so far away from home and the high cost of medical care in the USA.
All the tests confirmed what we already knew. Except for the odd twinge that only people of our age tend to get from time to time, we were both in reasonable shape. However, upon return from that rather enjoyable trip in August 2001, I was to meet up with my own 9/11 that September, in the guise of a sudden, unannounced myocardial infarction. Simultaneously, the mild arthritis I had suffered from during the previous five years increased in severity.
Tomorrow, in accordance with my wishes, I hope my body will be cremated at the Phoenix crematorium and that will be that. “Maranam Pirarthi!” If I had my way, cemeteries would be banned and made illegal, especially on a small island like ours. We occupy valuable space throughout our lives, but there is no justification to carry on doing so after our death. I don’t want to push up the price of land after my departure, and condemn future generations to Firinga type housing!
Do not Grieve
The last rites done, dear friend, please do not grieve for me. Because I am glad at last that I have left a world with which I never really managed to make my peace. I was born on this Paradise Island, in a Tamil-speaking Hindu family. In the obscenity that is the caste system, I belonged to C-word community, right at the bottom of this obnoxious system. C’s are supposed to be pork eaters and amoral with it. Pork eaters, indeed! Chance would really be a fine thing for, being at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder, most of us could barely afford the cheapest vegetables, never mind the luxury of bacon, ham or roast pork.
As a child, I often wondered whether our British masters were in fact white C’s because I had heard that bacon, eggs and sausages were their favourite breakfast. Of course, no self-respecting Brahmin would be seen dead marrying a C-woman, but many would happily fantasize about kissing the mouth as well as the naughty bits of the pork-eating British memsahib. We all did!
Caste was and firmly remains even in these enlightened times like a large, shameful black spot on the pristine white sheet of Hinduism. Today, we have a Cultural centre for every little, insignificant component of the Hindu population and a plethora of socio-cultural organisations, mirroring the fragmentation of a divided and divisive community.
Of course, it is all too easy to blame politicians for engineering these divisions. But, whilst these dividers-cum-rulers must shoulder some of the responsibility, one does not require a PhD in sociology to understand that they have only succeeded in their dastardly deeds because of the inherent weaknesses that are to be found at the very heart of the Hindu religion with its caste system, a system that is undoubtedly at odds with the very notion of a modern Republic in the 21st century.
Yet, even the intellectual elite of the Hindu community somehow manages, if not downright helping to maintain it, at least to reconcile itself to this abomination that brands an innocent child even as it is being born, as to what sort of life and life chances it can expect. Because, Caste invariably condemns Man to a stalemate that freezes him in an inflexible fate from which there is no escape. And Hindu Dharma, Maha Dharma, they proudly proclaim! Lajaa, Taslima Nasreen would call it.
As for me, I am just glad I am done with it. So, good-bye friend, and good-bye world.
* Published in print edition on 16 May 2014