Sunday, June 29, 2008

I couldn't sleep that night

10pm. I trot my way home through the rain-soaked street.

A crowd has gathered near the neighboring building and an ambulance is parked next to it. The men in the crowd stand grim, talking in whispers. The soft cacophony of television sets from this cozy neighbourhood, is missing.

Someone has died, I presume.
. . .
Midnight. Dinner's over, I've curled into bed after a tiring day at work. The weather's pleasant, I don't need the creaking fan over me. I'm twisting and turning in bed - the recent illness has made breathing difficult.

I can hear faint rumble from the crowd standing in the neighbouring building's compound. I lie straight in bed and hear another ambulance entering the street, followed by a few cars, who park themselves, their sirens blaring through the midnight calm.

And then, the mourning begins.

Cries. Hundreds of them. Women. Maybe beating their chests, tearing their head apart in grief. Pained over the loss.

The howling gets louder and I shiver as I imagine the scene unfolding at a distance of 20-odd metres from my bedroom. I still don't know who has died. I still don't know how many have died.

I get up and walk into my balcony. About 100-150 people are on the road standing there, in a sea of white. A clay-pot containing the holy fire is being circulated. The corpse lies at the center as the priests finish the rituals. The atmosphere is swathed in grief. The women cry their hearts out.

But something's different here.

I've seen people sob at funerals. Weep. And hug each other at the inevitability or maybe the natural circumstances of the death. Old age, maybe. Or an illness. But I notice a certain violent aggression. Bahut bura hua, a cheesy script-writer would have said here.

And then, as if on cue, the street-dogs begin howling too. The melee goes on till 1:30am or so, and as the crowd swells, the women's mourning reaches a new pitch, sending a chill down my spine.

I've seen only one funeral in my family, yet. My grandma, who passed away due to Alzheimers. While we all miss her, death is a state that is welcome, in diseases like Alzheimers, which today are incurable. At her funeral therefore, the crying and howling, was nothing, compared to the scene unfolding in front of my eyes.

By 3:00am, the body is taken to the cremation grounds a few kms away, the crowd eases out, the mourning continues, albeit softer this time. It becomes clear that there's been one death. Its a family which we never ever interacted with, but I remembered that it marriage, about 2-3 years ago.

I head off to sleep.

The next day, the following story emerges.
The mourning was over a 24 yr old middle class Maharashtrian married woman, whose body arrived in my neighbourhood after post-mortem.

The cause of her death - Thrown off the terrace of the high-rise building by her in-laws, after she refused to respond to their demands for dowry. The in-laws are now being tried in court.
. . . . . . .