It’s almost 2-30, girls. Panditji will come soon.
Can we sleep until he does?
Yes, sure. Dad will start with the havan. You girls can come out a little bit later? Just…
May be change out of your shorts?
So the Pandit just called, he has asked us to keep a few things ready.
Oh, who is this? I mean, where did you find him?
Chandan garlands. Ghee. Flowers. And a photo.
Photo of Mum?
Yes, just basic stuff for basic rites. Thirteen days would have been ideal, but he’ll wrap everything up in four.
Hmm…so a short cut version.
Yes, basic version is what we can do right now. One pandit, simple havan. Food distributed on the last day. Are you ok with this? I mean, as the daughters?
Sure, why not.
What kind of flowers? The markets are all closed.
It’s ok Dad, we’ll find something online.
Hmm…Not this picture. Find another one.
Why not? She looks so pretty in this.
It has to be something…umm decent.
She’s laughing, and at a beach!!
Find something in a saree…
Are you the fashion police? I like this one.
Guys, please don’t fight. It really doesn’t matter. Dad what do you think?
Hmm…I can search on my phone.
Wait. How are we going to get the picture printed out?
Fine! I’ll look into the old albums.
So, it’s just going to be the four of us?
Yes, Maushi just messaged. She can’t come. She is not feeling too well.
Oh! She was fine yesterday. What happened?
Cold and cough. She may join on a Whatsapp call, she’s saying…
Oh my God. Is she having trouble breathing? Temperature? Did she go to the doctor?
Can you just chill out Jiju?
She must be just mentally exhausted I think. Psychosomatic symptoms from all the stress.
Noooo…she was here yesterday. If she’s sick, we will all need to quarantine.
Why? We have been to the hospital. At least three times in the last month.
Yes, remember when they found a new case on the floor. And you refused to get out of the room?
Covid has most likely passed through us and retreated. We have touched fire and come back unscathed.
So pakka it’s just cold and cough?
Good, today all the family members are here.
Jee, Panditji. Shall we begin the havan now?
Accha, Panditji, we gave you that mask na, yesterday. Hope it was convenient to use…
Arghhcchhh! Oh this? Don’t worry. This is just a sinus problem.
Haan. But Modiji has advised everyone to take all precautions. So…
No, no, don’t worry. This Corona and all, it’s just a conspiracy I tell you. A big scam! Doctors and politicians all trying to make money. I don’t fear such things.
Yes, just listen to me. Do Pranayam every-day. Around sun-rise at 5 am. It will clean out the whole system.
And just drink neem juice. Two times a day.
Neem is the best natural medicine, I tell you. It can even cure cancer.
You know, if we were in a movie, we’d be on a road trip right now.
Like to scatter the ashes.
We’re literally on our way to South Bombay…Getting out of the house after three whole months. Driving by the sea. This is the road trip!
No…some place meaningful to her.
Like her birthplace, Kumta.
Oh yea, that has a beautiful beach. Untouched by tourism. Who’s going, all of us?
Yes. You, me, Dad, Jiju.
And we all find something on this journey? Moments of revelation, answers to all our life questions…
You get it, right? One of us will find love. The other will quit their job.
I want to find love.
No that’d obviously be me. Or Dad?
Also I’m telling Jiju you said this.
You can figure out what to do next, in life. He finally quits his corporate job. And just decides to live there.
Hmmm…and Dad? Is he also on this trip? He doesn’t even talk much.
He can be there, quietly. Finding peace or something.
Accha, what do you want to eat for lunch? I’m suddenly very hungry.
Wait, I’m checking my GPS. We might be lost.
So her name was Asha?
So that means, aap ke jeevan se Asha chaligayi? Sreekantji, all hope has now left your life?
We will sing some bhajans tomorrow. Do you have any instruments here? Tabla, harmonium?
This harmonium here, it belonged to her?
So I must say, aap ke jeevan se sangeet hi chalagaya? Music itself has left your life.
Did you see how hard he was trying to make us cry?
Yea, especially Dad. Sreekantji, Sreekantji…
It was all part of his service. Full package, harmony for the soul and tears for the living.
Arre, why are you girls like this? He is a simple, Godly man.
Yea, I think he considers it his job. In older times, the function of rituals was to enable catharsis…
Whatever. I was clear. I will not cry for you. May be in the bathroom later, but not for you.
Show me the photo again… haan, closer. Where is this from?
Isn’t it beautiful?
Yes, look at her smile…what’s she wearing?
It’s a Himachali costume, Maushi. From the holiday in Manali.
Oh, when did she go to Manali?
Mom and Dad had been na? Two or three years ago.
Oh yes, yes. She looks the same even now, absolutely no change. Most beautiful of all the sisters. Most lively.
Is she holding a rabbit?
Yes, we had to find something from the album, Maushi. Where she’s also ‘dressed decently’.
Haan, haan correct. May be look for a better one… to frame…later?
So this havan that you see, this is no ordinary fire. It has medical properties, even science has now proven it.
Oh Really, Panditji?
Yes, yes. Let me tell you a story. There was once an Indian doctor who tried to perform a havan in America. The American police came to his house and arrested him for starting a fire.
Yes! He was then sentenced to death.
Yes, you know how these Americans are. They don’t listen to anyone, believe anything.
Jee, Panditji, we also have cousins in America.
Haan. They asked him, the doctor. Tomorrow you will die. Tell us, do you have any final wish?
One last havan, he said. I want to prove to your Western scientists that this fire has medical properties. That is my final wish.
Guys, we have to google this story. Did you get the name of the doctor?
A Dikshit. Yes, I am searching ‘Dikshit, Chicago, death penalty’.
No, no … try ‘Dikshit, America, Fire Institute’.
I’d read something about this a month ago. There was a whatsapp message, on the parivaar group.
Yes, Dad. I’m sure there is some truth to it. And some masala too.
I can’t wait to hear how this story ends tomorrow. Let’s ask him questions.
Yeah, I was laughing so hard, thank God I had my mask on.
Body and soul. Jeev and Aatma.
Who is it that thinks, speaks, sings, sees? It is Aatma.
There are ten types of Prana. What we call breath, is only one of them. What happens when Prana leaves the body?
Did I tell you how the story ends? They test all the gases coming out of the holy fire, scientists, judge, media, all are present. The doctor is released, and honored.
See this fragrance, this smoke emanating from the chandan wood. This is not pollution, it is purification.
Even as she was leaving, she gifted you this fragrance, this cleansing of your home, your soul. That is what the next bhajan is about.
It feels weird today. What are we supposed to do now?
Yea, like, what do we do with her photo?
It just ended really abruptly. He was really funny though.
Yea, I was still on whatsapp call with the aunties when he took his dakshina and left.
Dad’s been sleeping all day, he’s exhausted. Jiju is already taking work calls.
Hmmm. At least offices aren’t opening anytime soon.
Yea, I’m in no state to look for a job right now.
Did you start telling people? I haven’t replied to messages. Or answered any calls.
I’ll put up something on Instagram. A story may be. Want me to tag you?
I don’t know. Not right away….You know, I found the fire very soothing today. Right at the end, when the bhajans got really shrill, I was watching the flames. Just bristling, crackling, flickering…
Haha! How poetic!
There was something very warm and comforting about it.
Yea, I get it. It was like 35 degrees outside, not even rainy. Still.
Flames cough and spurt. Smoke comes in grey clouds and mellowly floats out the window.
One tear escapes into the mask, concealed. The therapeutic fire thaws the frozen heart.
Nice. You should write about it. May be I will too.
Issue 94 (Nov-Dec 2020)