Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Second Burial

By Shevlin Sebastian

In the 1980s, when I was doing my Plus Two at Christ College in Bangalore, I was staying with my uncle George Mani, a scientist. What I remember most about Uncle was his study desk. It was filled with numerous papers, files, plastic clips, and a mug. Whenever I looked at the desk, I would think, ‘How does Uncle locate what he wants?’

The other memory was his rush every morning, before he set out for work: the hurried breakfast, the quick grab of the briefcase and the rapid walk towards the car. 

Uncle, who was my mother's first cousin, lived with his wife Mercy. Their two sons were studying in colleges in the USA. I stayed with them for a year, before moving to a hostel. Later, with the help of his elder son, who had settled in America, Uncle migrated to the US when he was in his fifties. Thereafter, he had a brilliant ten-year run at a research laboratory, where he flourished, thanks to America’s culture of meritocracy.

About ten years ago, Uncle fell ill while on a visit to Kochi. Soon, his health deteriorated. By now, my parents and I had relocated from Kolkata to Kochi. So we rushed to meet him at the hospital. Uncle managed a warm smile. Then he died, at the age of 79. And I felt sad. He was a good man. But that was not the end of the story.

A few days ago, my parents received a call. Apparently, Aunt Mercy had bought a plot in the cemetery of a church, at Kochi, near where she has a house. She wanted Uncle’s remains to be taken out of the family burial spot, from another church, 20 kms away, and put in this new grave. And since she was not well enough to travel from the USA, she deputed her Kottayam-based brother, Francis, and his wife, Reena, to do the needful. And she wanted my parents to be there also.

And so there we were, at the graveside, on a hot summer morning, with the remains of my uncle: it consisted of a few bones, taken from the rib cage, and placed inside a large white envelope. Reena whispered, “Since the skull was large, we did not take it.”

As the priest intoned the prayers, a helper used a ladder to reach the bottom of the grave. He delicately placed the envelope on the ground, and used a spade to cover it with mud. Later, concrete slabs were placed across the top of the grave. Thus, my Uncle got a new burial spot. But I won't be surprised, if, up in the heavens, Uncle has a bemused smile. 

(Published as a middle in South India editions, The New Indian Express)

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