Antim Shringar (The last make-up)

Sat by the almost extinguished pyre fire, father and son were protecting themselves from the biting cold: inside, a small room, covered by tin shade, Sita, the son’s young wife lay and writhing in labour pain. They pressed their heads between their knees, hearing the heart-piercing screams emerging from her mouth, at short intervals. Everything was drowned in miseries in a dark winter night. The entire village had been wrapped into the darkness, lay at a little distance.

“It is very hard to survive. She has been writing in pain the entire day. Go and see her condition.” Said father Pundit Vishnu Prasad.

Son, Shankar Lal said in a very sad tone,” We poor pundits have no life. I pray to God, give her death, so that she may be relieved from all the pain and miseries of life. What’s the use of my going if I cannot do anything for her?”

“You are very insensitive! You have enjoyed a happy time with her for so many years-be kind to her.”

“My heart is very weak, I can’t see her writhing and thrashing on the cot.”

It was a family of Brahman priests and respected in the entire area. Father and son were very disciplined and hard working. Rest and slackness were not in their character. Even then, their earning was very little because in Hindus people do not give enough money or offerings to priest for religious rituals. Although Hindus give, money and offerings very liberally to eunuchs and maulvis at dargahs due to fear and superstitions spread by Comrade Ali Mia that eunuchs and dargahs have the divine healing powers.

Being Brahman priest, nobody gave them work in fields. Comrade Ali Mia has spread another rumour and superstition that if a Brahman works in the field, there will be famine or droughts. So Harijan and Muslims labourers used to hit them by pebbles if they ever tried to work in the fields. Therefore, their only income was the little offering from performing the last rites of the dead Hindus and from Braham Bhoj or mirtue bhoj (Feast for the dead).

Once, Sita, covering her face entered the agriculture farm of Ali Mia. However, she was recognized and caught. Comrade Ali Mia beat her and tried to molest her sexually. However, all the other Harijan women pounced on him and beat up Ali Mia and protected Sita, being raped by Ali Mia. After that incident, Comrade Ali Mia fled from the village.

The family of Pundit Vishnu Prasad was a family of ascetics. They were self-disciplined and achieved contentment and endurance. This became their nature. They have a very simple life.

They have only a few kitchen pots and utensils in the room. They cover their bodies with the clothes and shrouds, removed by the relatives of the dead people, before burning the pyre. Although, they were very poor but free from tensions, grief, and debts. All respected them. They never asked for any help or money.

The villagers used to give vegetables, sugar, flour etc, free of cost. Pundit Vishnu Prasad had spent seventy years of his life in this virtuous manner, and Shankar Lal, like a dutiful son, was following in his father’s piousness– or rather, was making his name even brighter.

Both father and son were sitting by the fire, near an extinguished pyre. They did nothing throughout the day. The wife of Pundit Vishnu Prasad passed away long back. The marriage of Shankar Lal had taken place two years back.

Sita changed the environment of the family. She started grinding grain and cooking meal at home instead of waiting for some food given in Dakshina to quench the hunger. After she came, they both became even more energetic and industrious. If someone calls them to religious work, then with splendid concern they demanded half offerings. That ill-fated woman was dying today in childbirth. In addition, these two have no means to give her medical care. Being Brahman, there was no government scheme for them, unlike so many for Harijans and Muslims.

Vishnu Prasad said, “Go see what condition she’s in. We’ll have to go for a doctor– what else! And here even the doctor demands a fee—we will have to borrow money.” 

Shankar Lal said, “I’m afraid to go in.”

“What are you scared of? I’m here, outside.”

“Why don’t you go and see pitaji.”

“I never even left the side of my wife for seven days when she died. Then, won’t she be embarrassed in my presence? I’ve never seen her face– and today I should see her uncovered body? She won’t even have physical ease: if she notices me, she won’t be able to move around freely.”

“I’m thinking if a child is born? We have nothing in our house, sulfur, dried ginger, cow ghee, jaggery, oil– there’s nothing at all in the house.”

“God will give everything if He gives a child—entire village will rush to give us everything without request. When your sister was born, there was nothing in the house, but villagers, showered all help, without request.”

They had eaten nothing since the day before. They have tears in their eyes.

Then Pundit Vishnu Prasad remembered the marriage of the son of Kirori Mal, a rich Harijan, in which he had taken part a month after the marriage of his son, Shankar Lal. The dishes that had been eaten by him in the feast were an unforgettable occasion in his life, and even today, its memory was unsullied in his mind. With tears in his mind, he said, “I can’t forget that banquet. Never in my life, had I that variety of food. The bride’s family fed the best items to everyone, whatever they wanted! Old and young, everybody ate puris—cooked with pure ghee! Paneerdal makhanichutney, raita, four types of green vegetables, yoghurt, sweets, ice cream, milk and what not. I cannot tell you more, how I enjoyed that feast! Whatever you crave, just ask! There was no limit. People devoured so much, that nobody could even drink any cold drink. In addition, there the waiters were—serving hot, fresh, sweet, perfumed pastries before all! They just press on to take something. When everybody cleaned his or her mouths and hands, a delicious pan was served as well. In the end, nobody could stand and just staggered off to lay down on the bed. That Harijan has a big heart like a feudal lord.

Feeling amazed about the story of the grand feast, Shankar Lal said,” Why don’t you obtain a fake caste certificate and enjoy caste quotas and unlimited government freebies?”

“We can also give such feast if the government becomes generous to poor people like us.” It is a different issue. Now everybody thinks about vote banks. We Brahmans do not get any government help. For political leaders, we are useless people. There is no shortage of money, but when it comes to supporting the poor, they think about the economy.”

“Or we must construct a Mazar outside this crematorium. Foolish Hindus will shower offerings on it” 

“Are you in your senses?”

“I am thinking about our miseries. No reservation, no freebies, no government help, no big offerings! Although we wear the shrouds and last rites clothes and eat the food offered to dead souls.” 

“You are very right. I have spent my entire life in burning other’s dead bodies. However, I do not have even a single penny to arrange a doctor to my daughter in law. “

They took a deep sigh, drank some water, covered themselves with blankets, and waiting for some miracle to happen and the cry of a newborn baby. 

And helpless Sita was still writing. 

After some time, Shankar went into the room and saw his wife had become cold. He shook her but there was no life in her. Her bulging and stony eyes swelled upward. Her body became blue. The baby also died in her stomach.

Shankar came crying to his father. Seeing his son crying, the father also started crying. They began loudly weeping and beating their chests and heads. Hearing their weeping and wailing, their neighbours also came running. They were trying to control and console them.

They had no money for the last rites, shroud and wood. However, being self-respecting, they were still not ready to borrow money. Like a doctor, father Pundit Vishnu Prasad was waiting for some emergency call from some devotee, so that he may get some money for the last rites.

Father and son were weeping and weeping. Sitting near the dead body of Sita, they were narrating the situation that led to her death. With tear-filled eyed, the father said,” I am in great trouble. Shankar’s wife passed away, yesternight. Entire day she writhed in pain; we two sat outside the room all the time. We have no money to give her medicines or any treatment. Therefore, she died. We’re ruined. Our family is finished without her.”

Villagers were very compassionate people. They became very sad, listening to reality. They all wanted to help them. Usually, they come, whenever they’re called. 

All of a sudden, a relative of Kirori Mal came with the message that the daughter in law of Kirori Mal has committed suicide. Everybody was shocked to listen to this news. The messenger wanted to take Pundit Vishnu Prasad with him to perform the last rites of Dhanvati, the deceased daughter in law of Kirori Mal. However, he was reluctant to tell this thing to Vishnu Prasad seeing the death of his own daughter in law. The villagers were also against Pundit Ji to go there to perform her last rites when there is a death in his family. 

However, Pundit Vishnu Prasad was a dutiful man. He said,” His need is higher than mine is. My duty is to help my villagers.”

He immediately rushed to the house of Kirori Mal.

The men-women of the village came and looked at the body. They shed tears at its helplessness and sat by it. 

Kirori Mal’s family was a family of Harijans, and villainous in the entire village. Due to reservation for their caste Kirori Mal and his son, Lakh Pat grabbed good government job in Delhi. However, they were work shy, inefficient, and corrupt. If Kirori Mal goes for the work for one day, then he takes leave for two days. Son was much more loafer that if he works for an hour, then he smoked his cigarette for two hours. Thus, nobody likes them in the office and the village as well. But they earned a lot due to their links with missionaries. They lured poor Harijans to convert to Christianity. Fed up with the bad behaviour of father-son duo, Dhanwati committed suicide.

Kirori Mal was very shrewd; and instead of joining tough agriculture work, he grabbed the work of clever, scheming, and tricksters missionaries and a government job. However, undeniably, he was not intelligent in understanding government rules and working. In such a society, the birth of this kind of mindset was no reason for surprise. Those who knew how to exploit the systems’ weaknesses were much comfortable.

When Vishnu Prasad reached the house of Kirori Mal, he said, “There is enough wood for her cremation.”

Kirori Mal said, “Yes, there’s sandal (Chandan) wood too. We have bought an expensive shroud. We also have suhagan(married woman) attire, made of silk fabric.” 

Vishnu Prasad looked toward the sky as if persuading the angels to be born in the next life as Harijan. “Why does the world is too hostile to the Brahmins who always pray for the happiness of the world? Some people get everything even without demanding.”

Grieving family women gave the last bath to Dhanwati with gangajal. After that, complete make-up was done and thesuhagan attire was made to wear on her dead body. 

The funeral procession started with the chant of ‘Shree Ram naam satya hai, Satya bolo Satya hai.’ At the crematorium, the shroud and suhagan attire were removed from the body and donated to Pundit Vishnu Prasad. The body was kept on the pyre. The fire was lit and the story of poor Dhanwati was over.

After completing all the rituals, tired and exhausted, Vishnu Prasad, went back to his house with shroud, suhagan attire, and other make-up items donated by the family members of Dhanwati.

Some elderly village women gave last bath to Sita with gangajal. Last make-up was done to the dead body. Shankar put thesindur in the parting of her hair.  In the end, again the suhagan attire was made to wear to the dead body of Sita. The shroud covered body. All these things, Vishnu Prasad, brought from the last rites of Dhanwati.

Someone gave woods, others gave other items used in the last rites. People cut the bamboo poles, and so on. And, in the afternoon the pyre was lit by Shankar Lal.

Vishnu Prasad bowed his head in a pious manner. “Certainly Dhanwati will receive the blessings. Bhagwan, you sit inside the hearts– take her to heaven! We’re both giving her our deepest blessing. She has got a shroud, and a very good one–a much better than we would have bought.” 

As the darkness grows deeper and the stars glittered more brightly, the din in the village became lesser. Gloom was in the atmosphere. The silence was in the air. People came to the crematorium, only to taste the pleasure of self-forgetfulness. More than gloom, the air here purifies the spirits. The blow of life seizes them and pulls them here. In addition, for a while, they forget whether they were alive or dead. 

And these two, father and son, were still lost. Everyone’s eyes had settled on them. How ill-fated they were! They had no family now. 

Vishnu Prasad said, “Give her our blessing. She whose glow has brightened this place has died, but our blessing will certainly reach her. Bless her with every hair on our body– these are the payment for very hard labour.”

Shankar again looked toward the sky and said, “She’ll go to Heaven– she’ll become the Queen of Heaven!”

“Yes, son, she’ll go to Heaven! She never troubled anyone, she never exploited anyone; even while dying, If she doesn’t go to Heaven, then will those corrupt people go– who loot the poor with both hands, and go to the dargahs to wash away their sin, and offer chadors on the concrete Mazars?”

This mood of piousness too changed; unpredictability is the unique power of death. It was the turn of gloom and pain. Shankar said, “But the poor Sita suffered a lot in her life. Even her death was so agonizing!” Covering his eyes with his hands, he began to weep and sobbed loudly.

Vishnu Prasad consoled him: “Why do you weep, son? Be happy that she’s been liberated from this web of illusion. She’s escaped from the trap; she was very lucky that she was able to smash the bonds of worldly illusion so quickly.”

Far in their luxurious bungalow, Kirori Mal and his son Lakh Pat, both were taking peg after peg of expensive wine, to forget the pain of the death of Dhanwati. 

Dr.Yogesh Sharma 

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