A Celebration of Indian Life and Death

Since starting this new blog site I’ve been reading through my old diaries and came across this piece written in India at New Year, when I was on a visit to Orissa with my friend Mridula. It ends with a personal message for not only the year but life ahead. I asked Mridula and she agreed I could share it on my new site.

Follow Grandma Blogs are far more than a travelogue of places I visit. They are written to entertain and possibly amuse you and also to give you an insight into the ways in which people of different cultures live, play and pray. They sometimes reflect unusual experiences and at times they may leave you with something to think about more deeply.

‘New Year’s Eve in Puri was a colourful kaleidoscope of non-stop food, music, dancing and fireworks that continued into New Year’s Day. There were heart-warming greetings from waiters, chefs and taxi drivers and, despite bomb alerts in Mumbai and Delhi, optimism was in the air in Orissa.

On New Year’s Day itself , as my friend Mridula and I drove to the airport on our way south to Bangalore, we passed through the haze of smoke which was drifting heavenwards from burning funeral pyres near the beach. New Year this year had coincided with Vaikunta Ekadash (the day the gates of Heaven are open) – a very auspicious day to go to meet your Maker.

It was business as usual. Bodies wrapped in white shrouds were being carried shoulder high through the streets to the pyres and huge crowds were milling around the entrance to the Gateway to Heaven.

For us in the West, New Year is a time when we think about loved ones who have died during the past year. We feel the loss and it can often be a difficult day. This New Year’s Day was very poignant for Mridula. It was the first anniversary of the death of her baby
grandson, (she calls him little Krishna.)As we traveled through the Indian countryside, I could feel her sadness and grief. This was a tough milestone day for her. Many of you will recall my emails asking for thoughts and prayers for this bright, happy and healthy, ten-month old baby boy who had, without warning, gone into a coma. He was in St. Mary’s hospital in London for three months and, despite intensive care, he never recovered. It had been an emotionally turbulent year for everyone.

Later that night, when we were safely home in Bangalore, Mridula and I sat together and talked about little Krishna. I remembered the baby boy, full of mischief, pulling himself up steadying himself against the sofa and almost walking. She spoke of the Hungry Caterpillar toy he loved to play with, of days sitting holding his hand while she sang nursery rhymes to him, of her sadness and grief and, in it all, of how much this small child had taught her. Patience, Acceptance, Forgiveness and above all, Unconditional Love.

My friend looked at the photo of her little grandson on her desk and, through her tears, said quietly, “Now the first year has passed. I intend to celebrate all the good things he brought to us”. Suddenly the New Year was filled with joy, optimism and love.’

M arrives in the UK for a conference this week. We plan to meet to catch up on our busy lives. Two strong and loving grandmas have a lot more wisdom to share with each other.