Friday, January 30, 2009

From ashes to ashes, dust to dust

If you thought the title of this post sounds somewhat morbid, I urge you to stop reading at the point.

I’ve always thought I have been exceedingly fortunate to have known all 4 grand parents till I was in my mid 20’s. I lost the last of them, my grand mom from my mother, 2 days ago.

The objectivity with which I write this post is very closely related to my ability to bring comic relief to otherwise grave (no pun intended) situations. This of course leads me to have to bear the wrath of those who demand more appropriate lady like behavior. My grand mom’s funeral today was the first time I attended a traditional Hindu funeral and I found myself spending more time on what’s and why’s rather than the mourning.

In Hinduism, the dead are cremated. Hindu’s believe that the body is made of five elements- bhoomi (earth), jal (water), agni (fire), vayu (air) and akash (space). Brahma (the creator of the universe in Hinduism) creates a soul from a flame and by returning a body back to the flame, the cycle of life and death is complete. Traditionally cremation takes place in an open air pyre, on a bed of wood or sandalwood, however with modernization, diminishing resources and the lack of space, electric incinerators are becoming exceedingly popular in India.

I’ve known for a while that traditional open air crematories pollute the air with nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, sulfur particles and other persistent organic pollutants (POP). According to the United Nations approximately 0.2% of global pollutants (mostly dioxides and furans) come from crematories. So, making my first trip an electric crematorium was filled with curiosity.

I have to say I was impressed; which is the last emotion I should have been feeling at that point. But, I was; maybe because I appreciated how even amidst the frustrating rituals and exhausting nuances of religion, it does evolve over time, even if it is at snails pace. I learnt that electric incinerators are great for the environment. They complete the task in 45 minutes which wood would otherwise take 3 days, are optimized for energy and pollute less than half as much as traditional methods. Needless to say they are hygienic and safe.

Impressed wasn’t my only emotion today. I also found the experience extremely humbling and I won’t humor it by world saving tip- not today. They weren’t kidding when they said ‘from ashes, to ashes’. Only the memories live on. My sister and I called her nani.