Tuesday, January 19, 2010

When The Cucumber Ripens

Nikhil's grandfather passed away on January 6, 2010. Lovingly called Pitaji, he lived to the ripe age of 88. After 13 days of mourning, a havan was held at our home today. Sure, a raging wood-fueled fire in a living room sounds like a bad idea, but a slightly opened door ensured that we didn't cough our lungs out.

The Arya Samaj pundit recited numerous shlokas in Sanskrit. That didn't mean much. It was when he explained their meaning that I really listened. The Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra struck me as a particularly apt verse:

Om Tryambakam Yajamahe
Sugandhim Pushtivardhanam
Urvarukamiva Bandhanan

Mrityor Mukshiya Maamritat

We worship Shiva - The Three-Eyed Lord;
Who is fragrant and nourishes and grows all beings.
As the ripened cucumber is automatically liberated from its bondage from the creeper when it fully ripens;
May He liberate us from death, for the sake of immortality.

Yes, even ancient scriptures have vegetable references.

If we were born, we must die. Yet while we celebrate one, we fear the other. Despite the pandit's reassuring words, I am still afraid of leaving the people I love, and of them leaving me. Our emotional bonds make separation difficult. We cry when those we care about leave the city or country. Naturally, leaving to never return is a much greater distance.

When Badi Mammi, my paternal grandmother, passed away I had just gotten on a plane in Austin, Texas. More than twelve hours later, we landed at Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport only to find out that she was no longer with us. I didn't feel much at the time. All I knew was that I did not get a chance to say goodbye. We attended her kriya (funeral service) and went to Haridwar in a relative-packed bus to distribute her ashes in Ganga's chilled waters. This was in December 2004.

Fast-forward five years to January 2010. Nikhil and I visit Pitaji at Kalra Hospital. We read him excerpts of the Bhagawad Gita. He's silent, but I know he's listening. I feed him spoonfuls of chai. He's so weak. The next evening, his lifeless body is brought to our N-block residence. The waft of incense lazily spreads its smoke, which I imagine is coming only toward me. The Gayatri Mantra drones in the background. I do not consider myself religous or spiritual, but in that moment, I feel his presence.

Another relative-packed bus off to Haridwar. More ashes and skeletal remains disseminated into the water. I think back to five years ago, and feel helpless. This is something beyond my control.
I am beginning to dislike Death quite a bit.

During the havan today, the pandit smiled as he spoke about accepting death when it comes. "Live a fulfilling life and tell Death that you'll be ready for it. Embrace it." Maybe it takes years of wisdom to achieve that level of acceptance. All I can do is live each day with gratitude, seize every opportunity I get, and be ready for the day when my cucumber will ripen.


  1. I really really like this post.

  2. This is simply beautiful and so insightful... keep us posted towards your progress of that acceptance. I love that the panditji translated for you all, that you and Nikhil read Bhagavad Gita, and I love that you are courageously grappling with the concept and reality of death.