Web Site: No Sunday Siesta
A child's unique curiosity and logic threaten a father's plans for quiet Sunday afternoon.
It was a lazy Sunday morning. Well, lazy in the sense that I wasn’t running around like a miniature tornado trying to clear away breakfast, get the kids ready for school, pack the lunches, and still be passably dressed myself, and on time for work. Passable, for my own appearance was all I usually aimed for, if my clothes were matching and on straight, that’s today’s job well done as far as I was concerned.
So Sunday, as I said was bliss, I could lie in bed until the kids woke. By some divine vengeance this was always at the crack of dawn on holidays, on school days an earthquake would have them rolling over for another quick snooze.
I had no rush to get ready and breakfast was traditionally late because the guys rose late. This being inevitable after a late Saturday night either out for a movie, or lolling in front of the TV watching repeats of all the sports they’d missed on weekdays. But being a late breakfast, it had to be sumptuous one, so the actual work somehow never reduced.
Nanni aged an all-knowing seven and Ravi aged an effervescent four-and-a-bit, were outside in the front yard, playing their version of Drive-Mommy-Crazy. They would zoom in at odd intervals with complaints about each other, for bathroom breaks, to plead for a snack, or just to make sure I was still at home. This last was a constant worry of theirs, brought about probably by my odd hours at work, being a hospital technician.
I had a large pile of beans in a colander, which I was rapidly stringing, and snapping into smaller bits, getting ready for mixed vegetable stew, a prime favourite with all. A bowl in front of me was already half-full with carrot cubes, cauliflower florets and fresh-shelled peas. In a large carton were peels and other debris bearing mute testimony to my industry.
I was treating my eyes and ears to a healthy dose of television programmes while my hands were deftly moving over the colander.
"Jaya, turn on channel two please.”
My father-in-law had slowly shuffled into the room, requesting me to turn on his favourite watch, the highly popular depiction of the Epic Ramayana. This serial was nearly a household craze in our city, most denizens being deeply religious and devoted to this rendition of story cum religious gospel.
I got up to locate the remote, which aptly named, was never to hand. I clicked to the required channel as he ensconced himself in the recliner and adjusted the cushions fussily.
The familiar theme music undulated into the room, drawing in some more diehard viewers, my husband and his brother. They pushed my paraphernalia out of their way and took over the sofa. Stifling the irritated sigh struggling in my lungs, I carefully loaded my lap again and sat on the pouffe.
Today’s episode began with a summary of the last episode as per set pattern.
The old King, Dashrath, was dying of heartbreak and taking a long time about it. His deathbed speech was amazingly coherent and long-winded. His queens surrounded him beseeching him to recover.
“Mom, what’s dying?”
Ravi had just dashed in behind me and was giving me one of his I’m-glad-you’re-here hugs, when he’d absorbed a little too much information from the TV screen.
I thought over my explanation carefully, knowing his propensity to respond to any answer with two more questions.
He repeated his question in more demanding tone, unwilling to give me much time for deliberation.
“Well...sometimes people get old, or ill...and become too weak to be able to do things easily. They are in pain and suffer...so God calls them and they go into a painless sleep forever.”
The flickering scene had shifted now to the post-death rituals, and as is common, depicted a funeral pyre. The details were quite graphic and I winced as the 'body' was consigned to the flames.
Sure enough, the little mind behind me was avidly noting and registering all the details. His voice piped up again, more loudly and plaintively “Mommy why are they burning that poor man?”
Jeev, my ‘bitter’ half, as I often thought to myself, had had enough of childish prattle.
“Enough talk, Ravi, run away now!”
There could have been no surer way to fix Ravi’s interest on the topic under discussion. He now leaned forward and stared in fascination at the unfolding events, watching the flames leap up and engulf the figure lying upon the pyre.
“No, really, doesn’t it hurt? But he’s not crying. I cried when I put my hand near the diya”. This was about two weeks ago, when an inquisitive hand had too closely approached the ceremonial lamps I had lit for Diwali.
This time the “shushing” came from all the other adults in the room, I tried to quell further inquiry with a meaningful glance, but Ravi was intent elsewhere.
Jeev jumped in with an involved explanation, to try flooding as a method of curbing curious minds.
“God wants people to be happy and well. So when they are unhappy or tired, or unwell or old...he calls them to him, that's called"dying. "When people 'die' their real selves go to God and only leave a shell behind. That shell has to be burnt so the real self can stay with God, it is an empty shell with no person inside to feel anything,” he said rapidly and firmly.
“Sort of like peas and their shells?” he insinuated, fortuitous glance having fallen on the carton of vegetable discards besides me. I recognised this gambit as an attempt to keep the conversation going. This was a way to lull the elders into making some rash statement or qualification which could be trotted out as justification for some future dubious conduct... Jeev was less experienced and having started the answer, it became a matter of pride to explain it clearly to his “intelligent” son.
“ No, not exactly, the physical body becomes unnecessary when the soul travels to God....”
Sunil as yet a stranger to the travails of parenthood, had less patience with the inquisition, and his concentration was being disturbed. Feeling that brute force was occasionally better than cunning, he picked up Ravi bodily and was carrying him from the room. Presumably to deposit him back in the front yard, where his attention should soon be diverted.
As Ravi was being carried out I could hear the upraised voice, squeakily determined to have the last word.
“But, Dadeeeeee...., when next you go to sleep, how long should I wait before I set fire to your shell?’
Jeev’s horror-struck eyes implored mine for a solution, all ideas of a gentle afternoon siesta shattered by ingenuous child logic.
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