Delhi Diary- Mourning

When I hop off the auto-rickshaw I am stunned by the silence that surrounds me. This is highly unusual, because whenever I arrive the many children of the street are arguing, whose turn it is today to ride on my back. Today not a single child is to be spotted. While walking down the street, I see that in front of Dadu’s house a big, orange shining linen sheet was hung up between two trees. Under the tree, in front of the house, on the neighbour’s houses steps people are gathering. Most of them are women all clad in the most colourful sarees you might imagine. They wear sarees in peacock blue, sarees in saffron-yellow, sarees in tomato-red with golden embroideries and sarees in forest-dark green. But their faces are all covered and the closer I come the louder I hear their voices, I hear them clamour and I hear them cry. I hear screaming and sobbing and a minute later I realize that the women and few men are gathered around a body, a death body and I need two more minutes to realize that Dadu is dead.

Dadu ,meaning grandfather in Hindi, was not only the grandfather of eight grandsons and three granddaughter’s, he was the grandfather of the whole slum. And even if it is impossible to say exactly how old Dadu really was, he was exceptional old for an inhabitant of a slum, were most inhabitants die in their late thirties. Dadu was an authority and in terms of the slum a man of quite modest means. He sold vegetables, as did his father, who even grew vegetables at the banks of the Yamuna and his eldest son sells vegetables as well. Dadu sat prominently on a chair, chewed betel and smoked cigarettes while chatting with neighbours and closely observing if his son did well behind the vegetable cart. Dadu had a talent and one has to recognize talent whenever it occurs. Dadu was able spit the betel out in a way that it landed almost but never entirely in front of everyone else’s toes. It would not be over exaggerating to say that Dadu was a true connoisseur in the art of spitting. And Dadu made good use of this art, he spitted at all the children, who tried to steal Okra or an apple from his cart, one truly can say that Dadu knew how to gain respect. Now Dadu lies wrapped in a colourful carpet in the middle of the street, his body underneath wrapped in white linen. The colourfulness of the scene stands in sharp contrast to the crying and clamouring women, who lean on each other’s arms, the cries of the widow are heart-breaking and seem to be repeated as an echo in her daughters and daughter-in-law’s cries, till they fill up the whole street in an ever-repeating sound. When I come to pay my condolences to the widow,the youngest son, he himself crying leads me to his father’s corpse and takes back the white linen sheet that covers his face, so I can see Dadu for a last time. Peaceful he looks, his mouth slightly open as if not sure if to light up a cigarette or to chew on a new piece of betel. For half an hour I sit among the family and the neighbours, trying to ignore the smell of the incense sticks and the black flies that are covering the body despite the big blocks of ice lying underneath. The crying and clamouring gets louder as if to proof that the sadness is true and the loss unbearable because all the neighbours are standing on top of their roofs, on the street, leaning in their windows and grief has to be visible and needs to be heard. When I leave more relatives come and three hours later the men of the family will carry Dadu’s corpse away to a place where the body will be cremated. In the afternoon the rain sets in, the widow sits surrounded by close members of her family on an iron bed frame, someone carried outside earlier. She is not crying, nor clamouring anymore, she sits there forlorn and lonely, sobbing and drenched wet in her colourful saree that is the saddest colourful piece of cloth I ever saw. In the meantime the children are back on the street. The big ice blocks that were left behind are too great an attraction to go unnoticed in a slum, where nearly no household has electricity. Soon, more and more bulky pieces of the ice disappear to keep food cool instead of Dadu. The widow seems not to notice, for today she is lost to the world she lives in.

One thought on “Delhi Diary- Mourning

  1. I thought this phrase, „the saddest colourful piece of cloth I ever saw,“ perfectly captured the emotions of your piece. Your ability to take me with you into a scene is uncanny.

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