Died and Lived Again
Dignified, yet full of fun and laughter even
though she was nearing her seventies, Beji, as my grandmother
was called, was popular with young and old alike. The day she
died in her sleep was a particularly sad one for
everybody. In those pre-partition days, long before I was born,
telephones were rare and other means of communication relatively
slow. Therefore, though Beji had died in the wee hours of the
morning, it was decided to wait till evening to allow as many
relatives and friends as possible to arrive for the funeral. A
goodly crowd had collected by evening, and in accordance with
the usual rites, Beji was undressed to give her a last bath before
putting on new clothes for her final journey.
The bathing ritual began amidst chanting of hymns by our family
pundits, and the ceremony was almost complete, when Beji suddenly
stirred and came to life. Some relatives who were present stood
rooted to the spot but others ran helter skelter, thinking some
spirit had taken possession of the body. But it was nothing of
the sort. It was Beji herself who had returned, she said, from
the world of the dead.
The account she gave mesmerized everyone. Two strange people
came to fetch her, she related, and informed her that her days
on earth had come to an end. She must journey with them to the
other world. They took her through a dark tunnel which led to
a broad river. There, a beautiful pure white swan was waiting
to ferry them across the river. The crossing completed, Bejis
escorts guided her towards a large hall full of people.
They were not actually people, she said, and were very small in
size, but she could find no other word to describe them. Amongst
them she recognized friends and relatives who had died a while
ago. But she was given no time to communicate with them, as she
was marched up to a person sitting with a scroll like
register in front of him.
Bejis escorts announced her name, and said they had brought
her at the appointed hour and date. The person consulted
the register and then informed the escorts that though the name
was correct, they had brought the wrong person with the same name.
There was consternation, as it seemed that since Bejis time
on earth was not yet up, she would have to return and the particular
namesake whose time was up brought in her stead. The person
with the register and the two escorts conferred for some time
and were concerned that she had seen things which she should not
have seen. Finally, they informed her that there was a mistake
and she would have to return on earth, and they gave her the time
and date of her actual death - a good five years or
The escorts took her back the way they had come, but after they
had crossed the river on the swan, they buried her left foot
in the sand on the riverside and the pain was so excruciating,
Beji said she passed
out. When she recovered consciousness, she found herself naked,
with dumbstruck relatives and the family pundits staring at her.
After those who had run away when she stirred came back and heard
her story, everyone decided to convert the funeral into a celebration.
But they noticed a strange thing. Bejis left foot, which,
according to her, had been buried in the sand, was swollen and
remained in that state till the end of her days, which came exactly
on the date she had been given.
A month before she was due to die on the date she had been told,
she sent for all the people she was fond of, asking them to be
with her during her last days on earth. She had the servants cook
special things for them, gave away her most treasured things.
The night before she was supposed to die, she chose a soft grey
silk salwar kameez and matching dupaata to wear.
She hugged and kissed everyone, took her leave and retired for
the night. In the morning, they found her dead. But this time,
the family was not willing to cremate her in a hurry. They kept
her on ice for two days, just in case, and hoping there had been
a mistake again. But Beji never came back and was finally cremated
on the third day. ¦