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Green eggs and White sheets


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The strange thing about some one dying in Pakistan is the bombardment of questions. They come to you from all angles, shapes and forms and from all sorts of people across the various stratum of society. Having been through more than a few close relatives’ funerals, and both parental wings, I take it upon my self to understand the difference of funerals, and what is currently trendy, what really needs to be done away with, and what just blazingly leaves you gobsmacked.

Dealing with loss is one of the hardest things in world, as humans we are made to love, and to care, and there are connections with people where love is unconditional, and when that is yanked away from us, it shakes the very foundations of our existence.

More often than not, the loss of the patriarch means a million questions about day to day life and expenses that are often taken for granted. Having said that, one would like to deal with this betrayal of life, and loss in a dignified manner, but things people say and do would make Shakespeare, with all his fangs in a dark comedy take a bow and sit down.

The Lungers

When they walk into your house, or personal space, they leap in to giving you a hug. If you let your body react to the hug, chances are they will never let go. You must stiffen your body and not make any arm movements that warrant encouragement.

The On Cue - Curtain Call Weepers

The ones who walk in just fine, in entirely starched clothing, and not a wisp of hair out of place, and as they say hello, on cue, the tears start rolling. The tears stop as you tell them all is OK and not to cry.

The Over-Saddendeds

The ones who walk in with heads hung low to their stomachs and refuse to meet your eyes. This variety comes in both men and women. Although, the women are always perfectly dressed in whites and pastels; some hanging their heads so low, that one can see the head, neck and bosom emerging as one.

The Phone Sobbers

The phone rings, you pick up the phone to hysterical crying at the other end. You are cautioned by your instinct to put the phone down but you don't and that, is where the mess starts.

The Others

The Others are the real estate agents who show up at the janaaza. You never really know who they are. They’re the people you’ll find standing in the driveway, never saying a word, waiting for you the break the ice of mournful conversation.

The Narrators

They are the best of the lot. Often a combination of The Others and The Curtain Callers, the Narrators lunge at you, ask every detail of the deceased, and repeat every word. A bit like karaoke, without the Asian charm of bright colors and ludicrous dancing.

I can already envision the outcry about disrespecting our culture. For the deceased family is far superior. How we can we belittle the very family values that keep families together! Here’s my come back to you:

Hogglewash. Bibbleboot. And Fugglemush. Our society and its traditions may be good for some things, but death certainly isn’t one of them. Very few people know how to behave, give space, and understand the importance of letting people grieve.

Some people need to vent out in public sessions, which is often a means to let people know the measurement of their grief. I do, however, think when the norms of the sub-continent society were being formed, a bakra walked off with the pages on How-to-Deal-with-Grief. After all, it could be much more entertaining like the Malagasy of Madagascar who exhume the deceased and party it up with them. Famadihana, is the name of the ritual, and it is the belief that the spirit joins the ancestors after the body has mixed in with nature. This is, and can be repeated every seven years and on joyous family occasions. Now, if this was Pakistan, designers would have orders for Famadihana, in addition to the Soyem outfit orders, which would give the lawn makers yet one more reason to adorn our roads with emaciated women wearing wallpaper prints from the 50’s.

Or better yet, be like the Sufi sect that celebrates death, as one has begun the promised journey. I would humbly like to request a sushi meal at mine, and I hope there will be several full and half witnesses to this request.

For the White-Wearing-Soyem-Going-Aunties-With-Carefully-Perched-Sunglasses, while you attend your dars, please be reminded wearing white is a cultural thing, comes from the many years of cross culture competitions. Like fireworks on Shab-e-Baraat, and more currently baby and bridal Showers with novelty cakes.

For the Off Spring of the Weepers, I’m sorry you’re actually connected to them by blood. Really. I am sorry.

For the Grieving Party, the event itself is a filtering process between people who behaved so abnormally that you could do with out seeing them ever again, and those who stayed away because they felt so awkward and they didn’t know what to say.

Death is a part of life. People come and people must go. Life is not black and white, it is several shades of grey, and in that grey one can and should find comfort and a way to respect the one who has passed away, while also celebrate the life they lived.

Illustrations by Sophia Balagamwala


The author is typographically correct and right aligned.


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Alia Chughtai is typographically correct and right aligned.

She tweets @AliaChughtai

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (9) Closed

Ali Imran Dec 17, 2012 05:40am
Nothing actually it was more like a space filling article or the ideas of a socially awkward person
Amima Dec 15, 2012 03:07pm
This is spot on. You missed one category though - there are the diners! Who come to eat the food and make the deceased's family look for perfect "boti" in the biryani for them. And I am really sorry for your loss and that you had to suffer all these again.
Ali Imran Dec 17, 2012 05:39am
The ideas presented in the article is that of a socially awkward person who would remain silent at the funerals and stand in a corner and silently observe the people around him/her quite indifferent to the tragedy that has happened. I agree with some parts of this article though most of it is just the observation of a, if i may say, wierdo. 'The Others' are just your neighbors who u are to busy in your personal life to know about. They come to mourn the death because the death in itself shakes you no matter who the deceased person was. My dear Mamu once died and we were sitting outside a balloon seller passed by he stopped and sat with us to offer fateha that was one of the most soothing acts i have ever seen that even a stranger knew how that how much death can traumatize someone
Vicky Dec 17, 2012 10:58am
Thanks, dozens and dozens of thanks, for writing this Alia. You deserve an award!
Nazy Dec 15, 2012 03:57pm
First day at work after a week's leave following my fathers passing, ....this co worker who sat right next to me carefully avoids her gaze and manages not to look at me AT ALL for half n hour or so and then when she absolutely had to get up and cross my desk, she pauses and says ............... "Babe heard about your dad, Sorry i'm really bad with condolences" and walks off :) people and their reactions *sigh*. Well written.
GDG Dec 15, 2012 07:48pm
Commendably written. Bravo Alia! Ditto Sophia... your drawings brilliantly complemented Alia's write up.
Baber Mirza Dec 15, 2012 08:48pm
Thank you. I recently lost someone very dear to me and what you described is not at all far from the truth. But I take it as it comes, and let it pass as it goes. Keep writing.
Shazia shaza Dec 16, 2012 03:13am
What's the bottom line? What is the writer trying to convey?
dumbo Dec 16, 2012 04:10am
Just my sentiments, we in the subcontinents should learn from the Irish and hold wakes and celebrate life of deceased.