Opinion » Open Page

Updated: October 27, 2013 02:08 IST

Can we care more for people when they are alive?

Satya Sudhir
Comment (7)   ·   print   ·   T  T  
Illustration: Prathap Ravishankar
The Hindu
Illustration: Prathap Ravishankar

Every year, November 2 is observed as ‘All Souls’ Day’ in the Christian Calendar. This day people worldwide honour and remember in prayerful commemoration, the lives of the ‘faithful departed’ into the world of the dead. A solemn service of lauds or vespers is held in church where the names of those who died the previous year are read out and a moment of silence is observed in remembrance and gratitude to God for their lives and souls. After this, family members make a pilgrimage to the graveyard where they tidy the grave, light candles, place garlands or wreaths and pray for the souls of their loved ones.

At the time of death, in most cases, relatives ensure that burial is done in the best possible way. Mahogany or pinewood is used to make the casket with coffin trimming of the finest velvet and lace, and coffin furniture of shiny brass fittings. The tomb over the grave is built of brick and granite facing, with a stela or headstone engraved with the name, dates of birth and death and an epitaph. The inscription is usually a Bible verse, poem, quotation or just a few words in lament or praise of the deceased. The top of the gravestone bears the ‘R.I.P’ acronym for the Latin words, Requiescat in pace meaning ‘Rest in peace’.

While some graves are flat and plain with just a simple cross at the head, others can bear additional embellishments like a false sarcophagus, allegorical sculptures, memento mori or marble statues of angels in grief, cherubs and doves.

A lot is done in sincere hope and an attitude of prayer for the departed to ‘Rest in Peace’, but today graves are being ‘Ripped into pieces’. The graveyard has seen the emergence of a new genre of thieves — Grave Robbers! Though graveyards do have a high wall enclosure and a sentry at the gate, they have become the haunt of not dead spirits but thieves, alive. Within minutes of the grieving relatives returning home after the burial, leaving construction of the grave to workmen, the grave robbers descend there. The grave, being fresh is easily re-dug and the brass fittings are removed from the casket and re-sold in the flea market. Garlands and bouquets are removed and re-sold again in the cemetery store. Expensive granite grave stones and marble statues find their way into the market to be re-sold. And, as if to hold honour among thieves, the booty is shared among all!

A few points to ponder, this All Souls’ Day:

In spite of the graveyard being the last place on earth I would like to find myself in after dark, it is the most peaceful place on earth before dark. For everybody is silent within the walls of the graveyard, both dead and alive. It is THE place for pondering. For here lie diverse people who in life were all different in appearance, status, ideologies and professions and yet united in death. The graveyard, being the storehouse of the dead on earth, is a focal point of lamentation, mourning and remembrance. As if in mockery of life as just a nugatory journey, it is the place where a person, after living a full life, goes from ‘dust to dust, ashes to ashes’.

A person who in life joined the rat race for success, after death, lies still lowered into the ground. A person who was always in a hurry, lived the fast life, huffed and puffed to get his work done, pushed others in front of him and broke queues to get ahead, in death, lies still, silent awaiting for the final judgment of souls. In life a person who worked 24x7 to buy himself mansions, farms and land, lies in a coffin buried in an allotted 8'x4' space, 6' below the ground, for eternity. In life, a person who shopped endlessly to buy clothes to fill his wardrobe wears only a single attire in death. In life, a person who acquired fame by starring on the cover page of an illustrious magazine, lies with his face hidden, unseen below the ground. In complete contrast to the life outside its gates, the graveyard is devoid of ‘who’s who’ titles, architect-designed shelters, SUVs, designer clothes or coveted diamond jewellery ... all material things we kill ourselves for to possess during the short and fleeting life on earth.

It serves as a reminder that living a life of selfish abundance is like chasing the wind. No matter what we do, while we are who we are in life, living where we live, who we live with, in the end every person is equal in death, lying beside somebody else in a graveyard common to all.

I also do believe that while commemoration, remembrance and paying respect to the dead is very important, being compassionate and loving to those still alive around us is even more important. What happiness does a parent or grandparent profit with the most expensive bouquet of orchids and carnations to adorn his/her grave where he/she cannot see its colour, smell its fragrance or feel the love it imparts? What is the use of building an expensive tomb over the graves of parents and grandparents when all their life they lived in an old-age care centre, and not at home? Is there any gain in shedding countless tears and speaking words over graves of those who cannot hear, sympathise or appreciate them? A more meaningful gesture would be to felicitate our loved ones while they are with us, be it with flowers in love or in appreciation of what they mean to us. It could be a pending letter to a grandparent, a phone call or visit to a parent, a get-well wish to an ailing uncle, a bouquet to an aunt, a card to a friend or just a few words of appreciation and encouragement to a depressed colleague in office. Rather than being treated badly in life and then being buried in an elaborate grave that will only get ‘ripped into pieces’, our loved ones will ‘Rest in peace’ in a simple grave if all their living life they were treated with kindness, thoughtfulness and respect. I hope this year, All Souls’ Day will be a day to honour not only the deceased but also those alive for, isn’t it a futile effort to seek the living among the dead?

(Dr. Satya Sudhir is an architect and her email is:

Keywords: All Souls’ Day

More In: Open Page | Opinion

Its a wonderful article though it hurts many with the hard truths behind.Inspite of knowing very well, that spending a fortune after death to show our might to the world,we don't stop ill treatment of our elders/fellow humans.The agony and sufferings that the elders go through presently during the life time are awful and this article brings the naked facts to the fore.Hope atleast 1% read this and decide to stick to the fair treatment of living Human beings rather than the dead.

from:  S.Muthupalaniappan
Posted on: Oct 29, 2013 at 15:41 IST

The views expressed by Dr SatyaSudhir is touching and every citizen should realize the hard efforts taken by their parents in bringing them up . The elderly should be taken care of and should not be isolated at old age homes or left alone in the posh bungalows/flats bought by them (leaving exceptional cases like acute health/mental disorders etc). Many parents need their near and dear ones by their side to share their feelings/experiences, but what is in reality is different ?.. only mails or chat etc. Spending money on a death day by posters , advertisements apart from other forms of celebrations(!) should be avoided. The cruelty further is that the parents are invited to the country where the children are working is to take care of their needs only (even though the parents enjoy it and offer their services !). Let us give a serious thought on these aspects and generate a good culture in the days to come

Posted on: Oct 27, 2013 at 22:19 IST

Reminds one of Albus Dumbledore's quotes: "“Do not pity the dead, Harry.
Pity the living, and, above all, those who live without love."

from:  Mallikarjunan M M
Posted on: Oct 27, 2013 at 20:58 IST

I cannot agree more with Dr. Satya Sudhir. We honor the deceased on
souls day but fail miserably to honor them during their life.
Care, love and affection for elders have become a thing of the past
specially in India where the joint family system has given way to
small fragmented families where most of the children live abroad and
substitute dollars instead of the much needed affection and concern in
the evening of life.
A good timely article to be read by all .

from:  s.srinivasan
Posted on: Oct 27, 2013 at 19:05 IST

I agree with you all the way. In fact I have advocated this principle for years.

Having said that, i wish to highlight the psychological aspects of rituals observed world over and rooted often in the scriptures. In spite of best intentions and efforts, there are a few instances in everyone's life when true sentiments are not fully translated into actions when people are alive due to various reasons. This develops into a kind of GUILT that torments the minds of surviving subjects. Early thinkers developed certain rituals and customs to act as cathartics to lessen the guilt, if not eliminate it. You will agree that this is an important role played by rituals in helping humans overcome guilt when there is no other alternative.

The Hindu scriptures have brought this aspect under a ritual called 'PRAYASCHITTHA". This is a psychological basis of rituals and customs, whatever their form and however absurd they may seem. Faith is powerful and faith works.

Posted on: Oct 27, 2013 at 16:52 IST

The write up by Dr. Satya Sudhir is very
interesting, timely and relevant topic. I fully agree with the
authors views on the attitude of most of our people and families who
just make a big hue and cry over the dead relative after they are no
more. I personally know of a few families who went on to build
memorials for their dead mother or father, while when they were really
alive and kicking in their old age period, there was neglect from all
quarters. Hope this article will be read by most readers and will
learn a lesson or two from the authors suggestion of more meaningful
gestures towards the elders while they are living and trying to meet
their basic needs when they are still with us.

from:  Dr.S.Gopalakrishnan
Posted on: Oct 27, 2013 at 12:54 IST

Very touchy and very philosophical. I completely sail with your views madam. For my part I am already practicing your advocacy. Living with concern ,love and affection to fellow brothers and sisters. l desire just hygienic burning of my body and want people to forget me to bother about contemporary world needs.My appeal is --Don't give pain to lives.

Posted on: Oct 27, 2013 at 11:38 IST
Show all comments
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Editor’s Note

Editor’s Note: Submissions on the Open Page are the extended comments of readers and in no way do they reflect the views of The Hindu.... »



Recent Article in Open Page

Illustration: Sreejith Kumar

Coping with WhatsApp

A contrarian view on the mobile messaging application and networking option that has caught on among a wide cross-section of people. »