A memorial service, after the death of a person, sets the Christian way of life far apart – at least from the Hindu way of life. This claim is based upon what I have witnessed in the US only. Amongst the Hindus, generally, the grieving period goes on for thirteen days (average time for the transmigration of the soul!) in an unstructured manner. On the 13th day (shortened as convenient) after death, a priest leads a prayer session including homa/havan, recital of specific mantras in Sanskrit and group chanting of devotional songs. During this Hindu ceremony, though rarely, eulogies are read or delivered by friends and relatives. I remember ‘forcing’ myself into saying a few words at my mother’s post funeral ceremony, held in Bathinda on July 20, 1997. Nevertheless, during the 13th day ceremonies, the entire atmosphere remains somber and sullen, and the gathering disperses quietly after partaking the prasad (blessed food). Nevertheless, in both Christian and Hindu scenarios, a closure on the departing life is brought about so that friends and relatives can move forward with their lives.
Perhaps, like any social event in life, say Christmas, school/college graduation, wedding ceremonies, sporting events, the Americans have also taken memorial services to new heights and levels. That is another reason that, I am irresistibly drawn towards the memorial services of friends and colleagues – even to ones remotely connected to. Besides, it serves as a mortality check or a reminder necessary to stay on an even kneel in life. I am always surprised and amused to learn the multi-dimensional nature of the deceased person. Normally, we know a person only through one lens of life. It is no different from the tale of five blind persons describing an elephant by touching one part of its huge body. In a memorial service, an ordinary person does become extraordinary for a while – I do feel uplifted in my small shoes.
Well, today, after attending a memorial service of a music professor of 47 years (mine going into 45th) – held on UNLV campus, I remarked that a memorial service defines the life that a person had lived. Besides the outpouring of emotions in scores of indelible stories, which colleagues, friends and relatives recall and share, it is the number of people, the venue, the ambience, the use of technology for showing the memory lanes, the refreshments and beverages, layouts, mementos and decorations – in fact, the total organization of the event, that speaks of the legacy of a life just passed.
There is a resonant effect of memorial services which I recently experienced. A few days ago, the death of a professor of my History of Mathematics national group was jointly announced by his son and daughter. What caught my attention was a plan for the celebration of their father’s life in three memorial services in three different US cities. Instantly, an ‘ahha’ came into my mind for three memorial services after my death – one at the UNLV campus, another in Bhatinda, and the third one on the campus of Panjab University, Chandigarh!! That was it – no time and space at this moment for my rationale for it.
The bottom line is that the US type of memorial service of/for a person’s passing after the age of 70 should be of total celebration of that life – mixed with humor and nostalgia, highs and lows, laughs and tears – thus, turning a life into a unique symphony.