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The Offing


It wasn’t real until the funeral. In Botany out by the DHL delivery centre. I had never been to one for a close family member before. And the water, it wasn’t the Ganges. A traditional Hindu ceremony. They had my Appupen’s name up on the screen, but of course it was spelt wrong. We told them and they quickly corrected it.
I don’t think I’ve seen a dead body before. He looked peaceful. Apart from the way his hands were placed – awkwardly crossed over. Brown, leathered. He had always looked so young for his age. When he was much younger in India, he almost got caught for resisting the British. A communist. Later I found out he and my Ammama took a taxi from Tehran to Baghdad, to escape the Iranian revolution. I wanted to move his hands because it looked uncomfortable.
We’d bought lots of flowers, and one by one placed them in the coffin. Stiff daisies, roses, gebras. Layers upon layers. The poojari started chanting some prayers. We placed sandalwood, ghee and seeds with him. They will cremate his body. I imagined the fires.
The smoke.
My mother’s glasses had become full of little rivers that I couldn’t empty because of social distancing. Before the second and final ceremony, we ate no meat to cleanse, in order to release his soul, The poojari gave us holy water, told us to let it go in moving water, later on. By then the shops, cafes, and restaurants had already closed. I was re-adapting the n95 mask I had from the summer. The smoke was now a pandemic.
The beach near my parent’s house was not the shores of Kovalam, Thekaddy, the Kerala backwaters. But there was a blue line between the ocean and the sky. My mother and I in our active wear, released the holy water there, in a recycled San Pellegrino bottle.



This poem is part of a suite of poems titled How to Wrap a Sari for Beginners.

Go to Gayatri Nair's profile to read more poems