The Blue Suit

Last week, on the way to the Foreigner Registration Office we got stopped by the lights opposite the crematorium. The only reason I know it’s a crematorium is because of the two tall, thin, metal chimneys that can be seen above the treeline. And the reason I recognise the type of chimney?  Because when we arrived in Mumbai there was a crematorium near the hotel we stayed in. We had to pass it every time we went into town. That was also at a set of lights, so lots of time to stare.

At the Mumbai lights you could see into part of a courtyard. I noticed that sometimes there were big piles of wood and sometimes they were gone. There was a huge metal mural on the outside wall and the three chimneys were decorated. Ahhhh yes I thought, this must be a temple. So I asked the driver.


“Is burning place ma’am”

“Errrr I’m sorry….”

“Is dead people burning ma’am”


There’s nothing like basic communication to dispense with niceties and euphemisms. After that, every time I looked in I’d note the size of the wood pile.

Since being in Pune I’ve seen several funeral processions. One actually on it’s way to the crematorium mentioned above. Previously, the only funeral processions I’d seen were in the UK; a black hearse carrying the coffin, a fleet of black cars behind carrying the mourners. All moving at a slow pace…discreet and somber. The processions in Pune were a lot more matter of fact. That doesn’t mean I  think they were any less solemn, just very different. The deceased was carried on a bier down the street, the  mourners walked along, behind and in front, chatting to those next to them. This is slightly alarming to see when it’s on a main road, with the traffic whizzing by. What is VERY different is that you can see the body, or rather you can TELL it’s a body. Usually the deceased was covered in a shroud…but not always.

I’ve seen a few now, obviously living near the crematorium makes it more likely. I can even see the very tops of the chimneys from the back of the apartment. I do tend to close the windows on the days I see smoke…

I didn’t see any funeral processions in Mumbai but I did see a dead person.

Traffic in Mumbai is horrendous. At peak hours it’s worse (I couldn’t find a word to top horrendous). There was a hill, a one way road near the apartment, that in the morning was used as a cheeky two-way by tuks and bicycles and the odd car. No problem when it was quiet. When it was school kicking out time it was a nightmare to get through, even with everyone respecting the direction of the traffic.

One afternoon, sitting at the bottom of the hill, trying to get home and avoiding the dodgem school buses I see a van at the top of the hill, trying to make it’s way down. Well! Who could be so stupid? And so began a running commentary/stream of consciousness that went something like this…

“Well that’s stupid What an idiot We’re going to be stuck here for ages Idiot delivery man  What kind of idiot delivery van is that with glass sides? (parallel to the idiot van now) Why are there flowers? What is that? isthataohmygoditisit’saDEADBODYgaaaaaahhh!”

And yes, it was. It was a glass sided minivan with a platform, on which there was an open casket surrounded by flowers and laid out inside was an elderly woman dressed in a navy blue suit. This was visible to anyone who wished to take a look. People in their cars, people walking by, the kids on the school buses…There were no mourner cars, no one accompanying, just the van obviously trying to get this lady to her funeral.

I won’t lie, it freaked the bejesus out of me. I had to call my sister.

I LOVE Predator. It’s one of my favourite films. It has a body count of 64 (tame these days). When I watch it, do I think about the number of bodies piling up as the film progresses? Do I actually consider that, even though this is isn’t real , these people are gone? Of course not! I’m too busy reciting the dialogue and waiting for the classic line “She says the jungle just came alive and took him” (The 2005 film version of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe has a body count of 86 and that’s a kid’s film!). Have I ever been freaked out by a film as I was that day? No!

These are only make believe, but today the media is full of real images of death; casualties of war, natural disasters, accidents… I do notice though that the UK media doesn’t show such graphic images of events on home soil. Is it ethical to publish these disturbing photos? Is it ok because these events don’t take place on our doorstep and we can detach ourselves from the horror? I don’t know. I find them upsetting…but easily switched off, rather like a film. I also find that the images are becoming more and more graphic. Are we becoming so blasé about these images that the media feels they need to become more shocking so we take notice? Apparently so.

What I’m trying to say is that I’m glad I was affected by my experience in Mumbai. It is reassuring that I still have a feeling heart. I’m listening to Monteverdi’s Vespers  because I need something beautiful to get me through the discomfort of thinking and writing about this.

I don’t need to see funeral processions every day. Nor do I need to see anymore bodies being transported in a glass sided minivan, but I do think it was a very matter of fact way of being exposed to death which is sometimes what we need. We need to see things in a relatable way so we can truly empathise. Death, as it is laid bare in the media today, can seem sensationalist and far removed from our everyday lives; the lady in the blue suit made it real. for the body count stats.




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