Over my dead body
She’s not afraid of ghosts — not even her own
I know the perfect spot to bury a dead body. It’s under the frangipani tree in my garden with its fragrant white blossoms falling gently onto the grass below. It would be nice to have the addition of a little plaque on the tree, indicating the presence of a mouldering corpse, though ideally not in those exact words. The body, of course, would be mine.
This particular wish has been made clear to my partner, but there still seems to be a multitude of things that could derail this arrangement. He could conceivably get Alzheimer’s and forget his name, let alone my final wishes. Or the tree could get infested with spider mites and have its own Ram Nam Satya Hai moment.
The more likely scenario, I suppose, would involve him getting remarried. I can just about envision his second wife, my Chanel bag on her shoulder, ordering my remains to be excavated because she doesn’t want her predecessor lurking around the garden anymore.
I attempted explaining these apprehensions to my husband one morning. “Listen, I have no intention of ever giving up my favourite spot! Over my dead body as they say and rather literally in this case.” He replied, “Nothing is going to happen to you. Have this every day.” And passed me his vile palak juice as if it were a Baba Ramdev-patented elixir for immortality.
I then tried roping in Mother as an accomplice as well. She immediately turned into a movie version of Nirupa Roy, putting her hands over her ears and screeching, ‘‘Stop saying such apshagun things.” In hindsight, approaching her with this plan was a clear lapse of judgement on my part as she has always had issues dealing with death. This was even more evident when she called me with a query regarding my late father recently.
“Daddy’s Otters club membership is expiring,” she said, “Should we renew it?” I then had to gently set a few things straight, “Err…Perhaps not, mom. Unless you think there is a strong possibility of daddy popping over from heaven to play a game of squash and grab a beer by the poolside.”
Dying remains such a taboo subject that each time I mention it, I am greeted by horrified reactions. It’s not like I enter cocktail parties, grab a mike and cackle, “The shadow of death is upon you all.” I only save it for appropriate moments, like the time when I was at a party and stuck with women droning on about their bespoke chairs and dustbins ordered in Milan, in an unrecognisable accent that can only be made and faked in Bombay. “Oh, a fur-lined dustbin how nice.” I said, “Tell me, have you planned what you would like done with your body after you die?” At which point, I have to confess, that it was quite entertaining to watch a frown or two fight its way out of a botoxed forehead.
The only halfway decent answer to this vital question was from a colleague who stated, “I am going to donate all my organs. Every part of my dead body should be useful and this way I leave something of myself behind.”
Impressed by her pragmatic approach, I decided to aid her further in her endeavour, “You know that gorgeous orchid tattoo you have on your arm? That bit of skin can be turned into a nice coin purse for your mom. Each time she has to pay the doodhwalla or the dhobi, she will pull out her little bag and feel comforted knowing that she too has a part of you with her always. People pay a fortune for crocodile and ostrich skin bags but this would be even better, virtually free and priceless at the same time. “
I don’t think my comment was appreciated because she just glared at me in a rather hostile manner. Next time, I have decided I am not going to be so helpful, let her dig her own bloody grave.
Posthumous preparations, though largely overlooked in the 21st century were an integral part of ancient civilisations. The Egyptians spent approximately 70 days embalming bodies, drying, stuffing and wrapping the corpse, before burying it with jewellery and other valuables. The days of having someone spend over two months preparing your dead body may be long gone, but for simpler requests like having only Huda cosmetics used on your cadaver, you could look up death concierge services like Everest. I was severely tempted to sign up with them, till I went through their sales pitch. This included a video with a bespectacled, geeky young man who said, “Hi, my name is Will and I am dead.” He then took you on a tour with his family who was apparently less distraught because he had left a detailed plan with the concierge service. The end of the video had Will’s mother raising a toast as she cheerfully said “Thanks, Will!” Her son then jauntily replied, “No problemo.” At which point I realised that if Will wasn’t already dead then perhaps I would have shot him in the head myself.
People seem to be uncomfortable with ruminations about death, seeing it as nothing more than a morbid indulgence. They would rather wave their pompoms for banal utterances like ‘Seize the day’ or ‘Live for the moment’. A sentiment that seems as foolish as telling a runner to be unaware of the finishing line. Would he not lose his bearings if he knew that he had to run endlessly for all of eternity?
Like Kafka once famously said, “The meaning of life is that it stops.” This perspective becomes clearer when you look at people who have bumped into the Grim Reaper and lived to tell their tales. Survivors talk about a transformation, a newfound gratitude for all the little things they had once taken for granted. A 2009 study by psychologists Adam M. Grant and Kimberly A. Wade-Benzoni also found that when people are reminded of their mortality, they become more generative, productive and purposeful.
However, if thinking about the end does not come naturally to you, then may I suggest downloading an app called We Croak. Five times a day it will send you a reminder, ‘Don’t forget, you are going to die’.
In my case, instead of the app, I plan to use my frangipani tree as a push notification. Each time I set foot into the garden, it will remind me to live better, to worry less, to pace myself, because I can see the finishing line right there, under the leafy, adumbral tree. A place where there will always be tumbling flowers bedecking my grave, even after my mourners have long moved on.