Like most old cultures, we honour and celebrate our dead in elaborate, sometimes ritualistic ways, for days on end. Apart from the pre-arranged swatch of earth in the neighbourhood or the ancestral graveyard (they can be one and the same but not always) and the commissioning of an elaborate or austere gravestone, there is the selection of poetry for the epitaph (Urdu or Farsi, we must consult with Syed Saeb, because “taemiss chhu ath saet jaan”—he knows about this stuff); the early morning recitation of the Fateha and Sura Yaseen (among others) at the grave; and the not-unimportant decision of what flowers shall grow by the graveside. Besides all this, we Kashmiris simply like to get and live together after a death in the family, as people in many cultures do.
We like to cook a lot of food; we like to feed a lot of people. Some relatives, brought together by the glue of remembrance and a collective catharsis, refuse to leave for weeks. We talk and talk about the deceased—someone or the other always ends up mimicking the way they spoke. All this alongside daily visits to the graveyard, extended Qurankhwani sessions in the house, and poignant consolations among the grieving. Someone or the other always faints from exhaustion or a surfeit of tears. Some of us also take flowers and candles, lots of flowers and candles, to the grave.
In this way, we both adapt to and kind of adopt death. We own it. Neighbours and residents of the larger area, represented by that most marvellous and munificent of institutions, the mohalla committee (often headed by a wise, fearful, cranky, or somehow idiosyncratic sadr, “Sakh kaek magar aemiss warai hekne kahiin karyith”—He is very finicky but no one else can do it), participate in all this from the time of the first distress call. Amid ceaseless rounds of tea (“Samavar-as gov nae thakiyy!”—We had to keep the samavar going forever!), at least half a dozen genres of our Kaeshir bread are consumed in limitless quantities. The holy Quran is recited every night by the kin of the deceased and at least once a week by Moulvi Saeb and ensemble, accompanied by a feast involving insurmountable amounts of meat cooked by the local waza.
It is all comforting—do not judge—we pay tribute to and commemorate the one we have lost. As days pass, conversations begin to feature discussions about the number of people who came to the burial, to the fateha, and the chaharum. Depending on how loved, important, or well-known the deceased was, or all the above, numbers are cited and argued over.