Saturday, July 18, 2009

Last rites of Rajamani Iyer

All the relatives and friends had assembled. It was not a sudden end. Rajamani Iyer had been keeping unwell for some days. He knew that his time had come. He had called his priest (sastrigal) who was more of a friend than a priest to do some pujas to different deities to lessen the effects of his sins. He had also given money liberally to be given to the participants. He had some discussions with him privately when none was present. He generously donated money to various charitable causes in consultation with his lawyer. Being a methodical person, he organised his affairs with clinical precision leaving nothing unsettled. He was a leading lawyer and commanded a good practice. He was a rich man and had five daughters. His wife had died at a fairly young age. He did not marry again.
There was a muffled murmur amongst the assembled relatives as to who would perform the last rites for Iyer as he had no son. The priest had not yet come. His assistants were doing the prepatory work. It was only after he came things would be clearer as to who would be assigned this task.
Iyer’s body was laid upon the floor. His face showed no signs of pain or distortion. There was however, to the discerning eye, a faint smile was visible. The assembled men and women went round the body as a mark of respect. The daughters though sad did not wail but wept in subdued manner. With the arrival of the priest, things started moving faster. Everyone was looking at him with suspense written on their faces. The eldest son-in-law Sekhar went near him and gently asked “Sastrigal, who will be doing the last rites for the departed soul there being no son“
He replied”There is no problem .That is decided. Call Swaminathan to come here”:
“Which Swaminathan are you referring to?” Sekhar asked
“There is only one Swaminathan I know in this house. Call Kamakshi mami’s son quickly” said Satrigal
“You mean our cook Kamakshi mamis son?” asked Sekhar incredulously
“Don’t waste time asking questions now. I will tell you later. Go and bring him after giving him a bath.”
The boy twenty years old fully bathed came in wet clothes and commenced doing the rites as bid by the priest. The relatives expected someone from outside would be nominated by the priest for this purpose but never expected their cook’s son assigned that duty. The gloomy atmosphere was made gloomier by this fact. Soon the body was removed from the hall for the last journey amidst the hysterical sobbing of the daughters, accompanied by commiserating words of relatives and left for the crematorium in a van.
It was only late in the evening that they were all assembled in the hall after bath and a late lunch. They were discussing amongst themselves in hushed tones about the departed man, his good qualities, compassion and helpful nature. They recalled instances of his affection and generosity. But there was slight reference to the propriety of Swaminathan doing the last rites that was the prerogative of a son. Someone said that it was better that someone known to them did the obsequies than an unknown stranger.Afterall Swaminathan had grown in this large house since his very young days as part of the family with Kamakshi mami working for them for nearly two decades.
The priest came around 8pm and explained the nature of ceremonies and rituals to be done in the succeeding days and gave the list of things to be procured.After some general discussions, he took aside Sekhar to the office room of Rajamani Iyer.
“You asked me some question in the morning for which I could not give you a satisfactory reply then. We had to hurry up the ceremony. Secondly, it was a delicate matter that I wished to tell you only in confidence on the promise you will keep it to yourself.
It all happened more than two decades back. Your mother-in-law fell sick and Iyer brought this Kamakshi to help in the house. She was a destitute left in lurch by her husband who had run away. Some kindly soul had referred her case to Iyer who readily brought her home.
As you know she was fairly good looking.Within a year, Iyer’s wife passed away. Till then everything went well, Kamakshi took care of the house and the children dutifully. One day when there was none at home, devil entered Iyer’s mind and he forced himself on the hapless woman. Despite protestations, by virtue of his might, the gratitude she had for him and her utter dependence on him, she succumbed to his lust. Swaminathan is the result of the sin. He regretted later sincerely for his serious crime and never touched her again in his life. He agreed to own up his mistake and even offered to marry her. When she refused, he begged her to keep it a secret and continue to serve the family as before and that he would take care of the boy as one of his children.
When he fell ill, he called me one day and broke down when he told me of his misconduct and wanted that Swaminathan should do his last rites being his son. I learn he has in his bequest left considerable money for Kamakshi and her son. The lawyer will tell you in due course. Let us not sully the image of my friend Iyer by making this ugly news public. I trust totally your discretion in the matter.”
Later at dinner when everyone was curious to know, what the priest was telling him in private, Sekhar said ” Sastrigal was explaining the onward journey of the soul to the astral world and generally about after life. He also specifically said since Swaminathan has performed the last rites of Iyer and will be doing all ceremonies for him in future, he must be regarded as his son and given the respect and place due to a son”
Kamakshi mami who was standing by the door of the kitchen and hearing the conversation wiped the tears from her eyes.


  1. great ...i get to drop in first .. wow
    however not xactly the kind of one i thought to see ..
    the muffled sulence n all ..
    anyway, your taste is no less insipd ..

    great going sir

  2. Its a very touching story sir.
    When Shekhar mentioned about Swaminathan for the first time, I thought that might be because that boy had been very close to Iyer and stuffs like that. But when the truth was revealed it kind of took a new turn.
    I enjoyed reading it.

  3. i saw the climax coming, i guessed it. Nice story nonetheless.

  4. I think this whole social nonsense about son doing the last rites should stop. Is a daughter also not the parents' offspring? Won't it be fair to say that the first-born offspring should do it, regardless of gender?

    And, salvation of the soul depends on the spiritual category of the soul when it departs from the world. Salvation does not depend on who does the last rites or even on what happens to the body.

    Krishna Himself has said that whoever dies while remembering Him, gets purna moksha or total salvation. Krishna has not spoken of sons or daughters.

    Parthasarathi, do excuse me because I just had to express myself.

    Your story, in itself, is a good one. Have a nice day :)


  5. Its an interesting story , I thought may be one of the daughters would be doing the last rites..nice plot.

  6. liked the story..the due respect was given to the kid and mother, a fair play after death.

  7. Why did not Kamakshi mami accept iyer's proposal is what ponders me.
    Man proposes and woman disposes is the order of the day and so be it in iyer's case.
    Nice post :)

  8. touching story, but i knew how the ending would be.. and yeah, i go with avin in the question.