The potential for book distribution at funerals in India
Am I the first to discover the potential for book distribution at funerals in India?
Diagonally across the street from my place, a few months ago a new family moved into what my (late) sociologist sister might have called lower to lower middle-class accommodations. In that time period, I noticed one of the family’s elder members becoming increasingly weak and once or twice being helped into an auto-rickshaw, obviously for a trip to the hospital.
The day before yesterday, he passed away. A shamiyana (decorative tent) was erected in the street, a few dozen plastic chairs set out, and a raised pallet put in place on which the body was placed and decorated with many cloths and garlands.
Our weekly nagar-kirtan party passes this house every Sunday. None of the family members has showed interest in accepting a book, but yesterday our new bhakta B__ came and told me, “They have agreed to us doing kirtan.” So around 11 a.m., Bhakta B__ and I went over with a pair of karatals and a few books in a bag.
No interest was shown by any of the family members or guests, but one older person among the attending relatives and friends, after standing there for maybe two a minutes, invited me to sit down. Not knowing Telugu, I spoke a few words in English about the characteristics of Kali Yuga and sankirtan, the yuga-dharma. The young bhakta somehow developed cold feet as far as translating my words so I just began doing kirtan.
A few of the women present clapped their hands in time. After ten minutes or so I told the bhakta to distribute the books. Again he defaulted. So I just remained sitting there, out of conscious regard for the ostensibly Vedic, religious nature of the event. By the forehead markings of the deceased and some of the attendees, I gathered that the family and the attendees are – at least nominally – Saivite. They are given, as I have seen in other of their gatherings, to drinking and probably other vices.
I remained seated for a few more minutes and softly chanted japa. Then, offering pranams to the deceased, to the attending priests and to the others, I got up and returned to my place.
The bhakta following behind, but apparently my admonishing him about his failings later affected him. Looking out of my window a while later, I saw several of the funeral attendees with books in their hands. Twenty-seven books were distributed, paid for the bhakta, he told me.
A few months ago, another neighbor, this time a friend, ninety-five year old Krishna Rao, passed away. He was a Freedom Fighter, someone who fought the British for India’s independence, having joined the Indian independence army at age seventeen. The funeral arrangements were looked after by his always dour-looking and sometimes criticizing son-in-law, but I asked my young friend Kaushik to ask the son-in-law whether he would take some books as presentation items for some of the funeral attendees, to complement the catered prasada arrangements made by him. To our pleasant surprise, he agreed. He took and distributed thirty-three books.