The most annoying thing about somebody dying - apart from the fact that they’re dead - is that everyone wants to know how they died. “There was a potassium and sodium imbalance” I’d tell them, an explanation that sounded very much like a cup of gatorade could have cured him. There would be a pause. “The stroke was at the lower part of the brain,” I’d continue, “the part that controls the breathing. And the heart, I think.” Occasionally I’d throw in lungs if it sounded like they wanted something more.
I’d taken over phone answering duties from Amma after Appa died. It was only three days since he’d passed and we were getting at least twenty phone calls every morning. Enough to take a toll, anyway. I went to the front yard to be alone for a while. As alone as possibly anyway, considering almost every immediate and extended relative had shown up for the funeral. I sat on the stairs leading up to the porch, near my two eighty year old grandmothers from some branch along my father’s side of the family tree.
“Not many crows around” said one, in Tamil. The other nodded. The Hindu death ceremony is thirteen days long and is full of arcane rituals and mystifying symbolism. The crow is a link between the world of the living and the dead. After death, the soul takes a long journey to Brahman, the binding force behind all of creation. Whatever the crows eat during the rites feeds the wandering soul - mysteriously, even after death, the soul needs to carbo-load before undertaking such an expedition.
So when the crows didn’t show up, it was as though the ancestors were disowning my father. Or so the grandmothers implied. It hurts to think of your father starving after death considering he had been tubed up and unable to eat for two weeks before he passed. By God, he didn’t even have enough potassium or sodium before he died.
I Googled what crows like to eat that night and unfortunately we didn’t have any insects or dead mice lying around the house. Fortunately, my father was a vegetarian. Fruit was last on the list but it would have to do. I woke up before dawn the next morning and sprinkled banana pieces and raisins and uncooked rice around the backyard, to entice the crows to come.
The problem with the food I used is that it’s not just crows that like to eat them. By the time everyone had woken up, we had sparrows, pigeons, magpies, and a lonely squirrel. But no crows. You could hear them, cawing, unseen off in the distance but they would not come closer.
The two grandmothers were back on the porch the next day. I had really want to look them in the eye - ideally with a crow on each shoulder - and say, “Not a shabby turnout, eh?” I sat down on the steps again. They were silent today. Funerals are for the living, anyway.