5 March, 2021

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Shawadi

By Silma Ahamed

Silma M. Ahamed

She clutches her shawadi to her bosom, cradling it as if it were the most precious thing she has. 

“Thangachi..”, I gently call her.

She doesn’t respond. I see her hands tighten around her shawadi with clenched fists that show her knuckles white. She rocks herself, I’m not sure if she is comforting herself or her shawadi. This necklace was what was placed on her by her husband on her wedding night, while she sat as a bride, beautiful and demure. A beautiful gold shawadi, with tiny white stones that sparkled in an intricate design. She had treasured it all her life, carefully screwing on the top plate that holds the stones to the base when she went out anywhere. At other times she only wore the base which was attached to the chain. She never took it off. Not even when she bathed or slept. That was until that fateful day seven months ago, when her husband died. 

My poor baby sister Raheema, my thangachi, she is still so young, so beautiful, but looking so frail and vulnerable. These last seven months since her husband died has wrought such a change in her. She isn’t herself anymore. Always talkative, joking, laughing, and so full of life. Now she sits as if the life in her has drained away.

“Thangachi..”, I gently stroke her hair and she looks up at me. Her eyes are vacant, expressionless. She mumbles something, incoherent. I draw a chair and sit close to her. She is crying now, softly, still mumbling, rocking, holding her shawadi to her chest. I wrap my arms around her, feeling her warm body shudder against mine. Oh my dearest darling Raheema, what can I do to ease your pain? I have failed you my little one. I, your Dhatha, who has always been protective over you, doted on you and wanted you to always smile, I couldn’t do anything to stop them from cremating your dear husband, who also had been a brother to me, a brother I never had. 

I remember that fateful day. He had been so full of life, when he had declared that he was going to cut the branch of that mango tree which loomed over your roof. That call you made, and your hysterical screams and sobs on the phone I can never forget. The terrible news that he fell, and was rushed by your neighbors to hospital, lifeless, already dead. I had rushed to hospital to find you there too. You cried into my shoulder, inconsolable, while I stood in shock, not knowing what to say, frozen. Your son, my darling Shaheem, stood there trying his best to silently console you, wet eyed, trying to make you sit. 

Everything else is a blur. A host of faces, known, unknown, family, friends, strangers. I don’t know or remember, if they were hospital staff or relatives of other patients. A blur. Words. Faces. Words. Soothing, advising. Suggestions, advice. Ideas. Comfort. Someone gave me a little prayer book which I clutched in my hand while more words poured all over me. Raheema still holding me and crying. 

That day rolled to the next. We had been brought to Raheema’s home. My cousins and my husband, and my male relatives were in hospital, trying to bring Wazeer home. We had to wash him and shroud him, and take him to the mosque. The final prayer had to be done, to be buried in the burial ground by the side of the mosque. As soon as possible, people say before 24 hours. 

But it didn’t happen. In a daze, these cousins were telling us that they couldn’t bring him home for one last time. They can’t wash him. They can’t shroud him. Worse, they can’t pray the janaza prayers and lower him to the grave that had been prepared at the burial ground. But the most painful and shocking words were that he was to be cremated. Why? He had been such a pious man. A good man, our Wazeer. A good husband to my Raheema, a doting father to Shaheem. He had Corona, they said. How could it have been? He was so healthy, so full of life, no sign of a cough or cold. He had only fallen off that tree. Corona? His test had come positive they said. No one was shown that report. Our family had pleaded and begged to repeat the test, to be met with only a refusal. 

They had asked us to sign those papers to cremate him. Our neighbours told us it is ok. They wanted us to sign, and collect the ashes and bury at the mosque. Those people in the hospital had wanted money. 50,000 rupees to cremate, for the coffin and all, and then 8,000 for the ashes. Money. We would have paid double that, or even four times that. We could afford it. But not for his ashes. We would pay that or anything for our Wazeer, to bury him the way we have known, the way he have been taught to always do. Some told us we should not pay. But our neighbours said we should, so we at least get his ashes, so we can have a place we know where his ashes rest. They said an important Mufthy too had said we could. 

We signed. We paid. We buried his ashes. Our neighbours comforted us. Then a barrage of praise, comfort and blame. Rained on us for weeks. We grew numb to what others told us eventually. All that mattered to us, me, was my Raheema and Shaheem.

I had seen Raheema withdraw and wither these past months. She seemed to move further from me every day. Buried in her own world, her laughter cremated, there was only the ashes that were her eyes, emotionless, grey. I would often find her clutching her shawadi, the shawadi she had hoped to give her grand daughter some day. But Shameem is only a child yet. Who knows how long my Raheema would have to wait to see that day. Shameem, seventeen, was still in school. I sighed. I turn towards the kitchen. It was time to make lunch for Raheema and Shameem. Raheema rarely did anything now, only stared vacantly most of the time. As I move away from Raheema, she clutches my shawl. I stop, my heart pounding with joy. This is unusual. She had never acted this way for a long time. I turn towards her and look into her eyes. 

“Thangachi..” 

But instead of empty eyes, there is fear today. She tugs my shawl and grips my wrist. Terrified, she whispers.. “Shameem, Samuel Mudalali took him in his car..”

Samuel Mudalali? What would he want with our Shameem? He was feared by many in the village, and people only whispered bad things about him. He was rich, we never knew how he amassed so much wealth these past few years. He was a businessman everyone saluted, and whispered behind his back. He was a close friend of a politician in the big city who people said was up to no good.

“Thangachi, tell me, where is Shameem now?”

I could hardly hear what she said, she was whispering. But I heard her!

“His golayas take him in the night. I’m scared Dhatha. Look under his bed. They gave him a gun.”

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Latest comments

  • 9
    5

    Such a sad story of pain and hurt. The minority in this country have endured a lot, because of the Rajapaksa’s, and their openly racist policies. Good people have had to face the anger of the majority, because of what terrorists and extremists have done, while they ignore the saffron robe and terrorists who spread hate, lies, and incite mobs to attack and kill the minority, who have done nothing. When the JVP were going around killing, no one labelled all Sinhala Buddhists as sympathizers or evil.

    Hopefully, this Rajapaksa racist policy of cremation, which has been criticized by the WHO, Health experts, and Human Rights agencies, will be the subject discussed at the UN, and answers will be demanded from those who implement these racist policies, implemented to hurt the minority, nothing else. Maybe someone should ask the majority leaders whether they will be okay if their dead is taken to a place and given to vultures to pick their bodies, as was done by a particular religion in India. Maybe that might open some minds, and evoke some feelings of empathy. Then again maybe not considering their racist tendencies.

    • 6
      3

      Very well written. This is what the Rajapaksas have done to a once beautiful country.

      • 0
        0

        OC
        It is an impressive narrative.
        But can we say that “(t)his is what the Rajapaksas have done to a once beautiful country”?
        *
        Does history start in 2005?

        • 0
          0

          S.J,
          Well, at least the Rajapaksas seem to have climbed down and issued the gazette. The various “virologists” on this forum, like Lester, Champa, etc must be licking their wounds.
          Yes, as far as Muslims go, the Rajapaksas have been pretty vindictive.

  • 4
    0

    A beautiful, sad story, Silma. I didnt realise it was a story until the last few paragraphs. But I imagine there is much suffering, as well as reaction, of this kind in Sri Lanka today, with the forced cremation inflicted on those to whom it is anathema.
    I truly hope that you and your loved ones do not have to endure anything of this kind. Many, if not all, of my friends and associates would join me in this, utterly against this assault on religious practices as they are.

  • 6
    3

    This is a very sad recent event. Tamils have been enduring very many sad events since Independence. The racist GoSL have successfully divided people to achieve power & wealth at the expense of Country becoming deeply in DEBTS. A country where the victims become the Guilty people and rotting in the Jails. The unworthy ones support the cruel crooked ones to rule over the country. I beg all different GODS in this universe to SAVE our country.

  • 5
    15

    The problem with some of the minorities, they only think about themselves. Under normal circumstances, the government doesn’t care how people are buried. Right now, there is a GLOBAL pandemic. Sri Lanka has had 80,739 infections, with only 450 deaths. India has had 11,028,114 cases, with 156,581 deaths. So, GOSL did an excellent job controlling the virus, but I don’t see any eminent persons or human rights champions giving due credit. If GOSL let the virus rage unrestricted, some will call it a war crime and ask the UN to hold a special session.

  • 6
    4

    Lester,
    “Sri Lanka has had 80,739 infections, with only 450 deaths. India has had 11,028,114 cases, with 156,581 deaths.”
    Please don’t introduce red herrings.
    Kerala, which is closest in climate and population to SL, has only 78 deaths.
    Can you confirm that India has cremated all its dead?
    I am sure you are capable of claiming that burials are the reason for high numbers in India.

    • 1
      1

      Old Codger,

      Your statistics are incorrect. Kerala had at least 1.04 million COVID infections with 4,119 deaths. Also, it is a medical fact that dead bodies can spread coronavirus. That does not mean it is guaranteed, but the possibility is there. However, when a body is cremated, the risk of spreading coronavirus is 0%. In this case, the GOSL erred on the side of caution, which is the right thing to do. The main reason is that the corpses need to be handled with extreme care, for which many funeral homes and morgues in Sri Lanka lack proper facilities.

      • 0
        0

        Lester,
        Yes, I goofed on the stats. But where is your proof for “it is a medical fact that dead bodies can spread coronavirus.” . Does this apply only in SL ?

        • 0
          0

          Lester,
          You also have to factor in that India, particularly Kerala, facilitated millions of returnees, while our government left them to rot in foreign camps or allowed its henchmen to make money on transport and quarantine.

      • 0
        0

        L
        Your numbers are right, but there is still a problem.
        Kerala’s fatality rate (deaths per 100 infected) is just under 0.4, compared to an average of over 1.4 for India.
        We were below 0.2 three months ago and now at 0.56.
        The infection rate shows a steady climb at around 1000 per day in Nov-Dec and now down to 500 per day.
        *
        Kerala managed its infection well until Malayalis returned in large numbers from other states. Yet it has kept a low fatality rate.
        Our fatality rate, unfortunately, is climbing

      • 0
        0

        Lester,

        What is it that is more dangerous, 450 buried dead bodies OR 80,739 positive cases polluting the ground water through their excreta, bath water, phlegm etc. everyday for the entire period of their infection. This is through the septic pits, drain water, hospital waste etc. All these end up as ground water in the surrounding land.

        Medical facts are very clear it is guaranteed that none of this can carry the virus nor infect any person.

  • 1
    1

    When the country is under the rule of Sinhala Buddhist Fundamentalists they create fear among other Buddhist Sinhala that every other human beings other than Buddhist Sinhala are danger to the Buddhist Sinhala community in Sri Lanka. Rajapksa’s always create an environment to keep this fear among ordinary Buddhist Sinhala, particularly in the rural sector. They also buy some Muslim and Hindu politicians who are greedy of money and power. Even the PM of Pakistan who came to Sri Lanka did not utter a word about Muslims in the Country but gave his support of cremation of Muslim bodies. Why he is not prepared to cremate the Muslims body in Pakistan if that is not against to the Muslims? Even the international community is not bothered about this problem other than to use it to get their benefits but keep Sri Lanka always a poor country.

  • 0
    0

    Interesting poem. but the writer forgets that regardless of the death that is constant and inevitable, there is a pandemic raging.

    A sad fact that has no place in the art she is trying to create.

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