During our trip with Nigel around New Delhi we were treated to some extraordinary sights, with Nigel focusing on cultural elements of the city that a tourist probably would not plan into their day. But which are an integral part of the fabric of India and for which a visitor is all the poorer for not visiting. You might not think that a couple of hours spent at a crematorium would hold much a appeal. Yet in a strange way it formed a powerful part of our visit. Mortal Hindus are cremated quite quickly after death and the process is an interesting reflection of society. The rich parade their deceased on an open bier, covered in marigolds and send them off with a very large fire – the firewood is purchased at the entrance. The very poor, some of whom had passed away on the river bank beside this crematorium, are picked up by “social workers” and given a solemn send off. We watched both. Interestingly, in each case once the fire was under way all spectators left, and the fire was left to blaze away on its own.
It is a good place to be reminded of our fleeting passing, and while intriguing (without being morbid – India wears everything out on her sleeve and this really is a good example of death being a part of life) it also was a sobering visit. But it was a good place to see death put in perspective as well. For directly in front of us a beggar woman had been placed on a bier, lifted to the top of the pyre, and the fire lit. Immediately after the crematorium staff departed another beggar jumped the fence and rushed over to the fire. We had all just ducked out of a heavy shower but this chap must have been caught up in it. The heat from these fires is intense. Very quickly he pulled off a pair of pants (revealing another underneath) and held them up to dry while he placed another garment on his head to get the same effect. Shortly there was a cloud of steam pouring off him. Here he is, giving a new level of meaning to “recycle”, while keeping half an eye on the crowd off to the left who were saying farewell to a wealthy businessman. I don’t think anyone in that crowd chased the beggar off -it is not that sort of place after all.