Economic Lessons A Death Taught Me

Written By

Radhika R B

Thirty Loading

A few days ago, my mother-in-law’s death thundered on us like a shock.  One day, at 12.00 noon she just told us to wake her up at 1.30 p.m. for lunch but slipped into eternal slumber. The days that followed taught us a lot of things which generations have disguised under the veil of rituals but ensured the social and economic security of many less fortunate beings of Tamil Brahmin society.

The first one to make me wonder was Balan Mama, an octogenarian who led and gave instructions for all the rituals.  He is childless.  It is believed that those who do not have children can only perform the duties discharged by Balan Mama. I was really amazed by the thoughtfulness of our forefathers who took such good a decision.  In olden days, childlessness was believed to be a curse and such people were never allowed to take part in any social function. But, at the time of death-related rituals, such people were sought after and were treated with utmost reverence.  This might have been done deliberately to bring them back to regular life and to reduce feelings of being unwanted.

The next ritual that surprised me happened on the 10th day of the demise. On that day, special food devoid of salt and sugar was offered to the departed soul.  The only sect of society who prepared this food was the widowed ladies. This also made me wonder about the farsightedness of our forefathers.  In any Indian society, widowhood is the worst curse one has to face.  The widowed ladies were literally outcast even by their own blood relations or even forced to die.  Even if they survived, they never knew anything other than cooking.  So, in order to ensure the well being of those people, such a custom might have been brought into force. Our family priest told us that those food items must be compulsorily made by a widow and they do it on receiving order after a death occurred. There were ladies who educated their children to be engineers and doctors with the money earned with catering at funerals. I could not but bow before our forefathers who ensured woman empowerment in the days when Sati prevailed in other parts of our country.

Next, was a part which ensured that everyone gathers at the place where death has taken place. For the rituals lasting for 13 days, everyone who is paternally or maternally related to the deceased soul apart from the immediate family should be present to perform a particular ritual called Pradakshinam. I felt that this was practiced to ensure that the bereaved family is not left alone to face the grief. With lot of people around us, we found very less time to dwell on our loss to make preparations for the rituals. Thus, in the guise of rituals, our ancestors had designed a game plan to keep us busy soon after a death occurred. By the time all the rituals got over, we would have had enough time to accept the physical loss of our loved one.

All of these days, the food menu is totally different from what we usually cook.  So, we had to engage a lady who was adept at this kind of cooking. Enter Lakshmi, who is the sole breadwinner of her family. This was how our predecessors ensured employment for all. Her only source of income is cooking for such occasions and she is amazingly knowledgeable in all the rituals that took place. She prepared each and every item meticulously even before the priest mentioned about it.

Last but not the least, was the part of Daanam which means donation. The things donated are not very expensive, but those which are essential for day to day life like umbrella, a pair of slippers, a bed and such things including dhothies (white lungi-like dress that men use as formal wear in the southern part of the country). This made people who were total strangers to us come to our home to accept those things.

My mother in law taught me many things when she was alive. Even in her death, she left us some lessons for life – how each one of us has a role to fulfil and how each one is  required irrespective of their social and economic status. A mother remains mother forever and so does the void of her absence.




Radhika is a banker by profession, with a passion for writing. The happiness in her home is sponsored by her doggy- daughter Cindy. Travelling also triggers happiness in her mind.

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