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Death Amongst the Flowers

Holy Cow

INDIA | Wednesday, 14 May 2014 | Views [863] | Scholarship Entry

I thought it was a dead cow. The cow is revered in India, due to her nature of giving more to the world than she takes. Doleful cows wander the streets, pushing their noses into carts of fresh papaya and rubbing their protruding ribs against unwitting passers by.

As I got closer, I began to make out two large feet, with five toes each. Nausea swelled and burst in my throat as I realized that the swollen object languishing on the sand in front of me was a human carcass. His skin was discoloured by the sun and disfigured from the flow of the river rushing through his hollow veins. Monkeys danced in the waterfalls cascading from the cliffs above him, oblivious to the theatre of humanity rotting in the heat below them.

I felt enraged by the undignified nature of death, naked and nameless on a Tuesday afternoon. How dare death show up here uninvited, where wild gardens of flowers strung with strands of gold bloomed from the mouth of the River Ganges. I had come to India wrought with fears tangled up in mortality. I had come here to escape the tendrils of horror that crept up my spine in the mornings and to find peace, and yet here was death, unapologetic, fat and raw at my feet on the beach.

I spotted an Indian woman who I recognized from the ashram where I was living walking amongst the rocks and asked her what to do, finding myself trembling at the prospect of oblivion. She explained that the body belonged to one of the saints who have renounced all possessions and roam the shores here. She said that there are certain strains of Hinduism wherein a person cannot be cremated, and is instead given to the River Ganges. Mother Ganga’s love for the moon means that the river adheres to the laws of the tides, and the saint must have been washed up against the rocks. ‘Death is a part of life’, she said. ‘God has intended for you to see this today. He has given you a message that one day you will understand’.

Later, as I shuddered over a steaming mug of chai, I realized that death is an inevitable part of life. In the same way that giving birth or hitting puberty are human rites of passage, so is death. It appears unannounced within beauty but ought not to be feared, for it is the only thing that is certain in this ramshackle world.

That lesson was an intrinsic part of my journey towards acceptance, and I learned to celebrate the wild flow of life and everything it encompasses. I will never forget the day that I found a human body fading under the Indian sun.

Tags: 2014 Travel Writing Scholarship - Euro Roadtrip

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