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  • Writer's pictureanjali mohapatra

The final touch!

Updated: Aug 11, 2023

New York City. Our apartment was one among the thousands of apartments in that bustling city. My father with all of us (mom and one younger sister) came here just five years ago. I was in eighth grade then. We had so many colorful dreams to be accomplished in this ever-green city. But suddenly yesterday night, Dad felt uneasy and before anybody could notice him, he died of a massive heart attack. The doctor only confirmed. I heard a weird sound from Dad’s room but when I reached there everything was finished. I was transfixed. ‘What should I do?’ My blood was frozen to death! ‘Should we go back to India for the rituals or should it be here?’

I was the only one who could spread the news as my sister was too small. Mom was not in a condition to bear this sudden jerk. At last, I informed a few distant relatives who were also far from our house. They consoled me and suggested that I should go back to India for finishing the rituals. Some of them helped me to book the ticket for the next day morning.


The day we touched our land was the toughest one for me. I crushed all my pains, and my emotion inside my heart. When we entered the house, my eyes were already wet and Mama started a loud wailing. As if we lost everything! It was obvious, indeed. Hiding my own tears, I consoled her, ‘Ma, please keep patience.’ I arranged all the luggage then came to the sofa where mom and aunt both sat close together. Mom rested her head on Aunt’s shoulder and both were sobbing holding each other. Both were in the same phase now. I lost my uncle a few years back.

Our distant relatives lived in some corner of that same town. So, a great crowd gathered within a short time. Dad’s cousin arranged for the Brahman to perform the rituals. Some hot discussion was going on among the crowd.

'Who will put the last fire?’ someone asked.

‘No idea. The man has no son, that much I know,’ answered the other one.

I could hear their conversation. I was mute for a while except gazing at the familiar faces in that crowd. Some were unknown to me too. ‘Maybe Dad’s friends,’ I babbled out in a low pitch. Suddenly the wailing cacophony dragged me to the room whence it came. My aunt, holding my mom tightly with some other relatives started such a weird sound once again. Casting off my eyes from them, hurriedly I came back to the place where the hot arguments were going on.

No more I could keep silent. I said, ‘Pandit ji! I will do the last rites.’

‘You?!’ His surprise voice irritated me but keeping my patience I said, ‘Yes, Pandit ji. You heard me right- I, I will perform all the rituals. Any objection?’

Pandit ji looked at others, then in a coarse voice said, ‘But Beti, it should be done by the deceased’s son, not by daughter.’

‘Pandit ji, my father didn't have any son. What do you say? Should we keep the body here, forever?’ I spoke in a harsh voice losing my temper. The next moment I calmed down myself and said, ‘Pandit ji, I am both- the son and the daughter of my father. Don't bother with others' comments. Tell me what I have to do,’ firmly I spoke to him.

Even at that pitiful time, my grandma yelled in a shaking voice from the corner room, ‘Arya, O devil! How dare you say you would do the rituals? Have you lost your sense?! Girls are not allowed for rituals. Just go and sit somewhere. Do you want to put my son into hell? Go get lost.’

Her words pinched me like sharp darts. Stamping my feet, I came to her and said, ‘Why dadi maa, why can't I? Am I untouchable? Should I rent a brother, huh? What do you think, dadi?'

I was surprised on my own behaviour! Never before I retorted to any of my elders.

That time my eyes were swelled up with tears. I knew what pain she was going through but I lost my patience with her sharp words. She had lost her son and I-I.. my father! There was no male member in our family. She didn't approve of my idea, but I had no choice. After a long hot discussion at last all of them agreed that I would perform the rituals.

I was struggling hard to face the conservative society! I knew I have to pass through rough comments in the future. But, I was ready for that too. Thus, I made preparations for the final journey of my father.

With a few relatives and friends, our car fast moved towards Jagannath Dham- Puri. The fragrance of the fresh flowers could easily be perceived. I sat next to my father. My eyes were fixed on his face. I lost my sense and deeply I was plunged into some past memories with my dad.


‘Hey Arya, how are you striking the cork? Jump, jump high, and hit it. Don't you want to win? Come on, honey. Be quick,’ he expressed grinning widely. Both of us were playing badminton on holiday. I could never win over my dad.

Every time, he was addressing me, ‘Hey Arya, my little boy. Don't rest. Play aggressively then only you can beat me.’

Giggling loudly, I retorted, ‘Dad, I am not your little boy, your girl. Why dad, are you upset with me being a girl?’

‘No- not at all, darling. You are my little girl and boy too,’ he spoke and winked at me mischievously.

Often I asked him that same silly question and casting his eyes on the newspaper, he casually answered me, ‘Um.. no, but, a son is a son and a daughter is a daughter. How can you be a boy? You don't have that courage and physical strength like a boy, right?’

‘Dad,’ I grunted, ‘you will see, Dad. Just wait.’ Suddenly the driver gave a brake and my attention was diverted towards the road. In the middle of the road, a procession was going on with a good number of people. Somehow, the driver overtook them and finally, we reached at the burial ground. Getting down from the vehicle my relatives arranged the wood, ghee whatever was required. They carried the body and put him on the funeral pyre waiting for me to give the final touch.

That was the climax of the moment. For the first time in my life, I saw the dreadful scenario of the burial ground. My blood ran cold. I became numb. Till now I could see my dad’s physical appearance. ‘Can I stop it for good? With whom I was spending most of my time, who was so dear to me, how can I put the fire?’ Tears were trickling down like an unstoppable stream on a mountain hill and lips were trembling severely.

I didn't know whether I was conscious or unconscious! Even I couldn't hear the deafening sound of the mantras chanted by the Pundit ji! Suddenly someone tapped my back. ‘Yes beta, go on. Why have you become still? Go and put the fire,’ said Pandit ji but very softly. At last, with a shaking body, I moved forward and gave the final touch to the so-called rituals- Mukhagni! My loud wailing resonated in everyone's ears! I did it going beyond the tradition!!!

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