Yesterday’s Times of India had a very interesting article. As China’s rich push up rates, tombs out of reach of poor. The article describes Qingming tomb-sweeping festival, an annual event in China which falls on April 5.
The Qingming Festival is an opportunity for celebrants to remember and honour their ancestors at grave sites. Young and old pray before the ancestors, sweep the tombs and offer food, tea, wine, chopsticks, or burn joss paper accessories to the ancestors. It is believed that the when joss paper accessories are burnt, those reach the dead souls. With the changing times, the Chinese are burning paper crafted iPads and iPhones apart from replicas of refrigerators, TVs and currency notes.
The article then talks about the rising prices of graves in china. It is real estate. They are not making the land any more. . Tomb space that comes with a 20-year tomb maintenance guarantee now cost between 30,000 and 60,000 ($4,500 and 9,000) in and around major cities. This is far beyond the paying capacity of most Chinese families.
Speculative trading of tomb space encouraged by the rich booking their future place of rest is one reason for uncontrolled price rise in tomb space. This is one of the problems that the atheist Communist leaders have failed to control.
In a tiny country like Japan and in Hong Kong, the real estate a so scarce and expensive that they have come up with multi-storied grave yards or roof top grave yards.
The vast majority of Japanese are cremated. In a ceremony relatives collect the ashes, picking up pieces of bone with chopsticks, and placing them in a ceramic urn. The remains are then buried, usually under a family tombstone. But in the high-rise graveyard, the urns are stored on shelves instead.
All this talk of graveyards and graves reminded me of an essay by Pu. La. Deshpande, the noted Marathi humourist. The essay was written in 1975 and was titled एक पत्ता हरवलेला देश (a lost country?). It contained his initial experiences and first impressions of the USA and comparisons between Indian and US culture.
One episode in the essay is about a family which has just moved into a new town. They have a conventional house warming ceremonial puja. After the puja, and lunch, everyone is just settling down when the phone rings. The family head picks the phone. From the other end, a voice says, “Hello, I am the curator of the graveyard here. We have two nice shady spots for graves, right under an Oak. Would you like to reserve them for you?”. The head of the family explains that they have cremation and not burial, thanks the caller and keeps the phone down.
Pu La can’t believe his ears. Someone is talking about death, booking a place for a grave when one has just arrived in the neighbourhood, and you thank him? If someone in India called up saying, “Hello, we are the cremation arrangers. We have just received two straight bamboos. Would you like to book them for you?”, he would get the thrashing of his life.
For those uninitiated in the last rites of Hindus, Dead bodies are carried for cremation on a ladder-like bamboo structure called the “Arthi” in Hindi or Tiradi in Marathi