After Death

by | Feb 13, 2020

A Cannibal Feast in Fiji, 1869 – Wikimedia Commons

Statutory Warning: Violence and Gore

It’s a bright sunny day as I walk through the heartland, somewhere in central India. A camera dangling around my neck and a rucksack on my back, I am there to conduct a study on the farming practices of the tribal population. I am mesmerized by the beauty of the landscape and quite taken aback by the self-reliance of the people. The economy here is a closed one with zero goods coming from outside. Very few people have been to cities and their stories have despised others of the city dwellers and their ways. After spending some time in the village, I decide to take a stroll and explore the deeper parts by myself. Traveling alone after a long time, I find myself stopping now and then to click pictures or just to take in the beautiful surroundings. The quietness of the place is heart-warming.

Walking further, I arrive at the outskirts of a village which opens into the jungle. There I find a group of humans, possibly men, huddled together, their backs facing me. I am intrigued by what they are doing. It looks like some secret ritual. I try my best to tiptoe and go nearer to get a better picture. Their dark reddish skin colour and wrinkled body, torn clothes barely covering them, makes me wonder who they are. They definitely don’t appear like village dwellers. They are so occupied in their work that they fail to notice me even when I am just a few meters away. Their skin is shining in the sun as they meticulously carry on with whatever they are doing.  And that’s when I sense that something’s wrong.

Something horribly wrong! A fully grown skull, possibly of an adult human is lying just inches from where the men are engaged in their activity. I hide behind a few rocks and observe them closely. I can’t believe my eyes. One of the men is scalping a human head while another is chopping a torso. Others are patiently observing them. One of the observers is sitting in a corner, feasting on blood socked organ as if it were a delicacy! Another kid nearby is playing with a severed hand, chewing on the fingers. Two women, possibly mother and daughter, are stacking a bunch of bodies in a heap while gorging out their intestines! Shocked out of my mind, fear, and disbelief weighing me down, I gather my breath as I stand there and watch. Cannibals. Not just one or two, but a family of them! Disgusted and full of fear, I feel breathless. Totally confused, whether to run or scream, I just shiver with fright. I am sweating and have teary eyes as I take in the ghastly act. Burdened with these thoughts and feelings, I realise I can’t just be a mute spectator anymore.

Noticing an axe lying near the rocks, I decide to do something. I pick it up, not knowing how to use it, I just made my mind to go for it. It didn’t matter as I was so overwhelmed with the emotions. Waiting for a chance to kill them all!

That’s when the kid notices me and points a finger in my direction. I lose a breath, as I made eye contact with them. The men stop what they were doing and turn to look at me. The man gives me the creepiest smile imaginable as he walks towards me with a machete in his hand. I can feel my heart pounding; I hid behind a rock. I can see him coming closer and closer. That’s it. I swing the axe in his direction with all energy I can gather with my eyes still closed. THUD!

There is a silence! Complete silence. I see a quivering headless body and a head on ground, as I open my eyes. I have killed a nam. A CANNIBAL. Just then, the taller of the two guys picks up an axe and starts marching in my direction. I need to do something now! I charge at them and in one stroke chop off his neck and his headless torso drops to the ground, motionless. The two women come rushing to him, wailing loudly. They meet with the same fate. Remaining two of the family retreats, with the kid in their arms. They show barely any emotion as they move back. But their eye contact is doing all the talking.

And then I run, as fast as I can, towards the village, waiting to tell people about these murderers, these cannibals that I just killed and got rid of. As I narrate the entire incident to the villagers, they just stand there speechless. Elders of the village start murmuring amongst themselves and I can sense the heated atmosphere. Instead of being happy and thanking me for my noble deeds, they become visibly upset. WHAT THE HELL?

The head of the village explains that the cannibals I killed were consuming humans who had died naturally. The villagers here don’t bury or cremate their dead. They believe in feeding the dead to the vultures. But as the vulture population dwindled considerably over the last few years, dead bodies started piling up near the village. That’s when they made a pact with a cannibal tribe. Under the pact, the villagers of the region leave their dead near the forest for the cannibals to feast on and in return, the cannibals leave them in peace. Unknowingly, I had wrecked this arrangement and now there was no going back. I feel as if I’m sinking from within! Feeling uneasy, I gasp for breath … WAKING UP.

I’m used to getting vivid dreams once in a while, but this was way over the notch. Dreams also tend to fade away with time but this one stayed with me for a few days and I could also see a message in it, hence this blog.

This story relates to the challenge faced by Tibetan Buddhists and Zoroastrians in India. Both the communities believe in returning the dead back to nature by doing open burial. In the case of Tibetans, they cut the body in small pieces, mix it with rice flour and feed it to the vultures. Parsis put the dead body in open casts in the Tower of Silence, where vultures reduce the body to the skeleton which is further consumed upon by the microbes and other organisms. Both practices are scientific as well as eco-friendly. But due to the decline in the vulture population, this practice has been affected. In Tibet, this practice has reduced considerably whereas it is no longer practiced in India as vultures are nearly extinct. Parsis now cremate or bury their dead as an alternative.

The tower of silence of the Parsi community in Mumbai, India
A sky burial site in Yerpa valley, Tibet

People around the world follow different methods – cremation and burial being the most common ones. Within burial, casket burial is the most common method used which is extremely polluting and expensive.

Under this process, the body is embalmed and drenched in chemicals and placed in a cemented block. This costs a lot. For convenience, many people around the world are opting for cremation, mostly electric ones. To adhere to the religious and spiritual customs they bury the ash in the ground or disperse it in the river or sea. Some even place it in a jar and keep it as a memoir. With land becoming scarce and traditional burial expensive and cumbersome, people are opting for more cost-effective, convenient and eco-friendly ways. Anatomical Donation, Alkaline Hydrolysis, Promession, and Composting are a few good ways to dispose-off the body.

I believe we are the only species that pollute the earth even after we die. If we wish to leave back a cleaner planet for the coming generation, it will be a good idea to follow new innovative and eco-friendly ways for final disposition.

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