Thursday, November 03, 2011

All Souls' Day--Remembering a Friend at Rest in Coimbatore from Atlanta!

It has been 15 years, since I was able to observe All Souls' Day in a cemetery, as I used to in India. Here in the USA, it is all pretty sanitized and within the church -- with lighting of the candles and reading of the names of the loved-ones, who are no more. It is different.

Naturally, I was lost in thoughts at the bilingual Mass at St. Thomas the Apostle in Smyrna, Georgia.

I am not sure how All Souls' Day is celebrated in India these days.

But, my memories around the Sungam Cemetery in Coimbatore are one filled with crowds, cleaned-up and white-washed cemeteries with crucifixes festooned with garlands, flowers and other decorations, besides candles and perfume-sticks. Some may not have visited the cemeteries for aeons, only to be lost as to where their loved-ones' resting place even existed. Ouch!

Lots of people of all ages will be there. At 6 PM, the concelebrated High Mass by the Bishop of Coimbatore with his Vicar General and Diocesan priests will commence. Most of the time, it rains. I do not understand the connection, though :).

I miss all of that, especially, Latin chants. Notwithstanding the turbulent IInd Vatican Council and its fallout in Latin being passé , the only last vestige of those glorious days is the "Libera Me" soulfully sung as a Gregorian Chant. The then Bishop of Coimbatore, Late Dr. M. Ambrose, had a uniquely cut-out voice to lead his congregation with this Latin Chant. Something very powerful about this song is that it will move anybody to tears, especially the portion where it goes "judicare saeculum per ignem" and "quando coeli movendi sunt et terra". I have seen its powerful effect on the congregation, which almost in its entirety did not understand Latin. It is a fitting testimony that music is language-agnostic.

In India, we were not lucky to have been exposed to Latin. It is as alien as Greek! Thankfully, my Father knew a little bit of Latin. So he used to sing it and I used to love him all the more for just that :) Later he confided how the stentorian Bishop Dr. Ambrose was his Rector and made sure he memorized those Latin songs, which only the Bishop, a few priests, and a few elders knew by heart. Good old days!

At least up until November 2nd, 1996, they used to finish it off with "Libera me", at the end of the mass, in Coimbatore. Hope they continue these days as well.

In India, people aren't too sensitive about going to cemeteries. For me, it wasn't a big deal as my maternal grandmother was laid to rest there and this place was just a stone's-throwaway from my school.

Since 1st grade, I remember going to pray at my grandmom's cemetery all alone, besides the once-a-year ritual of November 2nd, when there will be lots of crowd. Abutting this cemetery is the Nirmala College for Women, where I remember girls giggling and calling other girls to show a small boy walking all alone with a candle :)

I never knew why that was a big deal. I had my own fears -- fears of snakes, but, not of souls at the Sungam Cemetery.

Whenever I go to Coimbatore, I make it a point to visit many of my relatives, friends, teachers, priests and nuns laid to rest, besides my maternal grandmother. 

Last time I was there, I spent some calm time before my classmate and friend, who died 21 years ago in a freakish choking accident at dinner-time, when we all were busy preparing for our 10th grade exams.

Had he been alive, I have no doubt, he would have been a Nobel Prize front-runner in Science. No, this is not eulogy. People, who knew this prodigy would vouch for what am saying.

I remembered him today at Mass. This snap was taken in April 2010, at his Cemetery in Sungam, Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, India. In a way, it connects me to all those distant memories of 10,000 miles and 15 years.

Despite distances of space and time, precious memories are innate, immanent, and within. I am afar, yet, very close. 

"Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine; et lux perpetua luceat eis"!


(Minor corrections made, since original post.)

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