Chapter 11: Of the Friend
Our deceptions are very deep, our cunningness very subtle. We give beautiful names to ugly things; that is our oldest strategy.
In India, when somebody dies, and people take him to the funeral ground, it is called mahayatra - the “great journey.” The man has died, but the people are deceiving themselves with a beautiful word: the “great journey.” They are trying to hide the reality of death behind a curtain. Basically they are afraid of their own death.
I have been, in my childhood, to many funerals - I loved going to the funeral processions. My father was worried; he said, “You don’t understand that the man who has died was not our relative, was not our neighbor, was not even acquainted with us - he was a stranger. And nobody has invited you to go to his funeral rather than going to school.”
I said, “I have learnt in funerals much more than I have learnt in my school.” And many things became clear to me, even from my very childhood. People in a funeral procession never talk about death - never! I have never heard them talk about death. They talk about everything else: about movies, about politics, about a thousand-and-one things except death, which they are carrying on their shoulders.
And I was amazed - when the dead body is burning on the funeral pyre, people are sitting not facing it, but keeping their back towards it. And they become divided into small groups, because they have to be there for three, four hours, so that the body is burnt completely, and in these three, four hours all kinds of gossip.. I used to move from one group to another. I was just looking for someone who was talking about death - but I have never found anyone.
They are not sitting silently either, because silence is dangerous. They are keeping themselves engaged in talking about something or other. They are creating a barrier of words between themselves and the death that is so close. The man who has talked to them yesterday is burning in the fire; they will never see him again.
It is customary, in the parts where I was born, that before the dead man’s body is set on fire somebody important in the locality speaks some beautiful words about the dead man - in his praise. And all those words are false, because I had known that man and the qualities that were being attributed to him were simply fictitious.
I have asked many so-called respectable men who were speaking, “Have you even thought that whatever you are saying is lies?” And I have received the same answer again and again, that you cannot speak anything bad about a dead man. You can speak lies, but you have to praise him.