The funeral

When they first told me I imagined that it would be a place nearby and that I could get back for my experiment at 7pm.  It was Shim who first offered to me drive me to the hospital.  The funeral places, halls as I later figured out, are usually attached to the hospitals.  A case of soulful pragmatism, I thought; its convenient but in bad taste.  Dr. Kim announced by 4pm that he was leaving to attend the funeral.  I decided to go along with him because the rest of the lab had decided to join Shim.  Shim had gone home by then to come in appropriate dress for the funeral and pick us up on way.  I was in a yellow shirt with brown stripes and a black trouser.  Shim said since I was a foreigner it was ok.  And even otherwise except red all other colors were pardonable. 

Jaehon, a colleague, had already changed to white shirt and black tie, trousers, blazer and shoes.  He told me the travel and ceremony will take a long time and I realized I had to forget about the experiment.

Dr. Cho is our group leader and a likeable person.  It was his father’s funeral.  When I first heard the news, I had no idea I would be traveling to Suwon to attend the funeral.  It was only when labmates informed me that it was customary to attend the funeral that I made up my mind.  Ofcourse, I had decided that I would join Shim and Kim if they planned to attend.

The journey took about 2 hrs as we had to go via Kim’s apartment where he changed into blacks.  There are many funeral halls in the hospital; it’s a big hospital.  Kim had got two flags made of black velvety cloth with the institute’s name embroidered on it-the letters in white.  With the help of other labmates who had arrived a little while before us we arranged the too flags at the entrance. There were others too with lots of flowers arranged to form an arch.  I decided to follow Kim and Jaehon as I had no clue what I was supposed to do.  The hall is in two parts with a corridor dividing it.  From the gate we enter the corridor and a little ahead on the left is the first part.  Before entering the hall we could, keep some money in the envelope kept on a table and write our names in the register there.  The names had to be written with the alphabets following one another vertically.  I wrote my first name followed vertically down by my surname. 

Dr. Cho’s father’s photograph arranged amongst hundreds of white flowers form the main portion of this hall.  There were incense sticks kept on a raised platform. Kim went ahead and lit one. I did not venture to the same because Jaehon who was standing beside me didn’t.  Later on I observed that whenever people go in groups only one person lights it.  We then bowed in vajrasana to the photograph, I don’t remember twice or thrice.  And then to the three brothers, including Cho who were standing in an angle to the photograph.  They too bowed to us simultaneously.  I think we did this too a couple of times.  We were then asked to have food in the hall, the second part, across the corridor. 

I had the watermelon, nuts, rice balls and the fruit salad.  There was something which I thought must be vegetarian-it looked like tapioca.  But before venturing I asked Jaehon, who thought and said he doesn’t know what is the English name for the ten legged octopus.  Presumably, they were the fried legs of decapods?! When in doubt, ask.

I was told the ceremony lasts 3 days.  Today, 3 days later…Dr. Cho came to the lab and gave me a book. He said that it was a compliment and that I needn’t have done all that.  I am humbled. 

The book is one I had longed to read but never read, ‘One hundred years in solitude’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

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