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Our Poor “Graveside” Manners
Dr Saad Bashir Malik

I recently attended the burial of a friend’s mother. Along with others, I entered the graveyard feeling sad for him and his family who had lost their mother, but when stepping out of the graveyard after the burial formalities were over, I also had something else to feel sad about.

As the actual burial takes 15-20 minutes, I stood in silence at a distance from the grave to allow space to the close family members to participate in the proceedings. With this time slot at my disposal and with little else to do, I must confess I began to look around at the gathering of the people who were also there in attendance. What I observed was certainly not new for me but somehow it seemed more revolting than ever before. I saw men scattered in small groups, spread at a little distance from the burial site and engaged in heated discussions over national politics, totally oblivious to the nature of the occasion they had come to participate in. There were others who were cracking jokes and frequent bouts of laughter could be heard as if they were sitting in a café. No less disgusting was the sight of men talking ceaselessly on their mobile phones right next to the burial site. No, it was not an emergency: their discussions involved commercial deals. They surely were great believers in “business as usual” rather than the fear of the Hereafter. And there were, of course, those from the distant family who are always there to act as the self-appointed masters of ceremony. They insist on pointing out the insignificant lapses of the burial procedure and ensure that their voice is heard well over the others’. They will, for example, insist on the precise placement of the concrete slabs, the density of the sand and cement mixture and a lot more, yet all of little consequence.

I returned from the graveyard filled with the additional grief of what I had just witnessed. These were all highly educated men, belonging to the upper social class of our society. So one cannot dismiss this atrocious behaviour by the usual thought -  “lack of education.” My mind ached with different questions. Why are we so poorly evolved morally and socially that we fail to restrain ourselves to remain silent for as little as 20 minutes, as a mark of respect for the deceased and the family? Why can’t we use those 20 minutes to recite prayers for the departed soul or else why can’t we just stand in silence and perhaps think of our life in the Hereafter which all of us are going to face sooner or later?

The endemic disease of hypocrisy in our society has infected our funeral proceedings as well. Few friends and relatives are affected with any real grief. Most appear at the funeral to present themselves before the family of the deceased and have their attendance registered. Some even use these occasions to initiate and maintain social connections. After all, funerals are the only occasion when you can visit any family uninvited.

Perhaps we need to develop better do’s and don’ts for “graveside” manners with particular emphasis on reminding people that as a mark of respect for all those who are buried in the graveyard to please abstain from non essential use of mobile phones and further, not to mistake the graveyard for a social café where they can engage in idle talk. And if one is too enslaved by these addictions, then it may be better to stay away and not pollute the peaceful surroundings of the silent graveyard.

Let the dead rest in peace!

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