Saturday, 6 June 2009

Three colours- Black

Tonight, husband is watching Die Hard 4.0. I guess he would like to think he could kick a** like Bruce Willis. Whereas I can totally relate to the geeky hacker.

Today, to continue this colour trilogy I started, the colour is black.

And black, without a doubt, is the most popular colour back home. Azeries live by Henry Ford’s principle that a car could be of any colour, as long as it is black. The same rule applies to clothing. In both cases I have a sneaky suspicion that the fashion is somewhat dictated by the idea that black does not show dirt and therefore, can be washed less frequently..

But black is also the colour of funerals.

On my mother’s first ever visit to the UK we saw an elegant hearse, shiny and long, with a lacquered coffin inside, and one dark blue rose resting on it. It was the most subtle, most beautiful funeral procession we both ever witnessed. A small group of relatives were quietly standing near it as we walked past. My mother said that she wished she could have a funeral like that- peaceful, quiet and elegant.

So of course, that got me thinking -what did I want to happen to my body when I die? I always thought it did not really matter as when I am dead I won’t care anymore. Until I relocated to the UK, and found out they tend to cremate everyone. And that thought did not appeal to me at all. Yes, I know I would be dead and all that. But for some reason, the idea of being burned just makes me uncomfortable. However elegant the journey is.

So, I thought, if not cremated, then is being buried better?

In Baku, we like fancy funerals. We hire enormous marquees that we install in the yard or right on the streets. There are always a few women wailing away, the louder the better, and I bet there are professionals you could hire, in case you don’t have enough relatives who are genuinely that distraught.

We serve a lot of chai. And a lot of halva. And if we can afford it, we cook plov and feed everyone. Then there are Thursdays. Every Thursday is a mourning day, and more people come for more chai and halva. And there is one week’s mourning, and the 40 days, and probably some other special days I am forgetting.

I have a theory there must be a good reason for this palaver- You get so worn out by all the planning, organizing and cooking required, you have no time to get depressed, or understand what had actually happened. So all this cooking (coped with worrying about how much all of it is going to cost you) is a good distraction.

The last funeral I attended back home was when my grandmother passed away a few years ago. I had to board the plane on one day’s notice as we normally bury our dead the next day - according to the Muslim traditions.

Speaking of which, this is where I think Azeries are still very confused.

Being part of the Soviet Union had an enormous impact on Azerbaijan. During Soviet times, religion was not allowed. All of a sudden, as the country got its independence, people rushed to claim their own identity back. And religion became increasingly popular. But here is where the problem lies: Not that many Azeries actually seriously practice Islam, or know what they are meant to be doing. Especially, when it comes to such a serious matter as funerals.

My grandmother was an atheist and did not want any religious ceremony.
However, my younger cousin decided he was now a traditional guy.
As a few men lifted my grandmother’s body up to carry her out of the flat, he panicked whether the body was facing the correct way. Is it the feet that were meant to be leaving the flat first, or the head? No one knew for sure. After a short hesitation, the body finally got taken downstairs.

The confusion continued as my cousin questioned whether women were allowed to go to the cemetery, or should be waiting at home. Finally, he attempted to stop me from washing my hands when we got back, because according to him women had to wait until men washed their hands first.
I guess, in hindsight, I should be grateful to him. The anger I felt that whole day helped me cope.

As for my own funeral…Well, I guess a few people will get together and see my coffin disappear behind the curtain in a crematorium. They will then come back to either our house or a pub, and have some sandwiches. I imagine a bit like at a toddler party, only with the crust left on. And I want everyone to have a few drinks, and discuss how mad I was and share a good laugh. And maybe a few tears as well. It is a funeral after all.


  1. After reading this post, I realizaed I have never give a thought about what I want for my funeral. Maybe it´s wise to leave some instructions.
    And about those women who cry in pain, sometimes hired women, in Spanish they are called plañideras. But I guess they belong to the past.
    All the best from Lima.

  2. L love your blog,really nice.s

  3. I continuously plan for my funeral. Have a large envelope with pics I particularly like; choose and list hymns to be sung because there MUST be music. Death has never been feared from my small corner and planning for that eventuality is rather quite a good time. You know me...Robin's Mom!