By Ravi Prakash
That day, the vast crowd on the road took me by surprise. I was riding back home from the school in the village where I teach. People had jammed the road near a cremation ground. I stopped my bike to ask a man: “What happened? Why are there so many people on the road? They must be thousands in number, don’t you think?”
“Don’t you know? Manglu died this morning. All these men have come to attend his funeral,” the man told me.
“Oh, was he a great leader or saint?”
“No, he was a great funeral attendee.”
“A funeral attendee! I had heard of poets, leaders, and saints whose funerals attracted a crowd like this but never of someone called a funeral attendee. What was so special about him?” I asked again.
“Manglu never left a funeral unattended if he came to know about any death nearby. It was his legacy.”
“Oh, achha!” interjected I, and, having nothing to say more, started the bike.
“What is so great about that?” I thought. But the crowd I was moving amidst defied the arguments my thoughts provided. This dead man must have been a man extraordinaire in his lifespan.
But who cares?
I made my way somehow into the crowd and moved the bike ahead.
I came home. The day went as usual, but I realised that I could not stop thinking about that funeral attendee.
The next day, in school, during recess, when I put a question about the dead man while chatting with my colleagues, it at once caught everyone’s attention. The head teacher, a greybeard, and a native of the village knew about him. He narrated Manglu’s story:
“About thirty years ago, Manglu had to leave his native village Kherupura due to the disastrous flood. He could never return, for the flood had engulfed his village. The whole of it had vanished into the Rapti.
“Manglu had nowhere to go. His father died in that flood. His mother had died earlier — a few years ago, and, as he had no sibling, he was left alone with his wife, who was pregnant at that time.
“He had to move out. Destiny forced him to live a nomadic life. He came to live in Silva village near the main road, which connected two headquarters of the adjacent districts – Shravasti and Bahraich.
“At first, the couple lived under a tree, but later on, seeing the condition of Manglu’s wife, the village head gave him a small piece of land. On it, he built a mud house. They lived happily for a few months, but Manglu could not save his wife till the following year. She died, I believe, during her childbearing. Manglu was all alone after that tragedy. He had no one whom he could consider as a family. His relatives were living in different places. He could go to any of them, but he decided to live on his own in the village.
“To make ends meet, he worked as a woodcutter, a labourer, and a hawker, but he never left the village. After his day job, he actively participated in village life and attended every function and funeral, either invited or uninvited. Since he had no one he could call his own, he started regarding everyone as his own. No one took him seriously, but he maintained this routine.
“After many years, finding himself unable to do hard physical labor, he opened a kiosk-like shop by the roadside where he sold petty items like cigarettes, tobacco, and paan. He made acquaintance with everyone who came to his gumti. Motorcyclists, bus drivers, hawkers, rickshaw pullers, peddlers, and beggars – men from all walks of life were his friends. In a year or two, Manglu acquired such fame that people started talking about the directions and distances by referring to his kiosk as a distinctive landmark.
“Manglu never indulged in hoarding money; he devoted himself to making friends. Anyone could purchase from him on credit. And such a good-natured man he was that even the vilest man paid him back.
“He widened his social circle. People from adjacent districts knew his name and his thatched kiosk. I would say that he was more famous than a monument. In those days, too, he never left any funeral unattended, either in his village or in any other ones. If the dead belonged to another village, he would take a ride as soon as possible. Sometimes, people at the cremation ground wondered why he had not arrived yet, but he always arrived sooner or later.
“As he grew older, he found himself unable to run the shop. He took shelter in one of his friend’s houses to spend his last days. He could not walk straight then; he suffered from camptocormia–the bent spine syndrome, and he had to take the support of a bamboo staff. He roamed in the village all day with the bamboo staff in one hand and enquired about the well-being of whosoever came in his way. Even at that time, if someone died somewhere, he would try to go there to attend the funeral.
“The villagers thought he had a mania for attending funerals. And thus, in the last days of his life, people started calling him ‘the funeral attendee.’ He had become a piece of curiosity for the youngster in the village.
“And then, he died yesterday. The news of his death spread like wildfire. Can you believe that more than two thousand people attended his funeral? I am not sure what exactly all this resembles, but I would say that Manglu must be smiling in heaven.”
 Connotes– Is that so? Literal translation from Hindi — yes.
 Betel leaf
 A small stall or hutment
Ravi Prakash teaches small kids in a rural primary school. He lives in a small town near the Indo-Nepal border in the district of Shravasti, Uttar Pradesh.
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