Wednesday 29 March 2017

A boy left without a mother: 'If I cry for her it is no use. This is life, and this is death'

The dignity of Raj Kumar Khatri (9) as he cremates his mother is humbling, reports Jason O'Brien from Kathmandu

Raj Kumar Khatri and his uncle Ganesh
Raj Kumar Khatri and his uncle Ganesh
Crenmations of the earthquake victims at the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, Nepal. Pic:Mark Condren 30.4.2015
Raj Kumar Khatri (9) with his Uncle Ganesh Babu Rhaln at the crenmation of Raj's Mother Kamala at the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, Nepal. Pic:Mark Condren 30.4.2015
Maiya Shakya resident of Bungamati which was devastated in the Nepal earthquake. Pic:Mark Condren 1.5.2015
Crenmations of the earthquake victims at the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, Nepal. Pic:Mark Condren 30.4.2015
Crenmations of the earthquake victims at the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, Nepal. Pic:Mark Condren 30.4.2015
Crenmations of the earthquake victims at the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, Nepal. Pic:Mark Condren 30.4.2015
Anuja Maharjan (7) outside her familys restaurant near Bungamati which was devastated in the Nepal earthquake. Pic:Mark Condren 1.5.2015
Raj Kumar Khatri (9) with his Uncle Ganesh Babu Rhaln at the crenmation of Raj's Mother Kamala at the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, Nepal. Pic:Mark Condren 30.4.2015
A man clears his belongings from his home in Bungamati Nepal after the earthquake hit the region. Pic:Mark Condren 1.5.2015
Anuja Maharjan (7) outside her familys restaurant near Bungamati which was devastated in the Nepal earthquake. Pic:Mark Condren 1.5.2015
A man walks through rubble in Kathmandu, Nepal after the earthquake hit the region. Pic:Mark Condren 1.5.2015
Anuja Maharjan (7) outside her familys restaurant near Bungamati which was devastated in the Nepal earthquake. Pic:Mark Condren 1.5.2015
Crenmations of the earthquake victims at the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, Nepal. Pic:Mark Condren 30.4.2015
An arthquake victims is brought for crenmation at Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, Nepal. Pic:Mark Condren 30.4.2015
Jason O'Brien

Jason O'Brien

Raj has been helping with his mother's cremation for two hours, and is now surveying the burning body intently as it slowly turns to ash. But he has remained totally composed throughout.

Raj is being strong for his extended family, including his distraught uncle and his estranged father, who both hover in the background with other mourners.

“This is the natural system,” he says in perfect English, his face neutral, the reflection of flames flickering in his dark brown eyes.

“I am upset, but if I cry it is of no use to her or to me, is it? This is life, and this is death.”

Raj Kumar Khatri is nine years old. His dignity is humbling.

Since Sunday, the funeral pyres have been burning from early morning until late at night at

Pashupatinath Temple.

The temple, on the banks of the Bagmati River, is the oldest Hindu temple in Kathmandu, and a popular cremation site for the whole of Nepal.

Anuja Maharjan (7) outside her familys restaurant near Bungamati which was devastated in the Nepal earthquake.
Pic:Mark Condren
1.5.2015
Anuja Maharjan (7) outside her familys restaurant near Bungamati which was devastated in the Nepal earthquake. Pic:Mark Condren 1.5.2015

It is one of the seven monuments grouped together in UNESCO’s designation of Kathmandu Valley as a cultural heritage site, and dates back to 400AD.

The dead are brought here so their ashes can be floated on waters which flow in the Ganges, the sacred Hindu river.

A man walks through rubble in Kathmandu, Nepal after the earthquake hit the region.
Pic:Mark Condren
1.5.2015
A man walks through rubble in Kathmandu, Nepal after the earthquake hit the region. Pic:Mark Condren 1.5.2015

This week, for the first time in living memory and perhaps for the first time, the murky waters of the Bagmati have become clogged with the remnants of the cremation process – marigold garlands that were discarded and burnt pieces of wood.

Although official government figures are significantly lower, locals say upwards of 500 people were cremated here on both Monday and Tuesday, and a little fewer on Wednesday.

Raj Kumar Khatri (9) with his Uncle Ganesh Babu Rhaln at the crenmation of Raj's Mother Kamala at the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Pic:Mark Condren
30.4.2015
Raj Kumar Khatri (9) with his Uncle Ganesh Babu Rhaln at the crenmation of Raj's Mother Kamala at the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, Nepal. Pic:Mark Condren 30.4.2015

Hindus believe in reincarnation, that the spirit must be released so that it can come back again.

It is a lengthy ceremony.

Raj Kumar Khatri (9) with his Uncle Ganesh Babu Rhaln at the crenmation of Raj's Mother Kamala at the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Pic:Mark Condren
30.4.2015
Raj Kumar Khatri (9) with his Uncle Ganesh Babu Rhaln at the crenmation of Raj's Mother Kamala at the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, Nepal. Pic:Mark Condren 30.4.2015

The priests at the temple have worked out it takes a man’s body approximately four hours to be turned to ashes. The body of a woman, such as Raj’s mother Kamala (35), will take about three hours before the ash is pushed into the holy water.

“She died on Saturday, but her body was only recovered yesterday,” her brother Ganesh Babu Rhaln explains.

Kamala Khatri worked as caretaker in a poultry factory in the picturesque suburb of Bhaktapur. She had separated from her husband Jacet Bahadur a number of years ago, and raised their only son alone.

“She was a brave woman, a strong woman,” Ganesh says. “This is where Raj gets his strength.”

The younger man smiles, and turns his gaze back to the pyre.

“She used to give food, water and medicines to the hens,” Raj says. “She looked after them.”

The wailing of mourners at the neighbouring ghat – where another young mother lies - almost drowns him out.

Cremation is not a private matter here. 

Kamala was working on the second floor of the factory when the earthquake struck, knocking the five-storey building.  A Pakistani rescue team, with the aid of heavy lifting machinery, recovered her body and that of a colleague on Wednesday.

 “I didn’t know how to express my sadness when we learned about Kamala,” Ganesh said.

“Raj convinced me and the other family members that it is the natural system – he kept saying ‘everybody follows’.”

Three of the 11 official cremation sites in the area were free of burning bodies at 9pm Thursday night and the scenes of earlier this week – when bodies were stacked one on top of the other as relatives waited for a ghat to become available – now seem unlikely to be repeated.

Hundreds of bodies are still being found daily but it has now emerged officials, faced with health implications due to overcrowded morgues and week-old corpses, have ordered they be immediately cremated.

“Morgues are full beyond capacity and we have been given instruction to incinerate bodies immediately after they are pulled out,” Raman Lal, an Indian paramilitary force official working in coordination with Nepali forces, said yesterday.

The official death toll has edged above 7,000,  and there is still a lack of information from various remote and inaccessible villages near the Tibetan border.

Huge devastation is feared there. But it is confirmed elsewhere.

Lonely Planet describes Bungamati as “one of the prettiest villages in the country... a classic medieval village, dominate by the shikhara of its main temple”.

You can still just about make out how that description was possible.

Vast swathes of the ornate houses around the square have collapsed, leaving gaping holes to peer into people’s kitches and piles of rubble 20 feet high to negotiate. The village is a spectacular sight still – but for all the wrong reasons. 

Traumatised residents were yesterday trying to rescue some possessions; but it was impossible to know where or how to start.

Only the timing of the quake prevented many hundreds of deaths here.

“Most people were out working in the fields,” Maiya Shakya (36) says. “So we survived. But we are hungry. There is food in my house but you can’t get in.”

In fact you couldn’t see the ground floor of her home due to the huge pile of debris outside.

She smiled and offered a cup of tea from a small pot kept on a wall outside.

Her generosity Is humbling.

To help Goal's effort in Nepal visit www.goalglobal.org.

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