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"If Your Father Dies on Holiday in India..." by Sumitra Singam

If Your Father Dies on Holiday in India and His Brother Whom You’ve Never Met Conducts His Funeral, Then Where For You Paining?

CW: death, funeral, mental illness

My uncle has a transistor radio on his shoulder, and he talks to it, spidering his fingers into

his own sign language. He squats by the priest, his veshti stained and ripped where the

white muslin meets the green border. His shocking pink balls pop into view. They have a

spiky halo of hair like a bunch of rambutans. His penis is draped on them - a finger of ginger drying in the Chennai sun. The priest mutters something, and he sits cross-legged, pulling the muslin skirt over his knees. He settles to the sonorous Sanskrit chanting.

Acrid smoke from the homam fills the room. “It’s supposed to be cleansing,nah?” Athai says.

Dad’s sister. It’s pushing tears and snot into me, body fluids that were never there before.

My father’s body lies wrapped in muslin, cotton wool shoved into his nostrils. I keep

worrying that he can’t breathe. Mum is a lead statue next to me - she doesn’t move, doesn’t

say anything.

“Such a pity he never had a son,” Athai tetches. “Now our paithiam brother has to do the

rites for him.”

“Why didn’t I ever know about him?”

“Adi shakkai! As if we like to talk about him with his schizophrenia and all. He’s been here

this whole time whether you Australia people knew about him or not, isn’t it? So where for

you paining?”

His feet are cracked, ravines running through the soles, black with ore. He picks at his big

toenail. Click, click, click. He continues chanting, following the priest’s hard thas and nasal

nyas. Dad was only fifty-four. I have a terrible thought that people with mental illnesses are

the ones supposed to die young of heart attacks.

Athai tetches at me to be still. I can’t get comfortable on the hard floor, but I cannot leave

either. Next to me mum sniffs, but when I look at her, her face is blank, as if she is patiently

waiting her turn at the shops. I rub my sweaty palms on my salwar, try to breathe past the

homam smoke. I wonder if I’m having a heart attack myself.

The priest stands, nodding his head like a listing boat. He’s saying they want to take dad

away and burn his body.

I can finally go outside. I take gulps of air like it’s water. My uncle comes out with his

transistor radio. He smells sweet and musky, like a rotting apple. I work on slowing my

breath. He points with his chin, “My brother died.”

“I know, he was my dad.”

My father’s brother pooches his mouth, considering. Finally he shrugs, “He was my brother

for longer, isn’t it?”.

Sumitra writes in Naarm/Melbourne. She travelled through many spaces to get there and writes to make sense of her experiences. She is a proud Malaysian-Indian-Australian coconut. She’ll be the one in the kitchen making chai (where’s your cardamom?). She works in mental health. You can find her and her other publication credits on twitter: @pleomorphic2


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