SHOMA A.CHATTERJI | 6 APRIL, 2020
Covid19 Alters Funerals and Rituals - Celebrity Deaths During Lockdown
Satish Gujral, Nemai Ghosh, Nimmi, PK Banerjee
During this critical time of the coronavirus pandemic, the significance of grieving, and the manner in which we perform funerals and death rituals has been altered. The option of cremation is at the discretion of the family but is not required for the purposes of infection prevention and control.
But what happens when a very famous celebrity passes away during the crisis not of coronavirus but for reasons resulting from old age issues? Their death rites, irrespective of the religion they belong to, are trimmed down almost completely because of the mandatory need of social distancing. The person who has passed away is beyond all this. But her next of kin, close family, relatives, admirers and friends can no longer offer their last respects in person because the crematoriums and burial grounds have stopped permitting more than ten people to attend the funeral. Rules on the lockdown specify that attendance at funerals should be as low as possible, with only close relatives and friends attending. But as even private ambulances don’t have permission to ply, families of the deceased have no means to reach the crematorium for last rites.
It is a very sad situation that we have never witnessed before. War martyrs are vested with great honour like the gun salute. Though they are not alive to witness this, their grieving families can at least take some solace from the fact that their dear one has been bestowed with celebration even through death. Flowers are not available and even if they were, one is not allowed either to take them to the bereaved family in person or send them through someone because social distancing forbids one to do that. One cannot send them through any messenger because there would be no delivery man to deliver these.
Four famous celebrities died of old age over the past two weeks. None of them fell victim to coronavirus. But they were very successful and famous in their own fields of human endeavor. The celebrities concerned are – world’s outstanding footballer and football coach P.K. Banerjee, great still photographer Nemai Ghosh who was an institution unto himself, Nimmi, a very successful and famous actress of the Bombay film industry much before the term “Bollywood” was born, and one of the greatest artists India has ever produced – Satish Gujral.
The bereaved family of PK Banerjee on March 23 strictly followed the social distancing norms as the legendary footballer's shraddh was performed at his Salt Lake residence, to fight the spread of COVID-19 pandemic. Banerjee's two daughters Paula and Punra appealed to everyone not to attend the 10th day of the funeral ritual and only two of his four surviving brothers attended the ritual in the afternoon. Banerjee died at the age of 83 on March 20 after a prolonged illness. He was on life support for close to a month.
"My father was a socially responsible person and in such a time of crisis, we cannot just ignore the lockdown appeal by the head of the state and country,” said his elder daughter Paula Banerjee. PK da. That's how Pradip Kumar Banerjee aka P.K. Banerjee was lovingly called by his legion of fans. For football-crazy Bengalis, the striker was one of their own—the ‘da’ stood for dada, meaning ‘big brother’ in Bengali. “We should not do anything that put human’s lives at stake. That’s why we are strictly following social distancing. At no point there are more than eight or nine people.”
He was probably one of the finest footballers India ever produced. Along with his exploits on the football field, what endeared him to the masses was his vast knowledge of history, politics and society. He was a very garrulous and friendly person and did not wear any starry halo around his head. He sat next to me at a function and at once, he introduced himself and went on talking ceaselessly, his talk filled with delightful anecdotes he was famous for.
During his trips across the globe (he was sent to World Cups by the then Communist government in West Bengal), Banerjee met with legendary footballers like Eusebio, Michel Platini and John Cruyff. He used the opportunity to meet world-class coaches and learn from them in order to give the best training possible to Indian footballers. He coached the Indian football team for around two decades and remained connected as the team's adviser till the first decade of this millennium.
Initially, the family was given special permission to accommodate 150 guests for the funeral with chairs spaced out according to the social distancing rules but the two daughters and his brother M.P. P Banerjee, called this off and allowed only ten people close to the family to attend in person.
Nimmi, famous for being publicized as the “unkissed girl of Hindi cinema” passed away in a Mumbai hospital on 25th March of a heart attack. Some of Nimmi's notable works include Barsaat, Aan, Uran Khatola, Mere Mehboob, Pooja Ke Phool, Sazaa, Akashdeep, Kundan, Bhai-Bhai, Love and God, Banwara, Aandhiyan, Daag, Deedar, Bedardi, Wafaa to name a few.
At the London premiere of Aan, she received four serious offers from Hollywood, including Cecil B. DeMille who greatly admired the film and Nimmi's performance. Nimmi declined these offers, choosing to focus on her flourishing career in India. After the great box-office success of Aan, Mehboob Khan asked her to appear in Amar (1954). Nimmi played a poor, milk maid seduced by a lawyer (Dilip Kumar). Its controversial subject of rape was way ahead of its time and although the film was not a commercial success, Nimmi's intense performance and the film were applauded by critics. She is the only actress of her time who hit big time even as a second lead with another actress playing the female lead in films like Barsaat, Amar and Aan.
Her husband, S. Ali Raza passed away in 2007 and as her nephew who she had adopted had migrated to the US, she learnt to live alone. But members of her extended family were very sad when they were not permitted to bring her body back to the complex in which she lived for one last time. Rishi Kapoor ad Mahesh Bhatt paid their last respects but could not do so in person due to the lockdown and the insistence on social distancing.
Nimmi’s brother-in-law Ijhar Hussain said at the time, “We will be having the last rites but are yet to decide on how to do the funeral considering the body cannot be brought to the society due to the coronavirus, and also we aren’t sure how many people can gather for the funeral. We will take a decision tonight.” Her last rites were performed on the following day.
Nemai Ghosh, one of the most outstanding photographers in the country, passed away on the morning of 25th March in his Bhawanipur residence, after a long period of suffering from age-related ailments. Towards the end, he was completely bed-ridden and just around a week before his passing away, he had slowly withdrawn from food. He was 86.
His photographs on Ray are exhibited at the permanent gallery of St Xavier’s College, Kolkata, and at Nord Pas-de-Calais, France. He has documented the making of films such as Jukti Takko Gappo by Ritwik Ghatak, Interview, Calcutta 71 and Ek Adhuri Kahani by Mrinal Sen, Paar by Gautam Ghosh and Ijjodu by M S Sathyu. Ghosh photographed great masters Jamini Roy, Ramkinker Baij and Benodebehari Mukherjee over the years 1969 and 1970. He went back to his interest in documenting master artists from 2002, photographing more than 30 major Indian painters and sculptors at work, resulting in a massive suite of photographs of the best minds in contemporary Indian art at work.
Ghosh had in his personal collection, more than one lac photographs of Satyajit Ray including working stills from his films since Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, during the shooting of which his association with Ray first began. This is an astounding amount of work put in by a single man by any standards and speaks volumes or his hard work and dedication. Another work of Ghosh that entered into posterity is his work for Bengali theatre recording the history of Bengali Group Theatre for 25 years through photographs. After Ray passed away, Ghosh ventured to discover new worlds to capture them for posterity through the magic lens of his camera and this resulted in coffee table books of archival value that are still coming out one after another the last one recently out on Ray in his many moods captured in colour which was not Ghosh’s forte.
He is survived by one son and one daughter, one son having passed on many years ago. His son, the famous photographer Satyaki Ghosh, who, unlike his father, is known for his works in colour, could not come for the last rites because he lives in Mumbai and flights were stopped because of the lock down. According to reports from some close friends, his last rites were performed in Keoratala Burning Ghat by his married daughter. He lived with his grandchildren but basically, he remained a loner at home and very sociable within his circle of friends. So, no flowers, no visits, a handful of people in the crematorium and a flood of tributes, pranaams and respects spilling over in the social media were all that Ghosh received when he embarked on his last journey.
Artist and architect Satish Gujral, renowned for his versatility across different mediums, died of old age reasons in his Delhi home, a member of his family said on Friday. He was 94. Gujral, one of India’s best-known artists, died on March 26. He is survived by his wife Kiran, daughters Alpana and Raseel and son Mohit.
Gujral, who was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second highest civilian honour, was an architect, painter, muralist, sculptor and graphic artist. His artworks were heavily inspired by the turbulence of his early years, including the illness that impaired his hearing as a child and the Partition of the subcontinent. But few could understand that he was audibly challenged until his wife, Kiran, who was his biggest pillar of support right through their long married life, stepped in to translate his sign language to the person talking to him.
Gujral’s familiar works include the alphabet mural on the outside wall of the Delhi High Court. He also designed the Belgian Embassy in Delhi. “Unlike many of his peers, who went to Paris or London in the early 1950s, Gujral went to Mexico City to study with Diego Rivera and Siqueiros. Gujral’s was a versatile practice spanning painting, sculpture and architecture,” said art critic, curator and scholar Ranjit Hoskote. The last rites were held on March 27, Friday at the Lodhi Crematorium. But there is no information on how many attended the funeral.
(Cover Photo: ‘Mourning en masse’ artwork by Satish Gujral)
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