Architecture is a bat-shit crazy course to study.
I feel it’s one of those ‘high on exploration’ type of stream that encourages you to get out of your box and just live and explore. It mainly runs on the fact that it’s only when you explore or see and absorb enough that you can ideally identify problems that need an architectural intervention for the same.
It’s all nice and bling until your thesis or rather ‘Design Dissertation’ part arrives, which is a layman term means the entire motive of your career will be explained through a single black-colored book, also named as obviously as it can be – ‘The Black Book’.
So for this particular subject, I have decided to work on a Crematorium. Now if I had to describe it in a usual way, a Crematorium is a space where a body is disposed with the method of Cremation which generally involves burning it. Now if I had to describe it ‘Architecturally’, a Crematorium is a space that evokes remembrance and longing for the lost one, it mainly deals with spaces that are sensitive to areas that cater to give the user a sense of sensitivity towards the lost one. Well… Yes, We architects can romanticize even death!
Now a lot of thought and introspection along with some ‘Let’s do something new and unexplored’ led me to take this as my ‘The Topic’ of my career introspection. And that is how this topic led me into many such Crematoriums to study.
For starters, they are NOT scary spaces with probable ghosts hovering around you!
I visited my first ever Crematorium in Pune at Vaikunth Smashan Bhumi. Now, my basic perception on a very primary level was that- there’s death all around, mourners are wailing huge cries, there are no women (Because of our religion and its biased views on Women and Death) and I’ll be the only one in a sea of wailing men.
Now, What I actually saw was a stark opposite to what I or well, most of us perceived. There were no wailing people and Yes! There were women in equals to the men along with some kids to my entire shock and terror. These small groups had a strange silence between them with each member lost in a state of trance or unknowing. Their faces had a different glow, different scary glow, which sent chills down my spine for a while. Space didn’t have death also everywhere, in my imagination I had a perception of seeing a dead body at every 10 meters, Until I saw one burning on my 14th meter, I guess. A nice fat guy burning with 40% left of him, a fallen corpse with a disfigured face, left in its state for its next process of collecting the ashes. I sound so unaffected by saying this, right? But I was terror-struck and shell-shocked to even move a single fiber in my body. My first ever dead body, as petrified as I was, it was also a moment of intrigue that was triggered in me, with the intrigue staying at a backhand. I looked him in the eye exactly after 2 minutes of trying to do the same. It’s only when I ‘looked him in the eye’, that I realized that it didn’t have one, the fire had already taken that one with it. Spooky!
Although they say that the same thing repeated twice doesn’t hold the same curiosity as the first one, I almost puked when I saw my second dead body.
- It smelled like a fridge which housed stale fishes along with some dead rats.
- It was ‘very’ decorated and made to look a fake kind of beautiful. Like, Hello! Should I get my Book to note down a Makeup tutorial or maybe that one was a makeup blogger :P.
I did lose my sense of intrigue on that body, right there. Then I saw my third, fourth, fifth and so on. And post a series of approximately 6 dead bodies with 60 ‘living’ bodies around it, I became accustomed to a Crematorium and got my lost sense of intrigue, back!
It’s that point where I actually started seeing a Crematorium as a practical space that dealt with a very confirmed state of anyone’s life – Death. Roaming around that entire precinct and interacting with the workers there, I realized they also considered it as a mechanical and practical work rather than huge cosmic reasoning of life and reincarnation and all these things.
So why are we scared of death? Why does a Crematorium or a Burial ground make our bile churn? Why do we treat death as a negative aspect to happen to anyone and everyone?
Life, Hope, and Curiosity of the future is what makes us so scared of Death. The thought that,’Oh I want to do so much in life and what if I could not? What if I die before that?’, is what makes us so scared of death and every space that is concerned with it.
After spending 4 hours in a Crematorium and looking at all the visitors and mourners, it made me wonder how less time do we have to make the most of the time we have. The second thought was, Should I start listing things? Things I want to do or places I want to be? Should I start consciously planning my every second because now that actually counts? The third thought was a bit calmer one, ‘What if I die the next minute, What if a car hits me while I’m back on my way home, then what happens to this list which I have judiciously planned and perfected to every second to make that second count?’.
Yes, we have less time. Yes, the clocks ticking and No, we don’t need to plan it, we need to live it as it comes by making each second the best second of our lives. Only then we will treat death as a celebration not as a mourning concept. Because in the end, Death is supposed to be the celebration of one’s life!
Of all the books and stories I’ve ever read and heard, I didn’t know I will get the most valuable learning of my life by spending an afternoon in a Crematorium!