Posts Tagged ‘plague’

About six months ago my husband told me about a Parsi funeral ritual that takes place in India. I had never heard of it.

Parsi is a Zoroastrian community. These folks from Greater Iran fled mostly to India centuries ago to avoid persecution and to retain their religious identity during the Muslim conquest of Persia. Zoroastrianism was the dominant religion before Islam.

That’s just a snippet of a history that could fill books.

Ain’t gonna lie. I was horrified when I heard about their funeral practice.

Sky burial.

Letting nature take its course. No burial. No cremation. Just exposure to the elements on an elevated area. Cutting up bits of the body for the vultures to feast.

Towers of Silence.

I was soon reading about different rituals. It appears that there are many reasons for this Sky burial. Tibetan Buddhists feel it is a generosity for the departed because it’s providing life source for other creatures and they respect all life. Some feel that the body is only a vessel. That fire and burial pollute the earth. Some view the dead body as impure.

Practicality, rather than religion, might have also played a role. The places where these rituals originated tended to be rocky with no source of timber.

India’s pretty cool in a lot of ways. It’s just so diverse and in many ways tolerant of other practices.

This ritual still takes place today.

But there is one small problem. Well, not really small.

The vulture population declined drastically. The birds (the cleaner uppers) were getting sick from eating the carrion of Indian livestock.


I learned more about vultures than I ever cared to imagine.

Since it’s India (Hindu) there are 500 million cattle and only 4% of that number is for human consumption. Cows are considered sacred so most people aren’t eating them.

That’s a bunch of cows.

So when cattle die the vultures are a welcome sight. A natural and efficient process.

But due to an anti-inflammatory drug which was being given to the cattle the vultures started dying in droves. Their system couldn’t take this particular drug.

By now I am not thinking about funeral practices at all because I am so fascinated by vultures!

Apparently vultures can make efficient, quick work of any animal carcass and due to their metabolism not suffer the effects of (or carry) any pathogens from their recent meal. Stops with them.

Wow! Truly cast iron stomachs. Except for when humans inject animals with a certain drug.

This decline in the vulture population has led to a host of problems for India.

Huge problems. It was a natural system. And when things break down….

In the 1980s there were 80 million vultures. Today several thousand. That’s unbelievable.

Vultures used to pick clean the carcasses in no time. Now the dead cows and other animals rot in village fields.

Contaminating the drinking water.

And if there are no vultures on the scene? Who takes their place in this pecking order? No pun intended. Who’s on deck?

Rats and wild dogs (India has 18 million wild dogs-seems like about a million on our street alone lol) are all too happy to step into the newly opened positions. But they, unlike vultures, do carry things like rabies, anthrax and plague. And pass it on to us. The humans. Yikes!

Back to the Parsi death rituals. They are still performed but not with the same frequency due to the decrease in the vulture population. Some people are opting for cremation. Those who choose the “old way” will be doing so with the assistance of solar reflectors to move things along. Remember when you were a kid with a magnifying glass trying to use the sun’s reflection to burn a piece of paper. Yeah, that. Same.

I never knew anything about the Towers of Silence. And I did not know much about vultures except maybe seeing them as a menacing backdrop in cute Disney movies. Or observing a turkey vulture munching on roadkill that one time in Lake Tahoe while we whizzed by it.

Pretty amazing to think about it. One small bit of human tinkering can upset a system that has been working just fine. Maybe from the beginning of time. Compromising the health of a nation. And in the process eradicating rituals that have been around for centuries and centuries.

First I was horrified to hear of the Parsi practice. Then I moved on to understanding and sort of appreciating it. I remain sad about the Indian vulture crisis and its effect on the nation.

Lastly, I’m feeling more than a little sympathetic for the Parsi community as they lose a grip on pieces of their tradition and identity.









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A couple of weeks ago I decided to accompany husband to his gym on a Saturday morning.

That sounds like it was initially my idea. Nope. He asked me. Then I felt guilty for immediately saying no.

He had a meeting with his trainer for a workout session. He can’t avoid training if it’s in his building and under his nose.

I don’t usually go with him (never) and it’s not really my idea of the ideal setting to cavort and the like. But I have been wanting to get out and do more with him. Spend that quality time. And, no, it’s not just because I have a high schooler, mother-in-law, her aide and a hyperactive pup in the house. Honestly, I’m not escaping.

Kidding aside, I want to spend time with him because he’s always working and/or traveling. I’m quite busy. So we need to grab the moments when we can.

So, against all better judgement, I said, “Okay, I’ll go. I’ll just wait in the car for you and start deleting some of my 7000 old emails or something. I won’t be bored. Promise.”

Rolling of eyes.

So, I go. And I find me a treadmill and I get going. So much better than the stress test at the hospital where I was looking like a sweaty little lab animal or a monkey heading to space with all those leads sprouting from my body.

I watch television. I don’t usually view it at home so it was something different. I enjoyed it for about half an hour.

Then HE comes back. I say, “Hey.”

He says, “Come on over here.”

I reply, “I’m good.”

He cajoles, “C’mon, Mare, come here for a few minutes.”

Deep sigh from me. I don’t want to!

Leads me to Edie. Pronounced Eddie. I am glaring at poor Edie. Husband is like, “Whoa, settle down there. He didn’t do anything.”

So, I turn my head and glare at him.

Long story short. I go through the motions. Literally. Squats, sit ups, lifting barbells, etc. I knew it all. I used to attend a “boot camp” in Dallas with one of my girlfriends. I think it was called,”Paying to Get Beat Up” or something similarly masochistic.

So, I also knew what the first session would feel like. Afterwards. For about a week.

I mean, I avoid these (see photo below) like the plague for many reasons. One being that I am afraid I will actually get the plague. Secondly, is because of all that moisture on the floor. I just do not like wet and damp. Thirdly, because I will do almost anything to avoid squatting. Like I am in the middle of some God forsaken field.


Couldn’t walk for about a week. It was reminiscent of Mondays at work following beautiful New England weekends in Autumn. I remember shuffling into the office after raking and bagging tons and tons of leaves. And I saw Charlie hobbling along.

“Hey, Mr. Wiseman, how did that raking go?” I asked as I gingerly walked past him. Ben-Gay ointment wafting behind us. Then seeing three other people who could barely make it to their desks.

I am programmed to remember this stuff.

My daughter thought I was being dramatic. I wasn’t. It hurt. Almost shouted, with glee, when I reached the escalator at the mall.

And this is the reason for my post. I really hurt. No one could be expected to move muscles, that aren’t being used, close to one hundred times and not hurt. We all know the process in muscle-building.

Back to my point. When I hurt I am not myself. Not a baby. Just realistic. I cannot do the things I normally do. Therefore, I am wasting time. Days, in fact.

Plenty of time slips though our hands in which we have no control. Childbirth and hospital stays. Illnesses. Jet lag. The list goes on and while we might have some control (don’t get pregnant, don’t travel) we all know time flies in this very short life.

From now on, I will be mindful of pushing myself too hard. And if I am not, I just need to remember (see photo below) that I was hurting so badly that I actually thought this looked quite attractive. Not from the squatting standpoint. Oh, no. I was actually contemplating standing up like a man and seeing how successful that would be. That’s how much it hurt.


Note to self. I know me. Better than anyone in the world. I just need to listen to myself.  A little more often.


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