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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sriani Snippets 3

The drama of attending three wrong funerals
Sriani Basnayake 

There may be many of you who have accidentally gone to one funeral house by mistake, but I think I hold the record for going to three wrong funerals in one evening. 

This happened many years ago when my dear mother was alive. A lady who had done secretarial work for her had just lost her father, and mum asked me to take her to the funeral house  in the outskirts of Colombo. We knew the road, but not the exact address, and as it was a small side road, I was sure that there would be some flags strung across the road indicating the venue. We got to that road, and sure enough there were the customary flags leading to the house. We made our way to the entrance, and solemnly shook hands with a few people who looked like the chief mourners, offered our condolences, and were then ushered into the hall where the body was laid out. Mum thought she should strike up a conversation with the lady seated by her, and inquired as to how he died. We were horrified to listen to a ball by ball account of the gory details of a street fight, where the dead man and the leader of a rival gang had repeatedly stabbed each other, until this man had fallen unconscious in a pool of blood. She took great pains to assure us that before he died, he had managed to lop off his assailant’s ear, and bury his knife in that fellow’s abdomen. Mum could not believe her ears, and whispered to me,…..” I thought Mary’s ( not her real name) family were God fearing respectable people, who were pillars of the Church etc…etc….and Mary does not look the type that has a father who will go wielding a knife on the road.” No comment from me. I too inwardly shared the same opinion. While the narrator of the murder episode continued to add more juicy, gory details which had hitherto been omitted, a tray of concentrated Passiona was brought around, and mum, thinking it impolite to refuse the drink, helped herself to a glass. After about fifteen minutes, I suggested that we look for Mary, for we had come to sympathise with her, and did not know any of her relatives. We kept asking for Mary, and no one seemed to have heard of Mary. I thought I would simplify matters by asking for Mary, the daughter of the dead man. Imagine the shock we got when we were informed that the dead man had no daughters. We were definitely at the wrong funeral house. Unfortunately, we did not know Mary’s maiden name, and hence could not ask anyone for directions. 

Since this was not a very long road, I was sure that the house we were looking for would not be far off. We drove a few yards further, and sure enough another flag indicated a funeral house. We made our way down a narrow footpath, relieved that our faith in Mary’s family background was not shaken, and that her father was not a common criminal who died in a street fight.  

Before we knew what was happening, we were kissed profusely by a host of people and ushered to the area where the coffin was placed in the sitting room. We came up to the coffin, bowed reverently, and then nearly died of shock, for inside the coffin was the body of a lady………wrong number again.  What could I do? Beat a hasty retreat? Meanwhile we were being offered a seat, and mum whispered something about it being rude to back off immediately, and that we should wait there for a “respectable” period of time. I was about to warn my mum that on no account should she inquire about the cause of death, and that she should not take another drink, when some lady squeezed herself between mum and myself. Both my fears were realized in the next few minutes, for I could hear someone giving mum the details of the suspected heart attack that the poor lady was supposed to have had, while mummy sipped her second drink. I ground my teeth as mummy added her contribution as to the possible cause of death, instead of beating a hasty retreat from the second wrong funeral. 

It was getting dark as we drove along the winding road, and I kept wondering what the odds were to have three funerals down one small road. I was soon relieved to see a flag across the road, and a crowd of people emerging from a steep alley. At long last (I thought) we had finally reached our destination. I had just finished shaking hands and condoling with half a dozen unknown characters, when to my shock and surprise I saw a string of mango leaves threaded across the doorway…….and the ladies were in brightly coloured sarees. It was a Hindu funeral, and Mary’s family were Sinhala Christians. Oh dear! ….could this happen to us again?  As fate would have it, mother had said her little prayer for his soul, bowed to the body in the coffin, and was settling down to listen to the cause of death. I just couldn’t take any more of this. In a flash, I rushed up to mum, grabbed her by the arm, told her that I was about to faint, and fled from the place. It was an ordeal climbing up the steep incline, and after depositing mummy safely in the car, I sped back home, saying that three funerals were enough, and that I had given up on locating where Mary’s father’s mortal remains lay hidden. 

The following day I discovered that the funeral house we missed was just a few yards away from our third ‘wrong number’. 

Can anyone beat this record?


  1. As a comic writer of farce, you are unequalled Sriani! My pelvic floor muscles are in fairly good nick, otherwise I would have wet myself laughing! Can't wait for the next instalment!

  2. Hilarious! Poor you and mum. At least you consoled 3 families in mourning! Ever attended the wrong wedding?

    1. Zita, I must sit down and pen a few lines on how my dear mother once "attended " a wrong wedding!!