Saturday, December 4, 2021

Celebrating the Festival of Lights in a cemetery

For Mogana and her family who live in the Meru Christian Cemetery in Klang, it will be a quiet Deepavali as the pandemic has wiped out most of their money.

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Mogana’s aunt tidies up one of the two rooms in the temple where the family lives. Everything they own is in these small rooms.

Another aunt hangs out the laundry on the clotheslines overlooking the rows of tombstones surrounding the house.

Mogana’s nephew collects water from a tank for cleaning the graves – one of the tasks for which the family is paid a small amount each month.

The women cook the family’s meals over a wood stove in the open porch area outside the temple. They gather the wood from around the cemetery area.

Mogana’s aunt prepares some adhirasam, a must-have dish for Deepavali, in the kitchen area where a Chinese shrine still stands.

She places the adhirasam on betel leaves so that the wet dough doesn’t stick to the dish.

Her sister takes over to fry the adhirasam, taking pains to make sure that it doesn’t burn in the hot oil.

They also make their own muruku, another must-have during Deepavali.

An old wooden cupboard and a simple stove outside what used to be the prayer hall form their entire kitchen.

Mogana’s nine-year-old cousin plays with an old rubber ball in the field next to their home, on a hill overlooking the gravestones.

Mogana’s aunt dresses one of the children in a shirt bought for a previous Deepavali – the best they can do for this difficult pandemic year.

Another child laughs as she peeks out at a grownup holding the family baby from behind a shabby curtain hanging in the doorway of the room.

Mogana’s nephew performs his prayers in front of the family altar in the abandoned temple.

In the evening, they gather at the long table outside the building to share a jug of cordial.

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