Last Rites Issue no. 230 Fall 2019 It was a little past four in the afternoon, the light softer now and more diffuse, the intensity of the day’s heat beginning to wane, and standing by himself in a corner of the garden Krishan was observing the people gathered in Rani’s house for the funeral, somewhat unnerved, after his long and meditative journey, by how quickly he’d found himself in this place so different from his point of origin, this setting that, despite conforming to all his abstract expectations, had nevertheless managed to catch him off guard. The sense of calm, peaceful self-containment he’d felt on the train had remained with him on the bus during the quiet, two-hour ride from the Kilinochchi station, and it had persisted too on his walk from the bus stop, as he made his way slowly and leisurely along the network of paths that ran through the noticeably deserted village. The properties on either side of the lanes were marked off by low fences of dried palm fronds thatched together with wire and rope, most of them fronted by small, well-cultivated gardens, each with its own little vegetable plot and an assortment of trees—drumstick, banana, coconut, curry leaf, as well as others he couldn’t identify. The houses themselves were simple and unadorned, the larger concrete ones containing two or three rooms, the smaller ones consisting of mud walls and thatched roofs and no more than a single all-purpose hall. He’d taken his time noting and regarding everything he passed, as if he’d come for no other reason than to discover what effect the surroundings had on the trajectory of his thoughts, and it was only as he turned into the lane where Rani’s house was located, as he heard the low, irregular beat of funeral drums rising up from the end of the lane, that he began to realize his journey was over, that he’d finally arrived at his destination. He wondered suddenly how he should comport himself, what he should say to Rani’s daughter when they met, how he could give her his grandmother’s money without drawing attention to himself, questions he’d had the whole day to consider but had avoided thinking about till then. Approaching the house he saw first the band of drummers standing just behind the palm-leaf fence, four men aloof from everyone else in the garden, looking at one another intently as they rapped the small, flat, beautifully constructed drums that hung from their necks—members, he knew, even if nobody talked about it, of one of the most oppressed castes in the northeast.