Captain Colquhoun apologized profusely to Ault Taum for being late. He was swaying a bit on his feet. And was quite upset.
“That is aw very well. But where is Jessy?” barked Taum, putting away his spade.
Colquhoun turned and looked at the crowd which had closely been following him. Most of them were Miss. Jessy’s students. “Where is Jessy?” The question echoed and reechoed among the people. They looked at one another trying to remember when they saw her last.
Miss Jessy would be late today for her funeral.
There’s a popular saying, ‘a Scot’s funeral is merrier than an English wedding.’ Attend a Scottish funeral to understand what it means to be merrier. You will trace your steps to liquid amber, whisky, which permeates everything Scottish for the last many centuries.
Including death. O yes, death indeed.
The Scots believe that when a man dies, the immediate world around him gets a bit warped, tainted, poisonous. Especially food. So to prevent death from contaminating it they would drop a nail or a pin into oatmeal, butter, cheese, or meat. So please don’t raise the roof the next time you get a nail in a biriyani from a local eatery.
Nails in food is kosher somewhere in the world.
Whisky at the point of death would also change; it turns milky and yucky. Another Scottish belief.
So what should be done with something which could turn stale at such homes? Dispense it among the mourners in glasses as early as possible. Now you know how Scottish funeral turns a wee bit merrier than the English wedding in the long run.
But funerals are solemn occasions to pay homage to the departed. Same is in Scotland too. The Scots would dutifully set up tables with food, pipes and tobacco for the mourners to indulge. Don’t mill around pointlessly. The whisky you look for is kept under the table. Begin discretely.
After the prayers a lot of whisky will roll out from the cupboards. Toddy would be made in bowls for ladies and those men who want their drinks warm. Once everybody has a drink in hand they raise a toast to the memory of the departed.
Then a second toast is made for the consolation of the family. Then a third is made for the bereaving friends. Then a third…hey, where are the neighbours?
No stones will be left to be upturned at the end of the solemn ritual.
Many men, who were once hard drinkers, might have given specific instructions to their relatives on the point of death, to throw a fitting party at their funerals. Such wishes must be materialized. Or it will bring disgrace to the dead. The guests should depart only after they are well- replenished with whisky.
(Let me digress here a bit. We also have a ritual in some parts of Kerala, called ‘vanmuri.’ On the 16th day after the cremation, relatives would join together and offer full-fledged meals, chicken curry and alcohol to the departed. As the dead won’t come back to wet their whistles, the living, half-heartedly knock back the left-over spirit. Relatives who wouldn’t have attended the funeral make it a point that they won’t miss the ‘vanmuri’ for reasons obvious).
The funeral march to the church is another interesting Scottish ritual. The body is carried to the churchyard usually by hefty men of six in turns. If the churchyard is far away the task is done in shifts.
One such funeral was that of Miss Jessy Colquhoun, a teacher of Angus. Her brother, Captain Colquhon decided to bid farewell to his abstemious sister in the most fitting manner. Whisky rolled out in mugs and barrels. So at noon, when it was time to take the body to the churchyard which was miles away, almost everyone at the house was swaying on their di-pods.
Six burly men soon took the body of Miss Jessy on their shoulders. The funeral procession began.
In Scotland there are flat-topped roadside stones called Lecker Stanes where pall bearers would park their coffins on their way to the church(We had also stones like them along the Trivandrum-Padmanabhapuram road, called ‘chumadu thangikal’ which eased the burdens of people who carried heavy provisions on foot). It was customary for them to put the coffin on Lecker stanes every now and then to recharge their batteries from wayside inns which serve good whisky.
Three such inns dotted the way between Jessy’s house and the churchyard. Finally after four hours, Ault Taum, the gravedigger, waiting in the churchyard saw the funeral procession coming.
Taum was at his wit’s end; he could get his first drink only after the burial.
So when the captain, the primary mourner got to the graveside he was greeted by an edgy Taum. The latter wanted to plant the body of the teacher as early as possible. It was only when he asked them where Jessy was, the men realized something was missing. The poor lady was not with them. Then somebody said he last saw her lying on a Lecker Stane outside the last inn they visited. Six strong men were immediately sent to claim Miss Jessy back.
That is how my friends, the phrase ‘being late for one’s funeral’ originated in the language.
Earlier Rum Stories: Culture and Etiquette