Rehab for the Dead

This is one of the awesomest pictures of Marilyn that I have ever seen. It's from her last picture collection (also found in a book titled Marilyn Monroe: The Complete Last Sitting) and is by a 'photo-artist', Bert Stern. Stern had three sessions with Marilyn at the Los Angeles Bel-Air Hotel in June 1962, six weeks before her death.

The European Stern has brilliantly captured the power and magic of a modern American goddess. Americans are, by habit and compulsion, apologetic pagans. They love their heroes but deny them their pedestals. Sometimes when they love them too much, they also crucify them.

Why? It is perhaps a residue of the Christian dread and embarrassment of death. Early death especially is seen as something that happens only to the wicked and unrighteous. Or to Jesus Christ. Either ways, it is a bad thing. And Marilyn fitted the 'bad thing' bill perfectly.

This picture of Marilyn crucified conjured up images of the crematorium near my old (by five days) office. I have passed this place on almost all my working days. On many occasions I have had the fortune of filling my nostrils with the smell of fresh cremation. The smell of burning flesh, hair, muscles and bones. And seeing the black fumes escape from the top of the high-walled building. Seeing in a way the transubstantiation of a fellow man. Body turning into smoke and dust. And soul disappearing dunnowhere.

Near the crematorium is a traffic-island. It's a triangular piece of road-divider and footpath now taken up by the pigeons. On occasions I have seen the pigeons rise up like a huge sheet of grey, startled by sudden loud sounds such as cracker explosions, tyre bursts or cracking dead bones.

These pigeons are fed daily by those who've recently burned their dead. It's a form of ancestor worship. In the hope that feeding the pigeons also means you are feeding your ancestors. Feeding, a bodily function, survives even death and must be carried on to show gratefulness and perhaps earn merit. That is the belief. It also works out to be a very ecological belief. Feeding. Near a place of total material decimation.

What survives this total decimation or turning into ash of the human body is memory… in the minds of those who outlive the dead.

The guy selling pigeon-feed sits on the traffic-island under an old car frame. He looks like the last survivor of a terrible accident. It looks like most of the Maruti Gypsy he sits under has plunged into the earth, leaving only a half-raised rear. Everyday he sells pigeon-feed by the kilos. Pigeon-feed that is scattered on the traffic-island that has now become 'dead ancestor island'.

Here memory is fed daily with pigeon-feed.

So that dread and embarrassment are no more part of dying.

Death, it is believed, is only for sometime.

It's just rehab.

After life.

And everyone has to go through it.


  1. There's also an American saying,"only the good die young."

    Only the good die young
    They're only flying too close to the sun
    And life goes on -
    Without you...

    He sits under the rusted frame of a vehicle symbolizing again death and the rusting away of what once was. Do we remember and wish for the days when the automobile was once a sleek well-primed machine like what was once our youth when we ran wild and free without a care believing we were invincible until death stepped in and robbed us?

  2. I have always been a huge Monroe fan. I had two huge posters of her in my hostel room and I was always asked why a 'feminist' like me was so enamoured of a bimbo like her.

    No, not giving the answer here. Don't panic!

    I once went to the electric crematorium near Rajghat. The sound of the cranking machines pulling at the body of my friend stayed with me for a long time afterwards.

  3. your post reminded me of an old poem of mine, an amazing photo and profetic thoughts on Marilyn


    Slumped by the
    pool she let
    hold her face
    Rising from
    among the
    rocks and weeds
    a hand reached

    Calling her
    Down into
    cool, cool water

    Hand in hand
    two dancers
    they swam
    Kissing the
    feathered feet
    of boatmen
    Nipping at
    the spinning
    blossem tresses
    Cast by ghosts
    of trees

    Skin dappled
    wearing the
    rich textures
    of earth.
    Coils of land
    slipped away
    their grip
    Weightless she
    forgot her legs

    In the spring
    she found a
    lover amber
    eyed and a
    broad stiff snout

  4. I thought her breasts were larger.

  5. that guy under the hood always reminds me of tom hanks from cast away
    remember that metal sheet he uses first as a shelter and then as a sail for his raft ?
    but now i take the metro, i feel the dead no more.
    im sanitised.

  6. Yeah M that's the charm of being American. U know and yet there's denial :)

    ~river~ cool so now there's also the Monroe Club. Awesome! And anyone who fails to see her genius has to be a bimbo herself, whatsayou?

    Poemcat that's amazing. Reminds me of a Duran Duran video, think it was Come Undone.

    ~d Lol... a goddess can change shape and size

    Raghav, yeah he does give that impression and he's also on an island

  7. interesting perspective...

    "live fast, die young" I'd say!

  8. Live fast.
    Die young.
    Leave a pretty corpse.

    (Another American saying.)

  9. Dhiraj,

    you have NO clue what THIS goddess is capable of.


  10. Chandni... that's ONE of the many perspectives...

    M, cool u'r full of American sayings :)

    ~d, I am beginning to find out bout this go~d~dess :D

  11. oooh you sweet talker.
    I like go~d~dess.

    I shall answer to that, Great King!

  12. A girl with kaleidoscope eyes.
    Cellophane flowers of yellow and green,
    Towering over your head.
    Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes,
    And she's gone.

    (I dunno why Miss Monroe reminds me of these lines)

  13. Follow her down to a bridge by a fountain
    Where rocking horse people eat marshmallow pies
    Everyone smiles as you drift past the flowers
    That grow so incredibly high.

    Now I have a tune in my head that I want to sing. I like the Elton John version too.

  14. that's a wicked woman and a picture worthy of her.

  15. This is for Marilyn in the Sky with Diamonds then!!

    Blow, yeah wicked describes her well.

  16. D, if death is just rehab, what happens in a case of a relapse. and what about closure.what a bitch if it starts all over again.

  17. sorry to bug u again, but you have me intrigued, but isn't moksha said to be 'eternal bliss', suggesting eternity=forever.

  18. Yes it is that... witnessed not by you as you but you as part of something bigger, eternal, blissful... and it also means an end to (re)births... so no more rehab and no more relapses... meaning ur karmic debt has been crossed out.

  19. hey do u ever wonder if a self flagellating masochist would ever be happy with eternal bliss, moksha or would that mean being trapped in a nightmare that never ends.

  20. That something!!
    and the romances death perfectly.

  21. If death is just rehab, what happens in a case of a relapse? what about closure. What a bitch if it starts all over again.


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