A Hymn to Life

It is a fourth visit to Caersws and Aberystwyth; its peaceful surroundings met your eyes but this time, circumstances draw you deeper into its soul

A place forgotten by Time and the frenzy of incessant activity, overwork, fatigue and the buzzwords of competition to catch up with the latest innovative technique to make it faster and higher, and surpass others. A place in the midst of nowhere hanging high nearer to the sunny blue sky, propped up by sprawling landscapes of vast plains and green hills.

It is a fourth visit there and you appreciated it the very first time; the small town and its peaceful surroundings met your eyes but this time, circumstances draw you deeper into its soul.

The tiny town in Mid-Wales has all the amenities of modern life: shops, small and average-size grocery stores, one or two banks, coffee shops, a pub, restaurants, a butchery and a baker’s shop, libraries, cottages and small hotels for visitors, small and average-size grocery stores. And thank heavens, it is devoid of noisy modern shopping malls perceived as a sign of development and progress, and which claim large areas of lands in big and small towns across the world. Above all, it is surrounded with unspoilt natural landscapes.

Train stops bearing unpronounceable names like Caersws and Aberystwyth signal the passage into Wales, the land where the people proudly preserve their Gaelic linguistic heritage. What makes the town in Mid-Wales so charming is that it has withstood the test of time and remained a genuinely typical town reflecting the culture and character of its population; the houses, public and private buildings have kept a distinct Welsh architecture with new constructions imitating ancient stone-wall style. Somewhat like the old architecture in the coastal regions of Bretagne in France. A proper demographic balance helps the town maintain a reasonable size of population within its boundaries. And gosh, what impeccable cleanliness!

 A town with old age charm

A small and walkable town offering a close-to-nature lifestyle. Multi-coloured rose trees, pink, yellow, white and red, surprisingly, growing on both sides of the Caersws train stop in the midst of nowhere already give the promise of an environment-friendly town with a nature-loving people a few miles away. A short walk from the town centre leads to the green banks of river Severn where one can sit on a bench under the shade of leafy branches of tall trees, or rest on the grass and enjoy the fresh air and the sound of water gurgling on the pebbles of the river. A man is felling a few trees on the bank across the river while another one is making a huge fire with the fallen pieces of trunks. The smell of smoke and burning wood lingers on as we walk into the sloping woods. Out in a clearing, the narrow path leads the way to wide open spaces. To the north stand never-ending hills and on the right, vast green plains with sheep grazing freely. Lower down, caravans parked in a neatly outlined area remind one that it is popular place for visitors to rest in an idyllic untainted spot away from the troubles and worries of our age. A place to disconnect and unplug.

The back of a wooden bench carries the phrase ‘In loving memory of my husband’, a testimony of a woman’s tribute to her departed husband who must have loved taking long walks. It appears that one can ask authorisation to build something small and useful in memory of loved ones.

Patches of yellow daffodils wave to the blue sky in the afternoon sunlight. Fluttering and dancing in the breeze, Wordsworth would have written. No wonder the woods and lakes in the Midlands were the poet’s library.

Along the way, some folks walk their dogs around, others stroll leisurely with their families. Back to the riverside, where fallen trunks have been burnt earlier on, the fire is dying away. The owner of the house is a man who is suffering from cancer and knows that he has only eighteen months to live. He has recently fulfilled an old wish of buying a beautiful convertible car. He and his wife are sitting in armchairs under the shade of a tall tree, watching the water flowing gleefully along.

Everyone knows everyone. People stay here all their lives mostly. Well-kept gardens everywhere, vegetable plots, carefully-tended flowers. A daily attention given to them, one feels. Clean, neat and tidy seems to be an age-long habit over here. Fences are hardly one metre high; in all likelihood, no one thinks of trespassing into other people’s yards and take away things. Not even the colourful roses at the train stop, a public place.

At mid-day, some workers pause for a drink on the sunny terrace of a cafe. Customers hop in and out of the different eateries. Children are seen around with their parents mainly in the afternoon and in the week-end. No hustle and bustle on pavements here. Space for everyone to go their way or pause and chat. Neither is there reckless and nervous driving on the roads. Largely a homogenous population, one culture, one religion. Zero level of immigrants, hardly a handful. No global village miniature of diversity over here.

Do you sometimes raise your voice, get angry or anything of the sort? one feels like asking. Is the calmness contagious? You don’t hear the dogs barking, not even in the wide open spaces.

A pervasive atmosphere of calmness and peace, a warm sun and a bunch of friendly people. An old-style Baptist church stands proudly amid stone-covered and slate-decorated facades of buidings and houses. We can hardly realize that one such house is a mortuary, the temporary abode of the deceased for some time where relatives can come and meet them for about two weeks before their final departure. The crematorium is located in Aberystwyth, about one-hour drive from the town.

A fitting farewell to a loved one

Whoever designed the crematorium deserves praise and gratitude. The end of the hall where an elevated platform for the ceremony faces the audience is not a wall but a wide glass pane window opening onto a breath-taking view displaying sprawling green hills and a blue sky with straggling patches of white clouds far away.

The black car drives us slowly along the winding road on a calm sunny day. On both sides, the white spots on the hills remind us that sheep outgrow the low population in Wales. We take some time to realize that ahead of us, another black car driving slowly carries the coffin. Our gaze keeps wandering from the hilly landscape outside and comes to rest on the coffin in front. We still can’t believe it. The news came as a shock. It was so unexpected. We thought that our beloved brother-in-law would be fine and would resume his life between Wales and Mauritius.

It is difficult to relegate him to past memories and refer to him in the past tense. As a proud Welshman, he loves his country dearly, once called it ‘God’s own country’, and he loves Mauritius. A life-lover who regularly expresses his love and gratitude for all that life gives and intends to make the best of it as long as possible. Beautiful nature, hiking on mountains in Wales, family, weekly Sunday meeting with closest friend at the local pub, books, travelling in France, French wine and food, daily walks on Mon Choisy beach, swimming out in the lagoon, the wide variety of Mauritian food, concerts, music and visiting friends. As a psychiatrist, he is a most understanding man, showing compassion and affection.

The city people who stop to warmly express their sympathy whenever we meet them in town during the preceding days are present on the funeral day. University friends came from far-flung places to pay a last tribute after so many years. A funeral card was placed on each seat with a photograph of the departed one taken on the mountain on the front page and his family details, and on the back cover, a funny photo of him in his younger years, dressed in kilt as a Scotsman. In the middle, a poem of his written in 2014, a tribute to the mountain:

 Not once, but twice,

Unbidden, or so we thought.

First up, then down the rutted,

Rocky track. Drawn to you …

 The Baptist minister presides over the ceremony, giving an overview of his life. A fitting tribute is paid by two friends and one relative to recall sweet memories of a beautiful soul, a loving husband, a devoted father, a loyal and loving friend, a blessing to all the family and relatives. All sorts of loving memories come up, football matches, thrilling rugby matches in Paris or on television, even more exhilarating when England is beaten! The minister standing on the left of the elevated platform intervenes in between the speeches and makes a few comments to cheer up the audience. In the middle, the wide glass pane window gives a full view of the blue sky , the green hills and birds flying, and on the right lies the coffin on a stand, a life-lover enclosed in it. On such a beautiful day. He would have liked to be outside. It all looks so unreal to be true. Gone too early.

Only once does the minister mention God. Amazingly, he manages to appease the pain of everyone by using the right words, and on the beauty of life and human relations, the power of Love and how the departed soul has enriched our lives. And addressing the children of the deceased, he tells them how their father continues to live in them through their genes. His soothing words and a Bob Dylan’s song are uplifting, especially at the dreaded moment when the purple curtains start moving automatically to take the coffin away from our gaze. A heart-breaking moment when you feel like falling apart into pieces. But the soul-elevating discourse opens up our hearts to life and love. Later, we find out that there is no script of his beautiful speech. It is all improvised and spontaneous. The minister used to be a librarian who gave up his job to become a minister and help people to cope with sorrow and grief. The wide vocabulary, the right words and the smooth fluency of his discourse shows that he is a cultured man.

And it is all smilingly that everyone meets outside on that beautiful sunny day and engage in light conversations. For the moment, the idea that he loved life, wanted to live and dreaded death like most of us recedes to the back of our mind. He will be terribly missed. The gathering at the pub and the conversations among all those present with his favourite music in the background and sharing food and drinks together are most cheering. It all helps to uplift the spirits.

A week later, the family and close friends climbed up his favourite mountain for more than three and a half hours to scatter his ashes on the heights beneath the blue sky. It is like a hymn to life that we have celebrated as we leave the station flanked by roses, and say good-bye to Comru (Wales), the region with unpronounceable names like Caersws and Powys.

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