KARACHI: “My sister was unable to reach Pakistan, and earlier this year my father passed away.” She lives in the UK and because of the coronavirus travel limits, she couldn’t make it. She was distraught and inconsolable,’ said Tehmina. Her husband then proposed that we take her online and show her the body of our father, the funeral and all the rituals.
At first, we were a little surprised at this proposal, but then realised that using technology to connect a child to a parent at a time like this was a great idea.
Relatives are gathering to grieve online. In general, not just physically and financially, but also spiritually, we appear to come together to mourn and support one another. People were isolated to grieve, a startling change in a close-knit community, with the pandemic and lockdowns.
However, cyber grieving, a healthy substitute for a community used to assemble to mourn, rapidly filled this void, and soon online spaces were used to gather people at those moments.
Online lectures, workshops, webinars, with about all online, it was just a matter of time before people used technology to link for mourning.
For a society like ours it is unthinkable that one does not visit an ill family member or attend a funeral
As well as attending funerals, worship ceremonies and prayers, people visit sick relatives and friends online.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues and the lockout prolongs, individuals get used to their relatives’ simulated activities and visits. More and more people overseas use online spaces to remotely attend friends and relatives’ funerals and other ceremonies.
My brothers are overseas, one is in the United Kingdom and the other in Germany. They were both unable to fly to Pakistan to attend my mother’s funeral. For me to be alone to go through the entire thing must have been devastating,” said Shamim Ali. “Nevertheless, my siblings were all over the internet with me. Technology not only allowed them to say goodbye to their mother, but also to virtually attend her burial and fateha.”
Shamim Ali says something has been turned around by the coronavirus and now we have all grown. Who would have thought that my siblings would be part of the final journey for my mother? I know it’s not the same as being there, but being able to access it is something.
A religious obligation
It is unlikely for a culture like ours where the entire family is closely linked that one does not meet a member of the sick family or attend a funeral. Our funerals are important because it is also a religious duty for men to attend funeral prayers.
With the advent of the coronavirus, persons were unable to attend funerals, prayers or visit the bereaved relatives. This was a cultural issue for many and created a lot of social issues.
This is because people are searching for online spaces to see families remotely when they get sick or simply speak to them. They opted for online spaces for ‘e-morning’ and ‘e-praying’ while individuals did not attend funerals or visit hospitals.
“All you have to do is send an event link or use other virtual meeting options,” Saima said. “And everyone from the comfort of their homes can join in.”
Saima’s father-in-law died of the coronavirus, and she also tested positive soon after her mother-in-law. Her husband served overseas and was not able to come home. We’ve linked him to his mother directly via her cell. We showed her how to get linked and online.’
Fortunately, the mother-in-law of Saima has recovered and is back home, but she is happy to be able to interact with her kids and other relatives from around the world. Now she will, without any help, use her computer.
“I’ve lost two dear Corona friends. One was in another Pakistani city and the other lived in the US. I couldn’t attend any of the funerals for obvious reasons. I was devastated,” Ahmed said. My relatives interacted with me online and I digitally watched it all in real time. It was fucking surreal.
Haider said that when his uncle passed away, he was under quarantine. It was odd that both of us were in Karachi, and I did not attend his funeral, or either of the events of destiny. During the funeral and then the Fateha, my brother got me online. It was a little weird, but at least I properly paid my respect and saw my uncle for the last time.
At a time when it was most needed, technology has helped cross gaps between towns, countries and even continents. Due to lockdowns and social distancing, more persons appear to have come online over the last year than before.
The social existence in real time has allowed many to overcome these tough times by interacting more than ever with individuals. Perhaps the younger generation would not realise why the internet is such a huge deal when much of their lives have been linked.
But for older generations interacting with family and loved ones, it is wonderful to be able to stay in contact with each other, especially at a time like this.
Connectivity issues decades ago
Just over 30 years ago, when someone left the country, it was pretty hard to stay in contact with them. Parents were excited to hear their children’s voices and see their expressions. Most of the correspondence came by letters sent directly by a postman that could take weeks to arrive. It was an era where whether they were unable to move geographically, people were unable to visit or see their loved ones for the last time.
There were computers, but not everyone was connected to a network, as amazing as it might be now and many did not have direct dialling, as it was very costly.
Via operators who would dial the number you gave them, national and international calls were booked and they would ask how long you needed the call. The calls could be open or open for three minutes, six minutes, etc, and you will be paid for the last time. When time was running out the operator would cut the thread. For everyone, those few minutes were precious.
If you told them that a moment would come when connection would be a click away and free and that even if they lived on different continents, you might connect with different people at the same time, they would surely think you were crazy.
But all the same, technology is changing. It wouldn’t be wrong to believe that when one is teleported from one location to another and moves back and forth in time, a time will come.
Sound nonsensical? To judge, don’t be too quick!