Last week I stayed overnight in the rural home of the elderly uncle of an ARDY volunteer. The next morning I was jolted from sleep at 6am by a male voice on a loudspeaker not far from their home. Another holdover from the Maoist era, the loudspeaker now broadcasts news to the community rather than propaganda.
After breakfast, I followed the family out to a far corner of their field, where the elaborate stone tomb of my friend’s grandparents lay. I was curious about the stone carvings adorning the tomb. Two fish flanked either side, while a book and what looked like a chemistry beaker and the image of an atom at the very top seemed to be a symbol for science, though my friend was also unsure of the meaning. A stone tablet on the front of the tomb gave the names of the deceased, as well as all of their seven children and their spouses, including my friends’ parents and elder uncles who had hosted us. A long inscription described their lives, in particular the poverty and hardship that they had suffered through. His aunt had brought along a thick bundle of coarse straw paper, and I watched as my friend and his two nephews lit the paper on fire and placed it on the ground next to the tomb. The burned paper served as money which the deceased could use in the afterlife. In town I had noticed paper for sale that had been printed to look like fake money, but this family had opted for the more traditional, and probably cheaper, currency.