Was Prachanda being a hypocrite when he was seen shedding tears at the unexpected loss of his son, 36-year-old Prakash, who had died of a sudden cardiac arrest? After all, Prachanda personally oversaw a bloody insurgency that caused the deaths of 17,000 Nepalis—each one of them undoubtedly someone's brother or sister, son or daughter. So perhaps it is karma that three years ago the Maoist leader lost one of his daughters to cancer, and now his only son to a fluke heart attack.
Moreover, if he was really bereaved, would he have the sense to wave at the crowd of onlookers that had gathered at his son's funeral?
Or perhaps you think this is cruel characterization of Prachanda who, after all, is in mourning. And a father, whether a murderer or a saint, is a father, is a father. Only Prachanda knows how much it hurt to light up his son's funeral pyre. Grief, in this reading, is an innate human sentiment, and it would be wrong to try to contextualize it. Prachanda was crying because he felt sad at the loss of his son, no more, no less.
Whether you are someone who orchestrated a bloody insurgency or someone who has all her life selflessly served humanity, death of a close relative hurts. Stalin, who sent millions to their early deaths in his gulags, was only 28 when he married Kato Svanidze, the love of his life. Svanidze died of unknown causes after only 18 months of their marriage. Stalin was devastated. "With her died my last warm feelings for humanity," he would later say.
Career politicians and communists in particular tend to link their lives to the supposedly higher causes they champion. Prachanda and his comrades no doubt saw the ultimate sacrifice of the Maoist militia as imbued with higher meaning, in some way contributing to the wellbeing of their fellow Nepalis. The remarkable thing about Prachanda's family is that all its members were involved in the Maoist war. The dead body of Prakash was thus draped in party flag, and the father gave him one-final communist salute before the last rites. In a way, his son's death was no different to the demise of thousands of other cadres who had died during the Maoist insurgency.
The question of Prachanda's conscience has also been repeatedly raised in the past few days. If Prachanda had even a little of it, he would apparently be able to link his experience of grief with the grief that befell thousands of families who lost their loved ones to the Maoist war. But that is not how human sentiments work. Grief is perhaps the most personal of all human experiences.
But is it okay for public figures to cry in public? For instance Aishwarya Rai was pilloried in the Indian media for supposedly not appearing 'sad enough' during her father's funeral earlier this year. Not everyone likes to grieve in public. But there are plenty of those who like to shed crocodile tears after the death of their parents, even though the same parents were badly neglected when they were still alive.
I know how it feels to lose someone close and I felt bad for Prachanda as he sobbed at his son's funeral. With time, he will again be the politician that I know of, and perhaps then I will not look at him as charitably. Research suggests that most of us quickly get over our grief, even days after the loss of a loved one. This is true across time and culture. Seldom is an experience of grief as bad as we think it will be. Much like the rest of our life, grief, too, passes. But I believe there is something sacred about the instantaneous emotion of grief.
Research also suggests that those who smile and laugh more often recover quicker from grief (hypocrisy again!). Prachanda is a jovial kind and he has far too much going on in his life to be always occupied with grief. A day after cremating his son, he said that he was coping all right. It was the rest of the family that was not doing so well, he said. But they too will eventually learn to cope with what now seems like an irreparable loss.
There are perhaps as many ways to grieve as there are people on the planet. But everyone deserves one final moment of connection with the dead. As much as some of us hate Prachanda and everything he stands for, and ditto for Prakash, his errant son, they are humans too; all flesh and blood, and each with his share of strengths and foibles.
Every day, countless people die just in Kathmandu. Even if we knew them all, it would be impossible for us to grieve for each and every one. In fact, most of us look to actively avoid post-death rituals of relatives because they remind us of our own mortality. Many shun Pashupati altogether as it reminds them of a painful death. Hypocrites? That we most certainly are.
The writer is the op-ed editor at Republica. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org