The sun was beating down on the orange, dusty road. It was only nine in the morning, but I already had my sunglasses on and a fine sheen of sweat on my face and body. Up ahead, I heard chanting. Moments later, a procession came into view. At the front of it was a funeral pyre, carried on the shoulders of brown-skinned men. As it got near, I saw that there was a white swathed body swathed lying on top of it, draped with garlands of pink and yellow flowers. The procession marched forward, and I stepped to the side, balancing on the edge of a trough that rushed with dirty gray water. Another girl who had been walking toward me did the same thing. The procession took up the whole road. As it passed, I looked at the outline of the body under the white sheet, the bright sun lighting it up ‘til it blazed. The body looked small, but long. I had a feeling that this was an important man, because every person marching down that dusty road was a man. There were close to a hundred of them. In the middle of all those stomping feet was an old man with a long white beard. He would call out a string of words that sounded garbled to my Western ear, and the rest of the procession would take up his chant, the sound of their voices keeping time to their marching feet, which kicked up dust and made me squint.
When most of the people had passed, the girl and I looked at each other. “Wow,” I said, not sure what else to say. “Yes, that was crazy,” she agreed in an indistinguishable European accent. “I have never seen a body like that.” Her gaze followed the backs of the marchers, semi-obscured by the haze of dust rising up behind them. She wiped the sweat off her forehead. “Well, I’ve seen a body before, in Varanasi, but not like this…” I didn’t know what she meant, so I just nodded. “Do you think they are taking it to the river?” she asked. I followed them with my eyes and nodded. “Probably. They’re walking in that direction.” “Ah well,” she said, shaking out her hair and then gathering it back in her hands. She tied it back in a loose ponytail and pulled it down over her shoulder. Then she smiled at me with blue eyes and said, “Death is part of life.”