...make it shallow, so that I can feel the rain...

The words to this DMB song raced through my head as I walked up a small flight of stairs to the rear, less-frequented entrance to Pere Lachaise Cemetery (pardon the missing French accents, I am a little short of patience tonight) in Paris on one of 2010's last days.

Gravedigger, when you dig my grave,
Could you make it shallow,
So that I can feel the rain?

I have never seen a person die. I have never seen a dead person and I am quite relieved that I have not had to endure the distress. For reasons that shouldn't surprise, I believe that seeing death is not an ordinary experience, one free of emotions that can be easily grappled with. Yet, there is a sense of complain when I think about it- I feel unprepared for the time I will eventually have to see death with my own eyes.

Walking through rows and rows of graves reminded me of the quiet that must follow the end of life. 

Cemeteries are sombre. They are cold. They are colourless, except for that occasional flush of rose red that a grieving husband gently places on what remains of his wife. 

They are places that tell tales of invisible lives, away from tabloid stories or the tell-all facebook and twitter updates. It's interesting how the need for words vanishes at a place like this- where not a word needs be spoken but so much can be communicated. Moments of solitude, retrospection, hushed conversations with a departed loved one, unspoken words of prayer...

They are also places where one runs into interesting people, strangers at any other time and place, but familiar in pain and grief. However, I was at the cemetery only to tear myself away from the touristy treks from the past days, and probably feed my protographic cravings despite being unsure of the camera's presence in a cemetery. If I were there to pay my respects to someone, it was probably a few of the multitude of famous people who rest in this fairly large complex.

While I felt like a true fan of rock music standing upon Jim Morrisson's grave as images from a recent Doors' movie relayed in my head, I was more drawn to the other living people there. Not the neo-hippie couple lighting another cigarette before finishing the previous one. Not the Italian couple relentlessly asking for directions to Chopin's grave. But, the old man who was so quick on his feet that I couldn't keep up with him. It was as if his swift feet were trying to escape the excursionists and their directionless pursuits of finding a famous dead person and posing with a victory sign at her grave, while managing a quiet moment with whomever he was there to see- his wife, or probably a granddaughter who died before her time.

I wondered what the woman, who I found cleaning the grave of a loved one and replacing the withered flowers, thought of me and the many like me there- the tourists! I stood there and watched her release her warm, clad hands into the chill, to brush off the dead winter leaves that survived autumn only to be had by winter. I stood there confused- should I pull out the camera and with some sleight of hand that the winter chill might not allow me, take a quick picture to remind me of this day? Worse still, post it on facebook!?! I shied away from the thought but allowed myself a few more minutes with her before I made my way out.

The camera, or the arts, didn't belong there. Not at least mine.

Minu Chawla