Carol, a poem by Saki.
While shepherds watched their flocks by night
All seated on the ground,
A high explosive shell came down
And mutton rained around.
One of the things I enjoy most about our contemporary electronic information paradise is the ability to find immediate answers to vexing questions that formerly were the stuff of months-long (and on occasion, irreconcilable) bar bets.
One of the things I hate the most about growing old is the unreliability of my memory during those times when a stubborn recollection refuses to correspond with the verdict of the search engines.
The search engines are to blame, because I’m positive there was a short story by Saki (Hector Hugh Munro), in a paperback collection from elementary school times that I possessed, in which an Asian sky burial tower figured prominently.
This came into my mind when I saw the headline of the Atlas Obscura essay linked below. Now, in an effort to prove what I surely have gotten muddled somewhere amid the cranium’s cobwebs, the past hour has been lost reading about Munro and his work.
Untameable Saki, by Fatema Ahmed (Prospect)
One hundred years after Saki’s death in the Great War, his stories are still wickedly funny
What Hector Hugh Munro (1870-1916), or “Saki,” thought of his life and work is a mystery. After his death, his sister Ethel destroyed most of his papers and instead wrote a short biographical sketch of her brother, which was published in 1924. The most vivid detail is her first memory of him, which has Saki running around the nursery with a blazing hearthbrush yelling, “I’m God! I’m going to destroy the world!” The second most vivid detail is their final encounter, when in the summer of 1916, Ethel declared “Kill a good few for me!” as Saki returned to the front in France. In November that year in the trenches near Beaumont-Hamel, Saki was reported to have shouted, “Put that bloody cigarette out!” only to be shot and killed by a German sniper.
H. H. Munro was 46 at the time of his death. He was past the age limit, but joined anyway. Refusing offers of promotion, Saki died an enlisted man.
As for the vultures and decomposition borne of the elements, of which Saki evidently did not write …
What Remains of Asia’s Traditional Sky Burial Sites, by Kavya Ram Mohan
Five dramatic places dedicated to returning corpses to nature.
The ancient ritual of leaving corpses exposed to the elements has long been believed to be a sacred method of interment. In this traditional practice, bodies are left outdoors atop towers or mountainside platforms, where they can decompose in the open air and carrion birds can feed on the flesh until only the bones remain.
While this may sound extraordinary to some modern ears, defleshing was considered a natural and efficient means of disposing of the dead for thousands of years. It’s been practiced in Zoroastrian communities in Iran and India, and in certain Buddhist regions of Tibet, China, and other nations throughout Asia.
As populations have grown in these regions, corpse exposure sites have became more scarce, and more modern forms of burial have gained in popularity.