Wikipedia defines Death as ” Death is the irreversible cessation of all biological functions that sustain an organism. Death is an inevitable process that eventually occurs in almost all organisms.” Remember Benjamin Franklin (1789), “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”. Despite being ubiquitous, Death is dreaded and rarely talked about, except in hushed tones & in dark corners. But I want to make it centerstage & say a few things about this universal phenomenon.
Ba Bha Borkar, a famous poet in Marathi, sings the story of life so very well:
नाही पुण्याची मोजणी
नाही पापाची टोचणी
जिणें गंगौघाचें पाणी
कशाचा न लागभाग
कशाचा न पाठलाग
आम्ही हो फुलांचे पराग
धन्य निर्माल्याची कळI
(Transliteration: I do not count the merits, Nor do I count the sins, Life is a swirling cauldron; I have no attachments; Nor have any pursuits, Like the pollen of the flowers, …To the flowers offered to God, Death is mighty celebration, They feel blessed to be used & discarded)
Actually, if you think about it, it is strange to be afraid of Death. Really, Life hurts much more than Death!! Living is a daily struggle, mostly an uphill battle chasing dreams & other chimera. Sure, some successes but full of disappointments & pain, perpetually keeping us in a state of want, pushing us to achieve the next goal, something better, higher & faster. Ironically, even achievers are unhappy in their worlds. Satisfaction is a moving goal post. As against this continuous seeking, at the point of death, the pain is over!! Swarga, Nirvana, Salvation, the Promised land, Heaven, Jannat, all await us there. So why grieve? why fear death?
Partly I think this is caused by the imagery surrounding Death. The Grim Reaper. Yama, on a black bison. The Purgatory, the Boiling Cauldrons. Even though the Jesus story is of hope, as he came back to life, the sufferings on the Cross is what is majorly emphasized & not the Resurrection. Devoid of all the negative hype, what is wrong with death? Remember, it is inevitable…. Life is a game, and no one gets out of it alive. If you have lived a good life, then Death is an entry ticket into Eternity. And all religions promise that the afterlife will be much more rewarding & comforting, than the struggles of Life!! I think the fear of death follows from the fear of life & living, itself!!!
All these thoughts are prompted by the death of a friend’s mother, another friend’s sister & my own uncle, all in this month. Each life & each death is an unique story. But let us talk about my uncle. He was my father’s immediate next brother, & we all have very fond memories of his love and affection, in our childhood years. He introduced us to British Council libraries. He would assemble all kids at his house, get everyone to play cards, keep a running supply of snacks and nimbu-pani. The evening reward, for participating in the card-playing marathon, was an Ice-cream treat. This was before the Kwality & Joy family pack days. So the entire jing-bang was ferried in rickshaws to Kawre & Solanki Ice cream parlors. He first introduced us to an ice-cream lunch or dinner: idea was to have 5/6 or more, cups of different flavors, & skip the meal.
His giving was legendary. In my mother’s kitchen the Big dabbas of Steel & Copper were procured & supplied by my uncle. As were the crockery & cutlery sets. His loving nature apart, he was super intelligent. A ranker in his SSC exam at that time, his sense of humor was legion. Fie, if you were caught on the wrong end of his repartee…many family anecdotes were made from his caustic, but witty comments.
Somewhere down the line his loving nature gave way to bitterness. He behaved as though God has put him on earth to correct his fellow humans, to show them the right path. Full of vituperative anger & caustic sarcasm, he hurt many & left many wounded. Slowly, people started avoiding him. Even the family members bristled & kept their own counsel, on the other side of the road, where he walked. Unfortunately, this reinforced his feeling that the world is wrong, & he must intervene and tongue-lash people unto following his dictum. He lived to ripe age of 89, saw his children settled, disposed his property, made money & bank balances, but died lonely, and if truth be told, un-mourned. What makes a man change so much? “Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies within us while we live” These words of Norman Cousins ring true when I think of my uncle. A loving, kingly man, witty and smart, the life of any party. Why and how does he turn into a man-eating ogre?
Death never takes a wise man by surprise. And wise my uncle certainly was. He had he had lived a full life, by his rules, and was “prepared & ready” to die. He never felt it necessary to grieve & mourn and would not have expected us to grieve. Don’t get me wrong. I am against the ostentatious Rajasthani practice of Rudaalis (professional mourners) immortalized by Mahasweta Devi’s short story, brought to life by Kalpana Lajmi and played by Rakhee & Dimple. Extreme show apart, I do believe Grief is a coping mechanism and has a place in life. Grief is not a disorder, a disease, or a sign of weakness. In the normal situation, grieving is a necessity, a price you pay for the love of the deceased. The only cure for grief is to grieve. But in the instant case the love had evaporated & so literally there was no grief. With all sincerity & humility, I hope, when I die, there will be no grief. Unlike my uncle, i have never tried to teach others the “right” path. But I believe I have shown acceptance and tolerance to all. I have lived a good life. I have no remnant desires. To his credit I must say my uncle too had a very peaceful death. I wish for the same.
ह्रदय कमल सूचि हो….बुद्धि मेरी विमल हो….तृष्णा से शांत मन हो….इतना तो करना स्वामी…जब प्राण तन से निकले (Transliteration: Let my heart be pure like the lotus…my intellect humble…mind free of desires… do at least this much Swami…when life leaves my body)
If you think clearly, “it is not death then a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live” (Marcus Aurelius). Live life king size, Enjoy with family & friends, Contribute whenever & wherever and accept Death, the Grim Reaper, Yama as a friend. A friend buying your ticket and accompanying you to the Beyond, a new Avatar. As a dear friend says, “ उस पल का इंतझार“ (eagerly await that moment)
So I repeat with John Donne ,” Death be not proud, …one short sleep past, we wake eternally, And Death shall be no more, Death thou shalt die”: vikas, the incurable hopeful