Intimations of Mortality
by Kiran Jhamb
"After sixty, the years we get are bonus years,” opined Mrs Sondhi. The idea struck me as strange. We retire at sixty - right? Is it a signal that we are at death’s door? Very depressing. What stopped death from snatching us, say at 40 - the fact that we had yet not retired?
Her husband at 66, recently had undergone a heart bypass. She is nearly a decade younger than her husband (but women have this habit of bringing themselves up to their husband’s age) - perhaps the hospital stay had started this train of thought. But I know for a fact my brother-in-law, a very successful businessman at 74,who too recently had undergone a surgery, is again back at the helm, setting up a new unit of corrugated boxes.
Even while talking to others, our mind runs on different tracks or sub tracks, or simmers on various back burners - all at the same time. Since the above mentioned conversation, one frequent track nowadays is death. The idea of death looms large - (no, that is a hackneyed negative way of expressing) - well, to put it differently- it has aroused curiosity. How are I and my spouse going to die?
Everyone knows death is inevitable. But fear of death is so dominant that to speak about it is almost taboo. Throughout our life we fear death in an instinctive way - say if the car swerves, we get alarmed. That is all over when you are over the hill - the feeling enforced by your superannuation. In the last phase of journey you start wondering how will the transition from life to death be?
The idea of death, of leaving behind everything does not frighten. Just as we were not sure how the present ‘everything’ was going to shape up, similarly the ‘everything’ of future will also crop up. What frightens is the idea of lingering - what if there is pain, hospitalization? Death should be like a switch - at an/the appointed time life shall be switched off - period.
Manju Kapoor won a lifelong fan when she made her Veeramati say 'I don’t want any shor-shaar (hullabaloo) or chowtha after my death.' It reassured me that I am no freak - there are people, who think like me.
After retirement, you have plenty of time. You are on a permanent cinema/ serial diet. Death is the center of a lot of dramatic activity in them. You start clinically observing the death and the people’s reactions in them and feel they are loud, synthetic, studied and maximum mileage is taken out of them. They all die with a bang. You do not come across any whimper . Then again if you are a sci-fi, X-files fan, death is like a deep sleep. You just fall asleep ...fade…fade... fade away. Everything is bright, clear, serene, no pain, no fear, no noise ... and you let go to enjoy the feeling of rest, tranquility and peace.
Not that I am in a rush to die but death is no more terrible. Of course , now the two acts appear to be distinct. First is the act of dying and the second is being dead. The latter poses no problem. The first one keeps you on tenterhooks. Will there be days of hopelessness, pain, loneliness, confusion - being a burden on others, facing lack of dignity, crying for reassurance? You start considering anew the dynamics of dying - the body’s shutting down. Compared to it, being dead is a cakewalk. The problem is escalated by numbers also. We number everything – the years spent and the years yet to be spent. You are afraid of finishing your savings.
They say the brain still functions up to 8 minutes after death. This makes you wonder if there is ever a quick and painless death ? Funny, the pain of birth and death is denied to our memory! Anyway those 8 minutes are a source of lot of comedy to me. I imagine the reaction of my extended family and how-do-you-do-friends. Lots of saccharine-snide remarks, just as you come across in farewell functions. The person getting retired being praised to the hilt on the dais, being showered with all the proper sentiments, while a commentary negating all the praises runs in the minds of those present. Life after all is a comedy to those who think. I don’t expect there to be a ‘me’ to be hurt by this experience, but one wonders, after death, you are still you? I will know one day.
Then again you have spent a life time believing in fantasy beings that live in fantasy worlds - Chitragupta, Yama, heaven, hell, etc. And you have swallowed heavy doses of rationalism also in your time. You have seen the rites and rituals being performed and questioned them also. You even consider donating your organs, even the whole body. The thought crops up that rationality and spirituality need not cross swords. Euthanasia seems a practical option - our way of controlling the circumstances. You get startled at the trend of your own thoughts.
You come full circle - death is inevitable. You know it's going to happen and there is nothing you can do about it. It is easy to die but not a ‘pleasant’ thought to lose the people you love.