Tuesday, January 04, 2011


Why do you weep? Did you think I was immortal?
Louis XIV, King of France

A post I read a couple of days back triggered off these thoughts on Death, that only certainty in life.

No one who is, ever asked to be born. I am sure if we were given the choice after being comprehensively informed about the balance sheet of life, many - except perhaps the very adventurous and dare devil types - would have opted out of life. Didn’t someone say more fortunate than the king or the emperor is a stillborn child?

Yes. Life, though beautiful, can be exceedingly painful too.

And sometimes life goes so totally out of our control that we get completely cornered, and walls of despair close in on us and we can only watch on helplessly.

But the irony of it is nobody wants to give up life when that invitation is extended by death.

And, alas! Death is a certainty.

The uncertainties of life are numerous, and the only certainty about it is that we will have to leave it behind someday. It's not a cheery thought even though life can sometimes be akin to a torturing rack. Despite all its miseries, we want to hang on. Some say it's because of man's fear of the unknown - that undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns.

At the base of the story of science is man's desire to eradicate death. From the time of Adam and Eve who tried eating what they thought was the fruit of life which would defeat death, that effort continues. Medical science tries to do the next best thing. If death cannot be destroyed, it can at least be deferred. And postponing death is gaining another lease of life, ironically, with its baggage of problems! From alchemy to cloning, the goal is the same – destroy the destroyer who has stalked man ever since the birth of organism.

Riding in tandem with science are arts, religion and philosophy, all attempting to terminate death. Their tool of annihilation is lexical. Donne used convoluted arguments, aesthetically worded to establish the victory of life over death. Death be not proud, he sang .

Religions try every trick in the book to convince us that death is not the final curtain but a curtain raiser to immortality. Thus, death defeats itself. Buddha taught us how to deal with death. The best way, he pointed out, was to wipe the smirk off its face, and he showed us how to do it. Don’t be intimidated by it, he urged. There is no gloating for the victor if the vanquished is unaffected. The strategy to achieve this state of mind was so complex that his disciples did not grasp it, and disseminated a simplistic version of his wisdom, doing severe injustice to the great man’s complex philosophy!

The much extolled survival instinct of man, as we know, implies a combat against that foe called death which we know will ultimately be the victor. Go down fighting is the attitude about which much is written and sung but the subtext of all the paeans is that our attempts though heroic are all in vain. That adds poignancy to the death narrative. If we look close enough, we’ll recognize that this is actually a sour grape attitude, which goes something like what if we die so long as we die well, showing no fear of death. Thus it is that we blow up to epic proportions the victory over the bitterness of death of those people who laughed at death in the face – like a Sir Thomas Moore who removed his beard from the execution block because it grew after he was sentenced to death, and therefore was innocent of the crime for which he was being beheaded; or a Karl Marx who hollered at his housekeeper who wanted his last words, Go on, get out, he yelled, last words are for fools who haven't said enough; or that Italian painter Pietro Perugino who refused to take his last sacrament saying that he was curious to find our what’d happen to a person who died without it!

Suicide too is extolled (thought not by the state or moralists) by bards because it is perceived as outsmarting death. The person here grabs the bull by its horns before the bull gets him/her. Appealing suicides, however, happens only in stories –not in life. Shakespeare was one for romanticizing and glamourising suicide. Remember Romeo and Juliet, or still better, Cleopatra (though I can never understand why she chose that revolting reptile to do the deed!).

When people choose death over life for principles or convictions, I guess that’s a true victory. It is a pooh poohing of death. It’s an I’d rather die a thousand deaths than betray the life sustaing rules of precious life type of attitude. Ironically, it’s a choice of life over death! An establishing of the superiority of life over death. It’s the ultimate dismissal of death as an inconsequential phenomenon before which life will not bow down.

I know those post is getting me nowhere, and the only thing I have done is to trivialize the only certainty in life. But then, what else should we mortals do? Shiver and shake before this terminator whom we have known from the moment our existence began, this stalker who seems infatuated with us humans? True, there are no authorities to whom we can appeal to place restraining order on this stalker. But we can at least turn our nose up at it, right? Millions have died before us. Millions will die after us. So there’s nothing unique about death. Therefore, let’s not give it more importance than it deserves.

Sour grapes? :-)


  1. "You cannot be frightened of the unknown because you do not know what the unknown is and so there is nothing to be afraid of. Death is a word, and it is the word, the image, that creates fear. So can you look at death without the image of death? As long as the image exists from which springs thought, thought must always create fear. Then you either rationalize your fear of death and build a risistance against the inevitable or you invent innumerable beliefs to protect you from the fear of death. Hence there is a gap between you and the thing of which you are afraid. In this time-space interval there must be conflict which is fear, anxiety and self-pity. Thought, which breeds the fear of death, says, 'Let's postpone it, let's avoid it, keep it as far away as possible, let's not think about it'- but you are thinking about it. When you say, 'I won't think about it', you have already thought out how to avoid it. You are frightened of death because you have postponed it". J.Krishnamurthy

  2. Mom,

    I really liked this post. Especially how you blended in random trivia with the theme and looking at the idea from so many different perspectives yet being in complete control of the tone of the post. Am surprised none of your following thought this was exciting! At first glance I thought the ending was too abrupt but once I read it again, there really is no appropriate way to end such a post - signifies man's sheer helplessness with regard to the control he exercises over the only certainty in his/her life. I've enjoyed many of your posts for the narration, but this one just highlights how much you've evolved as a person and a writer through your blogging career!

  3. kochuthresiamma p .j said...
    i was excited to note that my take has some similarities with the great man's!

    thanks for the lovely comments. What greater compliment than what you have given me.
    yes, math - blogging has helped me evolve - both as a person and as a writer.i'll be eternally grateful to the blogsphere for that. it is a space where you can empty out your thoughts without fear. and you have a regular readership who help you with gems of input.
    you better find time to update your blogs;-)

  4. Interesting thoughts.

    No one knows the experience of death.No one comes back to tell us about it.And that is why we are afraid of death.If we believe in eternal life to come,then there is no need to panic.The truth is,we just talk about it,but do not believe in full.
    There is a total disarray of death around us.If nature had followed norms,the oldest should die first and the youngest should live longer.But it doesnt happen that way.As doctors,what we try to do is to bring some array in this total disarray of events. But we are fighting a very strong enemy,who finally wins.

    But what you said at the end" let us not give more importance".Doesnt it show the real failure of us,human, and the real fright?.We cant give more or less importance.We dont have to.Because death is really the most important reality.

  5. I blame "hope" since this is what makes us choose life over death.. even if this life has given us a lot of heartaches. Just like how Almighty placed "love" within each of us.. He also placed an equal or more of "hope" too.

    We dont want to die and we dont want those whom we love, to die too... we hope against hope..

    May this hope prevail and give us all a peaceful death when it comes finally.

  6. Impressive references. There is no denial of the fact that for the vast majority of us death is intimidating. I guess, as life departs the body..its extremely painful also, which adds to the dread. Recently watched a movie called Here after directed by 83 year old Clint Eastwood. Once again the answer remains elusive!!

  7. Very impressive and to think of. In all honesty there are times where I think about this and how it might impact me because I haven't really lost anyone that I love so much or have known for a long time as of yet. The only ones in my family that passed as of now was my grandfather, whom I loved dearly but did not see too often and an uncle who passed away from liver cancer, but I did not know him or remember him that well because again they both were living in India..and though I feel saddened by their departures, it did not affect me in a way that it had affected their immediate families. Have heard about the stories when it happened and was horrified at the reactions and everything. Now I feel fear about what if I lose someone I known for a long time and love, be it parents, younger brother, aunts, uncles, cousins or friends I've known for a long time. In all honesty, I really don't know how I am going to react if put in the situation and most of all, don't know what I would do. I had a discussion w/ my roomate on this once and she told me if you are older and haven't experienced it yet, it's going to be much harder on you than when you are younger..and she seems right on it. I'm almost 22 and I already understand death is certain for every single individual living. No one can escape death because it's always guaranteed some point in your life. Just thinking about it just can scare the living lights out of you as well.

  8. I happened upon your blog today. couldn't leave w/o commenting on Gandhiji's house and related comments.
    I disagree about forgetting Gandhiji because even though sadly our leaders do not care to practice his teachings, or set an example to the future generations, Bollywood's movie - Lage Raho MunnaBhai brought reminders and sentiments back on a leader who practiced what he preached. Kudos there!
    Many of us do buy books for our children to read as it is a history of India's struggle to become a free nation. And lastly, thanks to Martin Luther King, Americans are quite aware of Gandhiji being a follower and hero to MLK's path to abolish slavery in America. India is a progressing nation, progress does NOT mean forgetting history or the path that brought us to freedom. If adults take a step back from greed and "me, myself and I' and politicians and the rich are held accountable for ILLegal actions, we may have a chance.(some efforts like "No one Killed Jessica Lal" has helped. Progress is great today thanks to the US passing work offshore. But beware, the Chinese do not have our language advantage, but are focused on the goal and will out do India, if we remain LAZY, callous and greedy! As for Gandhiji's sexual preference, I have read a lot about Kallenbach and he seems to be someone who ached for love. Love does not mean physical but a guide and mentor. I think Gandhiji stood for all that for him. nd his willingness to fund and help Gandhiji's cause touched Gandhiji. That is all! And, if they were sexual partners whcih I strongly doubt, it is such a moot point...the freedom struggle resulted in victory!

  9. @ anonymous
    thanks for visiting my blogs. but y anon?:-)

  10. Was it only a coincidence that you started the year 2011 with a post on death? In 11 months time the only certainty of life overtook you!

    Loved your parting shot: "Therefore, let’s not give it more importance than it deserves."
    More than any one else I can vouch for it- that you have trivialized the only certainty of life
    in real life as in your writings.

    Salaam, lady courageous!!


Dear visitors, dont run away without leaving behind something for me :-)
By the way, if your comment does not get posted at the first click, just click once more.