On death… and immortality

The idea of dying is so scary to us that we do all imaginable or unimaginable things to prevent death or at least delay dying

As a common mortal, I become very reflective about death and dying each time I attend a cremation or burial. The words from the Epic Mahabharata spoken by Yudisthir, that “The most wonderful thing in this world is that, although everyone is dying, people think that they will somehow live forever” start tinkling in my ears.

We are born to die, and we all shall die one day .Yet death and the idea of dying is so scary to us that we do all possible and imaginable or unimaginable things to prevent death or at least delay dying. We cherish life and wish to hold on, as the fear of death means ceasing to be existent and losing one’s identity and foothold in the world .There should not be any hypocrisy about it. Honestly speaking many of us eat, diet, exercise, take supplements and drugs, pray, meditate and keep from noxious elements, curse, etc., so that we may live longer and not die.

But aging takes its toll and heralds the imminence of death. The signs of aging (decay of the systems of the body) become evident with time. Literature is replete with the changes that occur as we age. There is cognitive impairment, the heart becomes larger and the blood vessels stiffer thus affecting the cardiovascular system. Bones and joints weaken. Muscles lose tone and strength. Respiration becomes laborious. Indigestion is common. We experience sight and hearing troubles. The gums pull back. Dental caries are not uncommon. The skin thins and become less elastic. Wrinkles, age spots and small growths manifest. And one day we are classified “the aged” with a foot in the grave.

In the 1900s life expectancy was about 32 years and now it is 72 (WHO Report). People live longer. There is a surge of treatment for the many illnesses. A study carried by Dr Sleeman of King’s College, London, shows that 20% of people meet sudden death (accident). Another 20% have a swift decline mainly because of terminal illnesses (cancer). The others become sick on and off, but recover and get sick again (relapse). Ultimately they die because of a slow, progressive deterioration of functions, often remaining painfully bed-ridden.

We have no control over what kind of death we want or what kind of end-of-life care we would like to get. The untimely sudden death in an accident is under the control of no one. In cases of terminal illness there is prolongation of life through drugs and other scientific means like intubation and artificial ventilation. Doctors are under the obligation of caring for the living. Relatives do not have much to say on the course of action and the patients are oblivious to the treatment meted out to them; generally they are not in condition to give consent. Similarly, treatment is given to a third group of people with chronic illnesses in a bid to prolong life through extensive medication and technology. But death catches up in the end.

What happens at death and after may be intriguing to most of us. There are those who believe that all is over – total annihilation and extinction from a living entity to a dead non-functional and inanimate “thing”. Yet there are a lot of others who believe that that’s not the end. Death is a prolongation of life in another form. There is an afterlife. There is birth after death. Death is merely the end of the body – there is a soul which goes to another body and starts a new life.

“Death is our wedding with eternity” – as put by the Persian poet Rumi. And, as in all weddings, the spouses give up the cosiness of parental care and make a life of their own. Those on a hunger strike are determined without fear to starve to death for a cause. We also should be able to give up happiness based on wealth, luxury, respectable positions and family joy and be ready and fearless to part with this body and die with serenity to start a new life again!



* Published in print edition on 11 August 2017

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