In Mahabharatha, one day during their exile, the Pandavas go near a lake to quench their thirst. The caretaker of the lake, a Yaksha asks them not to drink water until they answer all his questions. The four brothers – Nakula, Sahadeva, Arjuna & Bheema drink the water without bothering about the Yaksha and fall dead. Finally the eldest of them – Yudhistra answers the questions and satisfies the Yaksha, who is actually Lord Yama in disguise. One of the questions is:
Yaksha: What is the greatest wonder of this world?
Yudhistra: The fact that people think that they are permanent in this world, though everyday they see several people dying with their own eyes. Could there be a greater wonder than this?
Last week, this time he was with us. He was speaking to his family members, with lot of difficulty though. Today he is not there. Yes, i am talking about my father-in-law, whose demise has left a deep impact on me. This was the first time; i have been near a close family member who was breathing his last. My father-in-law, Dr.V.A.Sathgurunath had everything a person would need to lead a happy and a satisfied life. A devoted spouse, well settled children, brilliant grand-children, a busy schedule, a business to look forward to, loving employees and a wonderful life. He used to proudly state, “I don’t have ABCD – Arthritis, Blood Pressure, Cholesterol & Diabetes.”
Dr.V.A.S, as he was fondly called by all, also had an envious educational & professional background. He was an IIT – Kharagpur topper, was in charge of the inception of SSTP – BHEL as a Senior DGM, Trichy and President of Jindal Steel Plant. Dr.V.A.S, at the age of 65+years, achieved his Doctorate in Naturopathy.
Then what went wrong? His death was the final battle in his long war with Lung disease. According to the medical experts, this disease was a result of being exposed to the pollution in the steel factory for many years, where he had spent more than half of his lifetime. And gone was the person known to be a disciplinarian and a perfectionist all his life.
It did take me a while to come out of this distress, especially looking at my mother-in-law, whose life had revolved around him. After spending 52 years with him, she looked like a fish out of water to me. Death is the inevitable and unavoidable conclusion to life. But our mind does not accept it easily, especially when the person close to us is ‘no more’. It’s just a reminder of however carefully we plan our future, we still have only limited amount of time in which to live to our fullest.
Recently, i was reading about the cultural aspects of death & dying. While death is a universal phenomenon, the methods of expressing grief are culturally bound. All cultures have developed ways to cope with death in a respectful manner. In many cultures for example people wear black as a sign of mourning. In China, white is the colour of death. Christians & Muslims, both believe death is a transition to a more glorious place. They believe in the sovereignty of God. Buddhists believe that the living co-exist with the dead. In some cultures, worship of dead is important and it includes making offerings of food, money, clothing & blessings.
It was surprising to note that in some cultures organ donation is not permitted. Hinduism speaks on the transition of soul to a new life (similar to Buddhism). A person is said to be born again as a result of his past and the accumulation of his positive & negative actions. In some cultures, showing grief, including wailing, is expected of mourners because the more torment displayed and the more people crying, the more the person was loved. In Japan, it is extremely important not to show one’s grief. They believe, death is a time of liberation and not sorrow.
Each person reacts differently to death. Some are consumed by grief and agony; others take a moment to reflect on life. Some even laugh at it.
What puts me off is that for some people death is a business opportunity. For the first time I was exposed to death being an industry by itself, in our country especially. For so many people, it is a source of income. And for the bereaved family, it is a moment of confusion and sorrow, which is exploited by many of in our society.
Though difficult to ask, there are some crucial questions that need to be a part of the conversations among the family members of the ailing person. What are our cultural rituals, the role of every family member, who speaks to the doctor and the final arrangements?
Not to forget the people who stand by us during this difficult period. The friends and the near and dear ones who are with us and supporting us. That’s when one realizes the number of people who are with us. Can we call them our ‘true friends’?
Finally, I would like to share a beautiful thought shared by one of my friends recently, which truly made sense.
A man died… When he realized it, he saw God coming closer with a suitcase in his hand. Dialogue between God and Dead Man:
God: Alright son, it’s time to go
Man: So soon? I had a lot of plans…
God: I am sorry but, it’s time to go
Man: What do you have in that suitcase?
God: Your belongings
Man: My belongings? You mean my things… Clothes… money…
God: Those things were never yours, they belong to the Earth
Man: Is it my memories?
God: No. They belong to Time
Man: Is it my talent?
God: No. They belong to Circumstance
Man: Is it my friends and family?
God: No son. They belong to the Path you travelled
Man: Is it my wife and children?
God: No. they belong to your Heart
Man: Then it must be my body
God: No No… It belongs to Dust
Man: Then surely it must be my Soul!
God: You are sadly mistaken son. Your Soul belongs to me.
Man with tears in his eyes and full of fear took the suitcase from the God’s hand and opened it… Empty…
With heartbroken and tears down his cheek he asks God…..
Man: I never owned anything?
God: That’s Right. You never owned anything.
Man: Then? What was mine?
God: your MOMENTS. Every moment you lived was yours. Do Good in every moment, Think Good in every moment, Thank God for every moment
Life is just a Moment. Live it… Love it… Enjoy it……
That’s why I stated “LIFE IS EMPTY & MEANINGLESS”