Someone close died last week, an extremely gentle person who had not lost her inner goodness despite all the disasters she faced in life. But it was a painful death, after months of being paralyzed and being fully dependent on others to turn sides. Yeah, she is another of the hundred billion or so homo sapiens who have died so far on this planet. Of these, only a few thousand odd names make it to the history books, giving their lives some semblance of utility and permanence. But is the achievement of being on the pages of history books worth anything?
That life is useless has been a general agreement among most thinkers of the modern world and its hard to argue against that when, to begin with, almost all of us have to live our entire lives with a name given by others, a situation as silly as it can be. So we keep on devising more and more ways to spend time between a silly birth and death, drink oxygenated water, ride roller coasters, invest in butterfly options, and get tattoos painted. However such brilliant acts devised to kill time also leads to heartbreaks, bankruptcies, and diabetes. Probably all these made Kurt Vonnegut say that no animal deserves life. But we ensure that this pointlessness and the resulting sadness are shared by a larger audience by producing 2.1 children per female. And everyday, as I clear my trash, I am amazed at the amount of garbage that each day of my existence results in.
Our attitude towards death is varied, depending on whose death we are talking about. Middle class Indians love the cliché, “All politicians should be lined and shot to death.” When some old relative dies, we say that it was the best outcome for her. As for our own deaths, we publicly claim to be nonchalant about it while dread its possibility in private, resulting in a trillion dollar healthcare industry. Most religions therefore provide the simple comfort of immortality with concepts such as re-births, immortality of the soul, and after-life. Atheist communists, who can’t profess such beliefs, simply embalm the bodies of their supreme leaders in elaborate mausoleums.
As Vijay Tendulkar (he died recently) had said, Death is the most interesting experience in life as no one knows what happens during that experience. But two opposite concepts are seeing rapid development which may shape our attitude towards death. On one hand, assisted suicide is gaining wider acceptance in many societies. So, many more people are willing to let go of life if they find conditions unworthy. At the same time, the field of cryonics is promising a much longer life and quite a few men have signed up to get their bodies stored in extreme cold temperatures hoping for resuscitation in future when science develops further. Which concept will win? How many of us will live to know?