Infant mortality rates are down and older people do go on a lot longer these days, but bang in the middle are those who pop it relatively young. Heart attacks, accidents, suicides, strokes, cancer... you name it, it kills us. Like playing Russian roulette; no one knows what they will die of. We may well waste away with some brand new disease they will have to name after us.
Very rarely are people ready to leave in the prime of their life – you know, late thirties to early sixties. One gets so used to living by then and death sounds like such a rumour that immortality seems just about possible. Really, we conduct our lives along long-term lines. Our EMIs, enmities, club memberships... nothing suggests imminent departure. But then those around us start to fall willy-nilly en route. Suddenly we hear of someone on ventilator, on dialysis, in ICUs, in a coma. We realise there is no method in the madness; nothing marks out the next one to leave. A tells us about B’s terminal illness, but we see B hale and hearty at A’s funeral soon after. Still, we don’t write a will.
We turn to religion, reiki, meditation, therapists, hard drugs and liquor, but nothing and no one can stop our going.
This sort of cramps our style. We must polish our exit lines; who knows which conversation will be the last and quoted in our absence? Then there’s the fear of dying. How morbid to dwell on demise. The illusion of eternity lends itself so nicely to living life.
But we will be gone sooner or later, on our own final journey. Someone will call someone and say nice things about us. Friends and acquaintances will compete to prove their closeness to us. Our innocuous comments will haunt those who hung out with us last. Worse, they may say we ‘knew’ we were going – just because we returned the money we owed or refused to commit to a future outing.
Our gifts will be kept aside or given away with slightly trembling, slightly scared hands. And that sweater we forgot in a friend’s place will be hastily disposed of despite its high-end brand name. We taint ourselves with our death.
No two people are alike, so no two departures are alike. Each of us invents death anew, our own. One does tend to take his/her going too personally. It is all very well to shake head and condole others’ death, but to not be around at your own funeral seems a little hasty. If the Grim Reaper was polite enough to ring doorbells, we’d go all Lucknowi on those around us: ‘
Will we go on a weekday or a public holiday, when we’d get more of a crowd? Will we be alone or among kin while breathing our last? And what do we wear: hospital gown or our dated bridal finery (pulled out by a sister-in-law we never trusted)? Who will cry the most? Who will see our ghost? And what about rebirth?
We may think we will never end but once we do, others cement it quickly with eulogies, obits and highly unbelievable praise. It’s unbelievable, despite the failure of anyone to linger indefinitely, that one day all of this will go on without us, that we won’t be here to wave everyone else goodbye. Life’s eternal only till we die.
Shinie Antony is a writer and editor based in Bangalore. Her books include The Girl Who Couldn't Love, Barefoot and Pregnant, Planet Polygamous, and the anthologies Why We Don’t Talk, An Unsuitable Woman, Boo. Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Asia Prize for her story A Dog’s Death in 2003, she is co-founder of the Bangalore Literature Festival and director of the Bengaluru Poetry Festival.