My first encounter with death was the death of my great grand father. We sort of shared a special connection, I was the first great-grandson he ever had. He was a teacher by profession and a perfectionist - one thing he never demanded from me. He'd initiated me into writing and always maintained that none of his had ever gone wrong - even when I was a failure in all eyes but his. He died one fine day in 1992, I didn't even reach cochin in time for his cremation. His arm-chair still remains, for me to sit on as the eldest of the family once more - in a few decades maybe.
Next to vanish was my great grandmother. I always remember her as being always hunched back, sharp tongue and amazingly intelligent. The sort of wispy woman who seems to walk around purely on the basis of will alone. Her death was the first time I realized what death was - she's not coming back. Walking into a courtyard seeing my uncles cut out her golden bangles before cremation was almost carved into my memory.
A few years later, my paternal grandmother makes a distinguished exit from the world. She was one of the strongest women I have known - mentally. Our family is blessed with women who have been known to step up to challenge and take it head on. Anyway, she had pretty much brought me up since I was 3 and I didn't know what to say when she died. I couldn't even cry. I understood why and hows of her death - but still couldn't believe that someone like her could be replaced. She is mourned - but I remember her for what she made out of me. I still carry her fire and brimstone, though my sister carries the most of it - the cold determination which make any parent cringe or any child obey.
For the next few years, I never even thought about Death. You are young, in your teens and just getting to terms with yourself, hardly any time to philosophize about Death. Then I got a job, became a responsible Son and just lived from day to day, never thinking about what I did the next day, nor rememeber what I did the previous.
2004 April, I fly home to celeberate Vishu. Of all the people I meet on my usual rounds, only one has changed beyond recognition. My mother's aunt was unexpectly bald and eyebrows greying. She was under chemotherapy. As I bid goodbye to her, I told her that I'll be back for Onam.. and she sort of non-comittedly said that "I don't know.. I just don't know". July third week, the unthinkable happened - I got news in Hyderabad that she had just died at around 2 PM that day. I jump on Bangalore bus at around 5:30, reaching there in the morning - the next bus to Cochin at 12:20 and reaching there at 3 AM. I was utterly shocked by the suddeness of the death, I had seen her happily making pookalams the previous Onam, looking at her grandchildren and playing with them. And a year down the line, she's just gone. She was in a lot of pain from the cancer that death was probably a merciful release - but I cannot still deal with the fact that someone could just disappear like that.
And then came another death, but that was almost expected. She was 91 years old and has been blind for 20 years now. She was lingering on just due to a sort of desire to stay alive - I wouldn't call it will. Anyway, that didn't shock me.
But the latest one has shocked me, mainly because of my memories of this particular person. I remember seeing him hold a flowerpot in his hand and light it or a rocket launched by holding it. Never a man to shy away from any risk. We always went around to him, because he always had lemonade in his fridge. A literary master, who spent his time tutoring students in malayalam. The sort of guy who sits in a chair and talks mainly. Unlike my grandfather who was constantly walking and still at the age of 74 prefers to stand rather than sit.
All this made me wonder about how I will die. I spent my last night (no.. no.. not in that sense.. AAAAH !) dreaming of being chased and killed in around 23 different ways. But at least I didn't just give up and die - at least in the dream. It is quite interesting when you realize how being poked in your left belly by a pickpocket you chased feels like - in a dream. It's no less painful nor is it foolish when you think of what you had to give up in the chase for 397 Rs in cash and a company ID card. But I must live, because - and here I quote ..
To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep; No more; and by a sleep to say we end The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep; To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub; For in that sleep of death what dreams may come When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must give us pause: there's the respect That makes calamity of so long life;The grim reaper takes no prisoners - or at least we hope he treats the dead with more respect. The circle of life continues - a new generation has entered and it's exit left for the older. All world's a stage and all that - let me play my role till the fat lady sings.