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Friday, November 21, 2014

Life and death-1


Encounter with a speeding car: Some reflections on life and death  


The other day, I was late from work and was hurrying back to home. The dusk had already settled. I was walking lost in thoughts and had to cross the road near a busy crossroad to catch the vehicle on the other side.

When I was midway through the road, a speeding car came flashing its light with blinding glare. I had no time to think and decide but I retreated back about three steps spontaneously. I was dumbstruck; the driver didn't even bother to press the brakes once and the car disappeared in the same speed, as if I were an ant invisible to him.

As I calculated, I had saved myself as my instincts had intervened timely, it was a matter of a split second, a fiftieth of a second may be. It was by far my closest brush with death. With that speed of the car, an alternative to death would be even worse, a disabling injury in spine or elsewhere. After the blank phase of the mind gave away, I squeezed my eyes and carefully watched to all four sides. The zebra-cross was there within thirty meters from the point. As happens often enough, I had just walked across the road absentmindedly.

Clearly, the fault was entirely mine; the driver had no vision of me when he was speeding on the other side of the islet erected at the center to divide the traffic at the crossroad. When he saw me within few meters ahead, I would be anyway hit by the car before he managed to hit the brakes at the end of the reaction time. Either he too was dumbstruck and could not even press the brakes timely despite his wish, or it was habitual for him to run over people.

In either case, though, I had blatantly violated the traffic rule by not using the zebra-cross. That my life was spared that day was purely the function of my instincts that prompted me to retreat back just in time. Even a hasty decision to run forward would have been, as I calculated later, disastrous because the other end of the car's front-side would have hit me in that case.

But did I deserve to die for that seemingly minor fault? May be, may be not, depending upon how you view this entire thing.

Well, what would have happened if I had died a devastating death on the roadside that day?

The other day, the point of time would have moved a day away from the moments of my last existence. People would pay their condolence and share their grief for few days. May be, some of them would even bother to carry a condolence note at the bottom of a newspaper page. I would be missed, and who knows, even I could miss all the worldly things.

My friends would be obviously devastated but even the enemies would not be happy either (they must be wishing for me something worse than death, let's say, a long life of suffering and humiliation.) For some, nostalgia of moments with me would grip for long enough, for others, the plans involving me would make them realize the loss. Still others would pity the way I suffered and died. Those who played mischief with me would possibly regret having done that. Those who had scores to settle with me would scratch their heads and mumble: well, that bastard deserved that fate, but now that he is gone, whom will I settle my score with?

What else beyond that? Would people who are not my family, friends or acquaintances also miss me? Would the society at large remember me after months and years? Would the generation yet to arrive here find some reason to remember me? Would somebody find my life inspiring? Would be there some people who miss my potential contribution to the society rather than me as a person?


In the metasystem of existence that is the world, would there be any mark left in my name? Or would I simply vanish in thin year the moment my physical existence ended? 

Well, that is probably what people call soul-searching. And I am inexplicably happy to ponder over these things after that speeding car generously spared my life that day. This may not resonate with anybody else's life but for me, a piece of autobiographical writing is a sort of catharsis. Who can guarantee I'll live another thirty or forty years to write my autobiography as an elderly man? After all, what harm is there  in reflecting upon your own life every now and then? My perception is that we are so disproportionately consumed by petty day to day issues that the larger questions pertaining to life, and death, escape our attention to our own detriment. 

Therefore, I take these opportunities like this to set aside my bitterness and cynicism towards life and the world and see it in its true and beautiful colors. 


After all, what could be so bad about a neat death on the roadside that day? (I have no guts to imagine what my life would be like if I were grievously injured leading to some handicap). Except for a brief spell of grief over a tiny geographical location inside the tiny country of Nepal, the world would be left unperturbed, the birds would keep chirping, the rivers would keep flowing and people would keep being born and dead. Metaphorically speaking, I would be leaving my space of existence for a newcomer to this world; after all, we take turns to come here and depart, and that is the sole basis of continued existence of so many species in the limited space of the planet. What could be possibly wrong in my being departed relatively early? 

I feel sorry for people who depart from this world unhappy and planning for years and decades ahead. It is a terrible thing to go for something like death unhappy and unprepared. Given the unpredictability of human life, I feel we should always be ready for an unanticipated termination of the trail of existence we lead. 

So to say, I am not as unprepared for death today as I was half a decade back. 

After a decade-long spell of gloom, frustration and bewilderment, I had collected together many pieces of life over the past four years and was a reasonably happy person. I had finally got some of the attention that I thought from childhood I would one day earn. People knowing me for my work rather than as a relative were in many dozens. I had finally discovered my passion and unlocked some of the gates towards the hidden world of my creativity; after all, I was not as barren as the person that I once feared I would turn out to be. Moreover, there were also people who appreciated my work with equal vigor as that of those who ridiculed and dismissed it. I was finally connecting myself with this potentially hostile world. 

In other words, I was slowly coming to terms with my own existence in the world. I think that is one of the most important ingredient of happiness in human life: coming to accept yourself as who you have turned out to be and not who you long(ed) to be. 


If you dread death, that is the surest sign of your unhappiness. An important dimension of happiness is contentedness and once you are relatively content with life, death is not particularly dreadful though disappointing enough.

The realization that we have now forgotten most people who died in our lifetimes should be enough to make us rationally conclude that our own vision of the world without us is rather distorted. The person who dreads my death the most is myself and one who dreads your death the most is yourself. The grief and sense of loss of somebody are often more transitory than we happen to think at the time of their death. Even the parents who go through untimely demise of their child succeed to move past the tragedy with the combination of psychological maneuvers; every wound--both physical and mental--heals sooner or later, those who can master their lives manage to heal it neatly while others let a big and ugly scar to remain. And the scar is, however ugly, a scar and not the wound. 


(Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

This is the first part in the 'Life and Death' series by the author. The series is, in turn, part of the author's ritual to publish autobiographical essays on every of his birthdays. This particular essay is the prelude to the main essay to be published soon on his birthday this year. Read the earlier parts of the series here:
Twenty-eight years of solitude,  and Twenty-nine years of insignificance







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