Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Prior Knowledge of Death

I was trying to gauge how we react to the death of an unknown person who isn't even remotely related to us. And the difference in reaction between knowing the person is "going to die" and the reaction when you know "the person is dead."

Recently, a fellow blogger Titin posted on her FB profile some pics of an art exhibition held in Mumbai. The painter, 17 year old Shobhit, looked a little strange: unusually thin, head shaved, and with death in his eyes. The paintings were nice, his family was around him and everybody was happy and smiling. Titin informed me that Shobhit is terminally ill and has only a few days/weeks to live. I looked at his pics, the smiles on the faces around him, and also at his smile. And, despite not knowing him, I was affected by the knowledge that he may die any moment, any day. I kept thinking how he is or if he is alive at all. I asked Titin a week later and they said he is in pain and on morphine. I wondered if he had ever enjoyed some essential things in life. Does he have a Munnabhai next to him to make him enjoy his last few days? Would a kind woman make love to him to show him how life began? Does that woman necessarily have to be on hire? The next time I asked her, he had passed away. Everybody seemed to be relieved to see him not in pain anymore. Sometimes, we wish death came faster.

When you see his pics with the knowledge that he is already dead, it probably doesn't affect you much. But if you knew about it before he died, you would have tossed and turned in your sleep. When Dhananjay (the lift operator who raped and killed a girl in Kolkata) was hanged, and we were all waiting for it, I woke up on two nights thinking whether he is dead yet! Such is the power of impending death. Of anybody. To know that Saddam will be killed tomorrow will make you more uneasy than the news of his death greeting you the next day.

Here are some pics taken by a plane crash victim moments before he himself died. The plane was hit by another one and broke into two. This guy managed to click some last pics, in one of which you get to see a man flying off. Look at the anguish on their faces, not knowing what hit them, with not even split seconds to react. There's not even fear on some of the faces, just plain bewilderment. How soon did they die, I wonder? I hope they died before realizing that they are about to die. These two pics were so disturbing that I deleted the email which brought them. But there was also this morbid desire to see the pics again. I guess the only time I was so affected was when I saw Daniel Pearl's death on video. The most gruesome, although you can derive solace from the fact that his pain lasted not even a second. But he knew he was dying, right? How did he cope with that knowledge?

And suddenly one day my brother sent back these air crash pics to us confirming these are hoax pictures. There was a sense of relief, much like you are probably feeling right now.

One of my aunts who died of a painful throat cancer used to maintain a diary on her deathbed. She addressed all her letters to my dad, and sometimes I am curious to find out if she had mentioned death in those letters. How do you get ready for death? And if you meet death in the eye, how do you ready yourself? What do you think? Any last ditch attempt to jump out of a plane at 37,000 ft?

I feel it is much easier to cope with death that's already happened than with death that's about to. A friend of mine says "pass on" to imply there's still some world for the spirit to go to. I guess I need to start believing in a whiteness post death where my spirit can live without the bodily pleasures.
Until then, I will be shit scared of death.