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Issue No.: 577 | July 2015

Life and Death

Firoze Hirjikaka
And then when you’re 70, you wake up to the fact that you barely know your wife and your kids; and ask yourself whether the Vice Presidency and the accumulated savings were worth it.

And then when you’re 70, you wake up to the fact that you barely know your wife and your kids; and ask yourself whether the Vice Presidency and the accumulated savings were worth it.

"This is a matter of life and death”. How many of us have glibly uttered this statement without appreciating its true import. This fact was hammered home to me with the sudden and premature passing of S. V. Raju. Here was a man in reasonably good health and in full control of his faculties. He developed an infection (hardly a life threatening illness) and had recovered sufficiently to be discharged from the hospital. Then within a blink of an eye, he was gone. There was no decision he could have taken that would have changed this outcome. Death is not only a great leveller; it is the one aspect of our existence that we cannot control. It makes an appearance either when expected, or with a terrifying suddenness – and all we can do is look it in the face and then lower our eyes.

So death is not in our control, but life is. So many of us do not appreciate that the greatest gift our Creator bestowed on us is free will; and we squander it on superstition, a sense of futility, or chasing after symbols of prosperity. The most insidious of these is superstition; and surrendering of our free will to imagined but unproven divine intervention. I am often amazed and aghast at the spectacle of supposedly well-educated and cosmopolitan individuals showering gold or jewellery on idols in famous temples – as if the deity has any use for these baubles. Equally bewildering is this penchant of bargaining with God: grant me this or that boon and I will make a pilgrimage to half a dozen temples, or perform a maha-puja, or hold a mass. If one looks at it objectively, this is merely the modern version of the ancient ritual of offering animal sacrifices; although this was in pagan times when the concept of one God was still forming. Then there is this particularly Indian obsession with muharrat or auspicious dates. I’m not talking about uneducated villagers. The worthies who govern us and presumably affect the quality of our lives are especially prone to this. After 10,000 years of civilization, this is what we have progressed to? Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

The reality is that where you will land up in the after-life depends entirely on how you live your life on this planet. The Hindus call it karma, but it goes by many names. Confessing your sins to a priest and then muttering a few Hail Marys will not allow to you to escape God’s judgment. Similarly, you cannot cheat or do harm to your fellow man and expect absolution by performing a puja. Nor can you constantly bother God with your petty problems. He is not there to mollycoddle you. He has put you on this earth to experience life and hopefully learn from it. He will judge you in the next life. During your time on earth, you are on your own. There is no free lunch either in this world or the next.

Let us now turn to material prosperity. So many of us chase relentlessly after money, promotions, or prestige; we put in 18-hour work days, pay only perfunctory attention to our families and scheme to get ahead of our rivals and competitors. And then when you’re 70, you wake up to the fact that you barely know your wife and your kids; and ask yourself whether the Vice Presidency and the accumulated savings were worth it. You regret that you did not spend more time and make a greater effort to appreciate the simple pleasures of life. You also regret the effort and stress exerted in putting down your business rivals; and the bitterness it has generated in you: a bitterness that sometimes involuntarily comes out even against your loved ones.

The quality of life does not depend exclusively on wealth and material possessions – although the absence of wealth can also be degrading. It also does not depend on meditating on a mountaintop, or shutting yourself in a monastery. You will not earn brownie points with the Almighty that way. The Creator is not terribly impressed with you chanting mantras or novenas all day; nor by going on extended pilgrimages. He sent you down here to live life; and will judge you on the manner you do so. He will observe how you interact with your fellow men: whether you are helpful and generous, or devious and vengeful. If you believe there is life after death, this is the most important criterion that will determine your place in it.

Just as important it is to appreciate the true values of living, it is equally important to dispel some of the myths about death and recognise its true meaning. Whether you believe it to be endowed by God or a product of evolution, it is undeniable that the body is a vessel for the life force. In spite of the recent spectacular advances in medicines with artificial body parts and transplants and what have you, once the life force leaves the body, it is the final curtain. The life force, also known as the soul, then goes on its way to destination we humans can only surmise about. What is left behind is an inanimate corpse. The rituals and ceremonies over the departed, that we attach so much importance to, are primarily for the benefit and comfort of the loved ones left behind. Where the soul goes to will depend entirely on how the individual behaved in life – and nothing. That is why all the controversies about the method of disposal of the dead are meaningless.

There is a cliché saying "live every day as if it is your last”. It sounds a bit corny, but it makes a lot of sense. Life is fleeting and death rarely announces its coming. Therefore, it can only be beneficial to clean your slate as frequently as you can. Above all, harbouring a grudge, seeking vengeance and other negative emotions not only blot your copybook in the afterlife, they eat away at you and degrade the value of this life as well. So try to make amends when you can, spread a little joy and do not evaluate every situation in terms of what’s in it for you. That way, whenever it’s your time to meet your Maker, you will be ready.

FIROZE HIRJIKAKA is a retired civil engineer and a freelance writer and
 member of the Advisory Board of Freedom First.



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In this issue


Tribute to S. V. Raju

Truly, The Complete Man

Vivek Raju

S. V. Raju: A Political Rishi

Nitin G. Raut

Memories of S. V. Raju

Sharad Joshi

Raju Lived for a Cause

Y. Sivaji

S. V. Raju: A Personal Tribute

Minoo Adenwalla

My First and Only Meeting with S. V. Raju

Ronald Meinardus

My First and Last Meeting with S. V. Raju

V. Krishna Moorthy

Tributes from Friends


The Economy

Trouble Spots and A Way Forward

Sunil S. Bhandare

Point Counter Point : Every issue has at least two sides

Modi's Year in Power

Ashok Karnik

AAP's Ambition

Ashok Karnik

Cricket with Pakistan

Ashok Karnik

Facts and Rumours

Ashok Karnik


Life and Death

Firoze Hirjikaka


Questions Needing Answers

Ashok Karnik

Foreign Relations in the 21st Century

“Manufactured Sovereignty” in South China Sea: Sino-American Confrontation Heats Up

B. Ramesh Babu

Book Review


S. V.Raju


By Ashok Karnik

Educating Adults

Examination Reforms at the Bachelor’s Level

R. W. Desai

A Doctor In The Air: Ancient Aviator Anecdote

Cecil Parker

The History of the Swatantra Party

The Swatantra Party in Gujarat: A Shooting Star (Part III)

Usha Thakkar
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