Essays from Gaurav Ojha

Discussing Death

Gaurav Ojha

From the perspective of death, human life is just a passing story; we are here at this moment and in another dimension of time and history all of us are here no more. Recently, I was going through an old picture from my childhood days, which included me as a toddler and as I was going through a picture I realized that three out of four individuals are missing, they are dead and gone. 

I am alive now, but eventually I am also waiting for the same fate. After some time, just like the three of them, I will only remain in some other pictures. Similarly, I was looking at a crowded picture taken in the year 1910 with hundreds of people at a musical concert thoroughly enjoying together and by now I can safely presume that almost all the people in that picture are dead. Life happens only once to each of us, and there comes a point where everything concludes and ends. 

These are my discussions on death and there are so many of them, me and some of my friends we discuss death; however this proclamation seems bizarre to most of us because we are preoccupied with life without acknowledging the dimension of death. After all, everything in life together with all its achievements appears pointless and limited from the perspective of death and dying. Hence, death discussions are either forbidden or else postponed. 

Death salons and cafes are becoming popular throughout the world with hundreds of people discussing death together, however we don’t have such privileges yet to discuss death with beautiful music, talking about the darker sides of life. Paradox is that from the childhood days children are exposed to death, characters die in cartoons, serials and movies. But we are constantly ignoring discussions on death all together. 

Death discussions are important, because how we think about death somehow determines how we live our life. Death creates urgency to act here and now because life can’t be postponed. Finite dimension of life means there is only life at this present moment and everything we do or achieve in life can be interrupted by death. Therefore, unlike many people, I think because of death, everything we do or achieve in life becomes precious. 

Our act of love, kindness and support for parents, children and friends is meaningful because we will not have them around forever or always with us. Everything is going to end, making everything we have precious. As an example, a couple days back as we were discussing death, a friend reflected on his mother’s love for his baby daughter. His mother is already into her eighties and she knows that she will not be around to see his daughter grow much longer. And, in those reflections of life from the perspective of death, we also realize how each and every bit of life is so beautiful, complete and precious.

A Taste of Death

Gaurav Ojha

In his seminal work, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, English author Douglas Adams suggests that the meaning of life is 42, and I used to think of it as gibberish and my response used to be like how about 52, 67 or 103? And, it was only a couple of days back; I was able to grasp the subtleness behind this suggestion.

When I was wandering near the Ghats of Pashupatinath, I stumbled upon a resonance that she was only 32, she died of an incurable disease and all that remains of her now is a handful of ashes slowly dissolving in the river. Maybe the meaning of life is life itself, the matter of living in a certain way and after we die it’s all over.

For Douglas Adams himself it was 49, he died of a heart attack while taking a rest after his regular exercise. Similarly, for the rest of us still alive, our time is set, the clock is constantly ticking and we never know when death strikes us.

After witnessing a burning funeral pyre at the Ghats of Pashupatinath, I sat beside a Shiva temple near the river bank.  With that sinister smoke swirling in the sky, sounds of wailing, that dreadful smell of human flesh and seeing a human body reduced to handful of ashes, I thought to myself how bizarre our human life actually is, after all that human impulses, dreams, worries, joys, suffering and sweet passion for life, why this sorrow of death?

Sitting beside the temple, a sense of fear and anxiety gripped me from within, and I kept on asking myself, if we are living now to be nothing more than a handful of ashes, why do I have to breathe? What is the purpose of my life? Why this trouble of living? With the fragrance of death all over me, all other purposes, meaning, aspirations and expectations of my life appeared dull, empty, trivial and contradictory.

In the midst of death and dying, I reflected on my struggles, sufferings, strivings, plans, relations, anguishes, aspirations and achievements. And, I said to myself, isn’t life a tale told by an idiot that signifies nothing, a bitter sweet symphony, a brief episode of dancing shadows or a meaningless puzzle squeezed in between our birth and death? It’s inevitable that we all are going to die. Death is in life as a necessary ingredient that makes human life vibrant, exciting, erratic and alive.

On my walk back home, I felt a liberating calmness touching me, a kind of feeling that cures the mind. However, beyond the Ghats of Pashupatinath, the greatest surprise remains the same, as Yudhisthira laments in the Mahabharata, death pinches us all the time and still we human being live as though we are immortal, believing that we will be living our human lives forever with all our passions and possessions together, what a self-delusion indeed.

Ripples Of Life

Gaurav Ojha

When our student died in an awful accident, struck by a truck while cycling, he was barely fifteen. The student was a bright star gleaming in his potential. Some of us thought he would one day be a great poet. He used to scratch poems within minutes and had a voice that resounded like a mature orator. However, due to a reckless mistake, all our impressions and expectations were reduced to a handful of dust scattered in the river. After his death, for days I felt a little diminished and couldn’t be at ease with myself. The claws of death had snapped my neck, and I kept pondering what if death was just around the corner waiting to catch me as well. 

Maybe his untimely death was a reminder of my own mortality. My mind got clouded with thoughts of death, and I was really anxious, eclipsed by the shadows of my lingering death. I know I can’t experience my own death with the death of another person. And, I don’t know when my death is going to happen, but I am sure there’s no escaping it. Maybe my life is just a ripple in a vast ocean of eternity, life that keeps on bubbling up, as it pours out and passes away.

Impermanence of life is all around us, and as human beings we are inexorably moving towards our death. Everything we see, touch, taste, love, hope, despise or desire is in the process of dying. There is nothing that remains unchanged. Besides, if there is a bit of meaning in life, as writer Franz Kafka reminds us, it is that it ends. Life reflects itself in the mirror of death. With death life comes to an end, and how easy it is to be forgotten and replaced. Therefore, it is meaningful to contemplate on the tiny ripples of our human existence and to think how meaningless human life actually is.

Meaninglessness of life often infuses some sense of lightness into my being. I feel at ease with all these tiny ripples of my life sparkling around me in their randomness. And, I have embraced the reality that it is not possible to have absolute control over how the plot of our life unfolds or when this chapter is going to end. Hence, whichever way our life shuffles, either substantial or just meaningless, the zest of life is always the same, that it ends.

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