Sunday, September 03, 2006

"The Greatest Surprise"

In the greatest of Indian epics, the Mahabharata, there is an episode where Yudhishthira, has to answer philosophical riddles of a Yaksha. One of these questions (that my father likes to quote) was [I really should know this shloka in Sanskrit, but unfortunately I don't]:
"What is the greatest suprise?"
"People die everyday making us aware that men are mortal, yet we live, work, play, plan etc as if assuming we are immortal. Kimashcharyam Atahh Parahh? What is more surprising than that?"
This came to my mind on Saturday evening in an "encounter" with the unexpectedness and inevitability of death.
I had met Fahad in a CouchSurfing mega-get-together a little more than a month ago. Fahad is software guy from Rawalpindi, Pakistan, and has to spend a couple of months in Vienna for work. We got along very well, and had planned to meet up, but for various reasons (including his visiting Pakistan for two weeks), it never happened until yesterday. He had called around noon and since the weather was quite wonderful, and he'd not seen the Belvedere and the Karlskirche, we decided that I'd show him these sights. We met around 1pm and wandered around and had lunch and chatted about all kinds of things until around 5pm, when I left because I had to go to the lab. We had spent a really nice time together.
We were to meet again around 7:30pm with some other acquaintences from CS at the Rathausplatz. I was delayed, and I arrived only around 8:30 or 9:00pm. Fahad wasn't there, and I was told that he had suddenly received a phonecall informing him that his father had passed away.
It must have been really sudden. We had talked about his father and his family in general during the afternoon, his closeness to his family and how he was missing them. I am sure that this was completely unexpected.
I texted him and he said he was trying to find a flight to Pakistan. I should have called today, but I forgot. I hope he has found something and is already on his way back.


The Visitor said...

Death is something we'd rather not think about. Is there any biological reason/explanation for this?

A.S. said...

I think the issue you raise is more psycho-philosophical than biological.
It is not that we do not think of death at all. In fact Man, being a (the only?) thinking life form on earth, can indeed think of death. After all, people take out life insurances and make wills. However we tend to ignore the possiblity that death could come any moment. Some of us may have come across patients who are suffering from terminal illnesses despite their (relative) youth. In fact this has be the topic of films ad nauseum... "Mili", "Kash", "Kal Ho Naa Ho" come to mind from Bollywood, and "Le Temps qui reste" (Fran├žois Ozon) is a beautiful recent offering from France. However in these cases the protagonists are forced to face a deadline to their life.

What happens if we continously think of the inevitabilty of death? Well such thoughts were key to the transformation of Siddhartha into Gautama Buddha. In today's world, I guess the result would be depression, cynicism, loss of interest in life, and perhaps a suicidal tendency.
Perhaps for these reasons it does make sense (including biological/evolutionary sense) that we tend not to think of death and its inevitability. Otherwise man would probably find life and its twists too pointless to go through.

Too long an answer, but then remember what I call my blog... :-)

Wild Reeds said...

Hey A.S.,
Both your original post and the answer above have made me reflect... was also quite saddened by the passing of Steve Irwin the croc-guy on Animal Planet... you are right, life is short and one must make the most of one's time. Or must one?

A.S. said...

That is another interesting point. Yes, life is short and I do believe one ought to make the most of it. Enjoy it in general. But what does "enjoy" or "making most of it" mean? For me it means following my dreams, having as few regrets as possible, looking forward to the next day.
BTW, nice to know that my post caused reflection-- that's a great compliment!