The Modern Final Journey!

Vaikunth-min

I was required to go to Vaikunth, a crematorium in Pune, for the final rites of a family member. He was 91 years old but was always positive and smiling. All were in somber mood for obvious reasons but also had a comfortable feeling that he had led a reasonably satisfactory life and had seen all good things that can happen in our lives. We were waiting for our turn to start the process, we were third in the queue! Then I saw the board displayed above.

The board indicated how the final rites of your loved and dear ones can be seen by live streaming where ever you are in the world. Wow! Hinduism is modernizing or is India modernizing? Want to see a movie, go to Netflix, want to order pizza go to a site, order it! Want to see the final rites, get them by live streaming. What is happening? Is this good for the human race? You are too busy to travel for last rites? Or you want to brag, “I have seen so and so persons last rites on live streaming”. Emotions? Heard this word before but I am not sure what it means. When a person dies, two things are important, how close you are to that person or how you are related to that person. If you are out of these circles, on both the counts, then your presence during final rites does not become important.

What is the purpose of the seeing the last rites on live streaming? What do we achieve by doing this? The hospitals now provide facility for keeping the dead body in mortuary. This allows dear ones to travel from around the world for the final rites, within reasonable time. What is so important in one’s life more than attending the final rites of your near and dear one? After this you never see the body again; but if you are comfortable with that then probably next best thing is live streaming. Or is it? Maybe you will say, “Hey bro or sis! Could you adjust angle slightly? I can’t see the face! Ya, that’s better, now!”

In Hindu culture and for that matter in most cultures, taking photos or videos of the departed ones is not the norm! This generally happens only in case of very well-known public figures. Their lives as well as deaths are public! What could be the reason for this? First and foremost is that in olden days there were not many cameras; it is a tradition that is continued, though now cameras are everywhere. Personally, I prefer this tradition of not photo graphing the dead person. I remember at a funeral, years back. In the funeral place, somebody was taking photographs. Those were for that person’s son in law (grandson of the lady who died) and his family who could not travel, taking an eight-hour flight! I stopped him from taking the photos as others in the group did not want confrontation!

Though I am not an atheist, I have reservations about chanting of mantras, following of rituals at funerals. The more I see them, the more I am convinced about the futility of these things. These rituals are supposed to be saviors in the life after death. Is there life after death? My understanding is that when the human race did not know anything about nature and science, the knowledgeable people of those times, came out with rituals by creating fear in the minds of the people. This turned out to be a good business and it made sense to continue with the same. I keep on talking to various experts about this, but nobody has been able to convince me the utility of the rituals and mantras, except probably mental peace. Do I follow what I think (preach will not be the right word)? Yes, when my mother died, we went to the crematorium and without any ritual we took her to the furnace! I have attended many funerals, body is pushed inside, door shut and the furnace blower starts. That sound of the furnace blower motor, makes my heart heavy and moistens my eyes. To me the real final journey just starts, to merge the body with the nature. I have always thought, that when we are born, there is no chanting of mantras, there are no rituals. Then why should we have them at death? Birth and death are only two absolute truths in the world. Someone is either born or has died, there are no two thoughts about it. All other issues have more than one side to them. We should accept the death as we accept birth; of course, our emotions are bound to be different when someone dies.

When we change so much in modern times, why do we not change in our way of thinking about death? Another thing is that the modern world has created physical distances, though you may be close electronically. Or it creates mental distance too? It has also created a busy culture, fast paced life. But is it really so busy that we cannot attend funerals of near and dear ones? I will share a story with you. Someone had an accident, died after about ten days of treatment. So, it was not a sudden death in that sense! His both children were in the US. His daughter flew out.  But the son had some issue regarding Visa status. End result, the son did not come home for the final rites, in fact he never came at all during that year ! Of course, Visa status is more important! Friends, to me this is just not on! Modern life? Do you need a tradition to attend your father’s funeral? Is this a conflict of modernity and tradition? No way. But why such decisions are taken only that family can tell. I am sure that the son will keep on having nightmares till end of his life for this decision!

Am I modern? No, I am contemporary, but would I keep the same thoughts in death too? Yes, direct to the furnace, no mantras and rituals! That’s my take! A Living Will?

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Sridevi Meri Chandani!

24th Feb 2018 was a shocking date for all us film lovers when Hawa Hawaein lady Sridevi passed! It looks like HE likes all beautiful people and decides to take them away early. Sridevi was just 54, very young by today’s standards when she died. She had just started her second innings. Madhubala died at the age of 39 and Marilyn Monroe at the age of 36! In case of Madhubala at least her health issue was known to the close ones, Marilyn was veering towards her death but in case of Sridevi there were no known issues; her sudden passing was all the more shocking to everybody!

She started acting in the film industry at the tender age of 4; so, she was in the industry for 50 years! That is a very long time to be in any field and I am sure that she must have been doing her work on auto pilot! She was a beauty, she was a fantastic dancer in classical mold and a terrific actor. People always talk of her dancing prowess but I feel that her acting prowess was even better! The classic example of this, is the film Sadma. In this movie, she is a modern young lady who loses her memory due to retrograde amnesia, following an accident. Her mental age becomes 6 or 7. She goes through a horrible phase in her life as she is pushed into prostitution. Kamal Hassan meets her in a brothel and realizes that she has been cheated to go into prostitution. He takes her away and nurtures her back to life; a doctor finally is able to cure her and she becomes original modern girl. After this change she simply does not remember Hassan, as her amnesia is cured! Life goes on! Her acting in this movie is seen to be believed. Behaving like a 6/7-year-old girl is not easy when you are a normal person! She was nominated for film fare best actress award. She won a lot of critical acclaim for her role! This gem of a song, from the movie Sadma, “Ae Zindagi” is to me the best song picturized on her, ever! Suresh Wadkar, the singer, is also at his best in the song! Did she enjoy her childhood in this song, as she may have missed the real one?

Public life has it pluses while going is good, but when things turn up differently it is really nasty, what with our TV shows, newspapers, WhatsApp and FB! People in general and reporters and commentators in particular forget that the celebrity is normal human being like you and me. They have their family, husband or wife, children like all human beings have. When stupid and nasty things are mentioned, poor jokes are circulated, they forget that they are troubling a family and a group of friends; it was a heart wrenching experience to see this tamasha. When celebrities are alive they can ignore, smile and sometimes rebut! But when Sridevi died it was pointless to discuss everything threadbare. There was that unfortunate change in the reason for death, found in autopsy. This took the rumour mongering to crescendo! Naturally, I do not want to go into details but I have the usual questions why, why and why? Why get into this mode? Why discuss threadbare unnecessary details? Why not let the family be, in their sorrow? Everybody simply forgot that someone had died.

Sreedevi Boney Kapoor Ayyapan was born in a Tamil orthodox family. She started working at the age of 4! When you start working at that age, I am sure that you never have a normal childhood; again, I am not going into details. According to Ram Gopal Varma, she became penniless when her father, who looked after her finances, died because he trusted wrong people with money. Later her mother made wrong investments and she became penniless the second time. When her mother died, Sridevi’s own sister cheated and looted her money! She finally got her solace in Boney Kapoor! I am sure that also must have been a tough call for her because she became his second wife. How much can a person take in a life time, I really don’t know. Even he her death, there was no peace but a great turmoil for her family!

We only look at the glamorous side amongst lovely people, beautiful dresses, going to exotic locations, traveling all over the world. According to Ram Gopal Varma she had a fantastic ability to switchover, once she was in front of the camera. Probably films was the only thing that gave her peace!  She turned into a different persona! Her eyes would sparkle and feet would start dancing to rhythm and what rhythm she had, what expressions she had, what flexibility she had! She had a tough time when she moved from South to Hindi movies because at that time she was not at all proficient in both Hindi and English. It was not rose petals all the way in Mumbai but she came up with sheer talent, hard work and brilliance of her performances! She became the first lady super star of Hindi movies.

Who would want to die at prime and a young age of 54! At this stage now people start new companies, new projects! Sridevi had started he second innings with a fantastic performance in a movie called English Winglish! She looked so natural all through the movie, it felt as if the role was written specifically, for her! She had kept herself perfectly fit in real life by way of exercise and diet. There are murmurs going around that she had gone through many surgeries; this beautification is probably need of the profession, and people do like to look beautiful and young all the time. People dye their hair suitably, they follow various anti-aging regimens which include procedures and surgeries, some of them can be risky. But Sridevi’s death was not because of this; she somehow fainted and died!

There is a turmoil going on in my mind, after I read about her cremation; but I will be a little selfish and say that my last memories of her will always be beautiful, bubbly Chandani! How can Madhubala and Monroe and  Sridevi be 80! Who knows she could look beautiful even at 80 but I will surely not be around! In our younger age we had Waheeda Rahaman, Sharmila Tagore who have kept themselves very graceful at their current ages 80 and 71 respectively. But not all manage this!

So what is my favourite memory of Sridevi? There are so many dances, performances, expressions, it is impossible to choose! I will give her 9 on 10 for everything or maybe 9.5 but I will give HIM 10 on 10 for his decision to take her away! What a selfish decision. He made a surprise move to have her back with Him! Perfect 10 on 10, bhagwan! Tusi great ho! Teri Lila agadh hai!

With moist eyes, and heavy heart! Alvida Sridevi!

Pet the Whale!

When I heard Joel Sartore say, “Pet the Whale”, while giving a lecture on whales photography, I honestly did not understand the meaning of the line. Meaning of Pet is “stroke or pat (an animal) affectionately”. But when he explained it, I understood the real meaning of the same. In fact I understood the meaning of life in that one sentence. He is an expert photographer with many contributions in magazines like National Geographic! His job and profession is to take photographs. He was explaining about an expedition where other people were also there. These people were on the expedition to see the whales from close quarters! Sartore continued with his job of taking photographs. Others also started taking videos, photos of the whales. When they came back to the shore, our friend asked the whale watchers, “Did you pet the whale?” All said,” No, we were busy taking photos and videos!” This is where they lost the plot. They had gone to watch whales from close quarters, and even to touch the whales if they came close enough. Whales did come near the boat where people could have patted or touched the whales. That was once in a lifetime opportunity. Our friends kept themselves busy taking photos and videos, and lost a great opportunity!

Many times we take such approach to life. Instead of absorbing the particular moment of enjoyment or glory, we tend to do things which could have been done later or need not have been done. Whale watching group had a golden opportunity to see the whales from close quarters and maybe even pet the whale, touch the whale. But they lost such a great opportunity in view of the posterity, to have photos and videos! We sometimes miss out in judging what is more valuable.

In another incident  Sartore and his wife had decided that they will share the experience of their first child’s birth. He was in the labour room for the event but photographer in him took precedence. Instead of sharing the experience, with doctor’s permission he started clicking away. At the end of the event he rethought the whole thing. The great joy of sharing the experience of the birth of the child was lost! For their second child he took only one photo of the new child!

Our engineering college had a boat club. One of our friends was so competitive that his thoughts were always about racing and beating everyone, whichever boat he used. Competitive spirit is good but there are other joys of boating, singing, doing picnics or taking girls for moonlight boating! The atmosphere at the boat club was fantastic but our friend could never enjoy and soak himself in the atmosphere! 

With advent of technology we have formed groups of friends from alumni, office, colony and others on WhatsApp. The idea of these groups is to share with each other some interesting things and exchange views and ideas. But this never happens and most cases the plot is lost to  forwards that are sent. These forwards are on all the subjects in the world from magical remedies to cure cancer, how our ancestors had more knowledge than google and recipes for saving India from bad old enemies. The basic idea is that from our houses, where ever they are, we should be able to chat instead of face to face discussion. But where have we reached? If used well this tool could be really fun but… 

With the advent of camera in cell phones in last 10 years, people have lost the urge of enjoying life in the conventional sense! When young or old people go for holidays, for parties, for picnics, main thing they want to do is take photos or selfies instead of soaking themselves in whatever they are doing! Selfie shooting has turned into a dangerous game because people get so much involved, that some have fallen to death in the sea or from the mountains. Why has this happened? What is the big deal in selfies? The idea of soaking into atmosphere is becoming foreign to people. Their need to share on WhatsApp and Facebook whatever they are doing, is much stronger than the real enjoyment! 

What is the solution? When we go out for food, enjoy the food and ambience and people. When lovers meet don’t look into own cell phone screens! Life is beautiful  if you look into each other’s eyes. When you go for a walk, listen to chirping of birds and watch Sun rising from behind the hills. The headphones in your ears block this chirping! While talking on phone during morning walk, you will miss out on Sunrise! Last two years, I have been lucky. First heavy showers of the monsoon came during my morning walk. I literally soaked in the rain, no pun intended! I saw a few young people trying to stand in the shade or using an umbrella! They missed out on life’s small but important pleasures. Folks, do the things  like enjoying the picnic, dancing in the disco, meeting old friends! For such joys of the life the whole path you travel is important not something that you catch up in the camera!   

 

 

Apprehensions? What is that?

The other day instead of going for a walk, I took my camera with a new wide angle lens for tryouts. Left home around 5.30 and went to the bridge on the river, near my home. This trip was under guidance from my friend Vijay Ghate. I take his help on anything related to photography and he suggested that it will be a good idea to go out and take 40/50 photos, trying out variations. Slowly I got the feel of things and decided to come home.

On the way back home I saw three gentlemen, all retired much more than a decade earlier. They were chatting away. They were standing outside an old people’s home by the name Matoshri Vrudhhashram. I saw one more person coming out, he spoke a sentence with them and went inside again. So I assumed that all these friends lived in the home. As I was nearing them and saw that they were observing me, a guy with white hair wearing a T shirt, track pant and a Chappal. I was in photography mode and not in morning walk mode. I had Camera hanging round the neck! 

As I came near them, I asked them in Marathi, “How are you?” The initial apprehensions on their face gave way to a smile. I have generally observed that people speak to me initially in Hindi as they assume that I am a non-Maharashtrian. One of them asked me “Are you from that school?”  I jokingly said, “Now I do not think anyone will take me in any school at this age!” Then I realized they thought that I was from film institute. Then I briefly explained to them my reason for the sojourn with camera. One thing led to another.

We ended up chatting with each other for about 15 minutes. One thing I realized was their keenness to talk to me. I realized that they wanted to share their stories with me, an unknown stranger. One of them had worked in Bombay Suburban Electric office at Parel, Mumbai; another had worked as electrician in a factory. Third person had his career in Govt job. I had common things with first two of them and we could take the conversation further, very easily. Words were just pouring out of them. They wanted company, they were together but maybe they were lonely, away from “home”, the real home.  Was this how you become when you live in an old people’s home? I could see keenness in their eyes but also some sadness. If I had not smiled at them, I don’t think they would not have spoken to me. It is this apprehension that comes in the way in interaction between people. I did not do anything out of the way but I felt nice to see smile on their faces. One of them had worked at Cummins on maintenance side. He took a few names during his time whom I knew. When I told him that I am a Metallurgist by training, he was thrilled to share his experiences about heat treatment furnaces! Was he happy! Mumbai person wanted to know where I lived in Mumbai. They wanted to know where I did my engineering. We could have chatted on and on but I had somethings lined up at home; I wished them a good day and moved on. The story does not end here!

While I started walking ahead I felt that a gentleman, again not known to me, out for his morning walk, was walking parallel to me. I gave him a smile and said good morning. Then I told him that I was just chatting with these folks as I thought humoring them in the morning was a good idea. We walked about fifty steps together and when my lane came, we stopped, I introduced me to him, and we kept exchanging pleasantries and bit of information with each other. He was a registrar in a large education institute. We were talking about the institute. I saw one more gentleman, unknown to both of us, was slowing down. I said good morning to him; and lo he also joined our tid bits. He worked in a consulting company. We all chatted. He was also curious about what I was chatting with the retirees! Without mentioning any details we chatted for another ten minutes and parted ways.

Friends, what I described just now will appear to be a very small event and in life’s cycle it will not even be a blip. But I felt that there is deep meaning involved in those 20/30 minutes. A few people not known to each other, just came together to chat, exchange pleasantries. This to me is most important thing in the world. In our day to day lives, we live next to each other but because of apprehensions we don’t know each other at all! Ok every day you may not get time, you may be busy. But whenever you get a bit of time, why not spend the same in spreading the camaraderie, spreading pleasantness. We know we cannot change lives in that short span of time but we can always create a silver lining to the dark clouds! I hope I did that, to those three gentlemen living in Matoshri! There is nothing more precious in life than a smile on someone’s face! So throw away apprehensions, your inhibitions and embrace the goodness of life! Help the world to drive away dark clouds in life, every bit adds!