The Modern Final Journey!

We stick to old ways in Modern Times under the garb of tradition!

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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?

Money Matters!

My take on modern money management and bitcoin!

Money, Money, Money is lovely song by Abba from 70’s. Money is an important thing in life but it is not everything.

Historically when life started, there was no trade as there was no ownership concept. With individual ownership concept, starting 10000 years back, barter system started. Which later got converted to money and later into currency system. With industrial revolution, wealth generation started galloping and with that the greed! Before this period, only rich people were  the royalty and their kin! This of course continues, I need not say who the modern royalty is. Latest revolution in computers and related businesses have crossed imagination in wealth generation, beyond everybody’s expectations. But the main thing is the “you and me” gang started doing well, moneywise!

How do people make money? Some are brilliant wealth creators, they develop products, processes and concepts which the whole world appreciates and buys. Some inherit money but people like you and me, make money in a very conventional way. Typical people of our generation got themselves good education, took a job, tried to get office accommodation, later bought own home. With other family responsibilities, small amount of money remained in balance which was promptly invested in Bank Deposits. This was the process of living life, straight as an arrow and most important, safety first!

But is the conventional way of living safe life and being satisfied with it, relevant in today’s times. Probably safe deposits route was perfect for socialistic thinking of 70’s and 80’s of last century, we got used to it and continued. One person in Mumbai was given Shares of Wipro in 70’s worth Rs.10000/. The person was moneyed even in those days. He promptly forgot about the shares. When he died around 2010, his family found these shares which were simply stowed away. Their value had become Rs. 280/ million! Wow, Wow and Wow! In today’s financial jargon it is called long term investment! The money was invested in the so-called Market! In modern economies an individual is now being forced to be in the “Market”. For bank fixed deposit now, interest rates are negligible hence the shift. But there is greed. People got lured from FD in banks to very high returns from time immemorial. When banks could not give good returns, how someone else will be able to give high  returns on money. No one raised such issues, at least initially.

In came Charles Ponzi in 1920 in USA. He started one such scheme and lots of  people got sucked and ruined in his schemes. A Ponzi scheme is a fraudulent investment operation where the operator, an individual or organization, pays returns to its investors from new capital paid to the operators by new investors, rather than from profit earned by the operator on previous investments. As explained, excellent marketing techniques helped first group of people to be lured to such schemes. They were given exorbitant returns from the money invested by next batch of people. This cycle continued for some period and then unexpectedly for the investors, but expected by knowledgeable people, these schemes collapsed. With the schemes collapse, the people collapsed. The way Cadbury chocolate has become generic name for chocolate made by any other company, all such fraudulent schemes came to be known as Ponzi schemes.

Latest to join the bandwagon is the currency in news, I won’t call it popular, Bitcoin. Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency, a digital asset designed to work as a medium of exchange that uses cryptography to control its creation and management, rather than relying on central authorities. The presumed pseudonymous Satoshi Nakamoto integrated many existing ideas from the cypherpunk community when creating bitcoin. Over the course of bitcoin’s history, it has undergone rapid growth to become a significant currency both on and offline – from the mid 2010 onward, some businesses on a global scale began accepting bitcoins in addition to standard currencies.

To give you some feel, in 2010 Bitcoin was trading at 1 bitcoin = US $ 0.003. In November 2017 at its peak it was trading at 1 bitcoin = US $ 17,900/. Today, January 2018 it is trading at 1 bitcoin = US $ 11,171/, this is the  reduction in one month. Ponzi Scheme? I don’t know. Bitcoin is trying to replace global currency in the form electronic currency. But for such type of Electronic currency to succeed, all nations in this world will have to agree. Ten developed nations in the world including US, UK, Denmark, Sweden, Australia have formally accepted Bitcoin as a currency. This may get accepted over a period of time as money. All sovereign countries formally have to be accept Bitcoin. Without this acceptance I visualize a tricky scenario e.g. today you can get one Pizza in US for one bitcoin. How much will you pay for the same Pizza in UK and in Australia? Is this rate going to be based on comparative rates of current currencies? Presently, I find it difficult to understand how this will be achieved. Will I dabble in Bitcoins today? Definitely not. The currency which can get 38% devalued in such a small duration, and has yet to get approval from most of the countries in the world, is a strict no, no for me. I am sure Bitcoin or something similar may become a global currency in future but I feel that is still some time away.

What will today’s generation tell their children about money management? Take your education and learn some special skills of your own! Well, I am sure you know the market conditions, if not study them and create your wealth. Don’t waste your money on homes and cars, when you can always rent whatever you want. But try to stay away from Bitcoins of this world. It is today’s Ponzi scheme!

To you my friends one quick suggestion. Under financial advisor, put some money in market schemes which are Trigger based. Your funds are normally invested in debt funds; but when the equity market is on the Bull run, the money  will get transferred to Equity, make decent money and when Bear run starts money will be shifted back to Debt funds! Any takers from my generation?

Age is just a number!

Use your senior age to advantage!

Every society has its way of handling age and old people. What does it depend on? Relationships, money, closeness in the family, decide many aspects in life. Of course age is not the only factor, along with age comes the factor of health! If these two combine badly, the situation becomes dicey! In the current scenario where migration is the name of the game, things can be even more difficult; it is not migration to another country but it can be migration to a city from village or to another city, for work! Old are of course left behind!

My observation is that in western society, health permitting, senior citizens do a lot of things independently, without giving too much thought about age. This is probably because many generations have had a large number of senior citizens and are used to handle their own things, financially and otherwise!

In the generation of my grandparents, there was hardly any migration and most of the family continued to live together, many a times in the same house. Household requirements and individual requirements were very low and people survived with low incomes. At a later stage in my grand parents case, I think my father and uncles used to give additional support to them. It was always discussed in those days and even today, that people from that generation were really strong! They had to be! During young age of my grandparents, the life expectancy was so low, that those who were really strong, survived. Large number of people would die of influenza, plague and so on. There were no modern medicines or diagnostics. You catch the dreaded illness and you are gone!

But in today’s times, with Modern medicines, general improved health awareness, you see a lot of senior citizens around, with reasonably good health and in some cases wealth too! That’s a great combination if used properly. You have everything and diminished family responsibilities. So why not use the situation fruitfully? This is right time to start using ones bucket list! It could be books, travel, watching sports events, music events or whatever you have not been able to do in younger age.

In India we consider the age around 70 as old. Old enough to be reading Scriptures, living a contented life, interacting with grandchildren if they are around, maybe go to Mandirs and so on, in short doing nothing! This thought process is changing albeit slowly. Many of my friends in this age group have  become globe trotters, travelling with spouses and certain cases alone. In Western countries thought process about old age is  pretty different, the oldies are quite independent. We as a society should try and emulate good aspects of western thought process.

In last two years on different excursions we met a lady who was 99, travelling alone! Recently we met a 87 year old person again travelling alone. He has travelled to 99 nations in the world. Mind you, the examples I am giving here are all westerners. We have seen people who needed wheel chairs, one young man needed 100% Oxygen support. Yes, in foreign countries the facilities for physically challenged people are superb. That helps but it is the will to do it, will to travel, to explore through the physical challenge. Our group in both cases was predominantly of westerners!

In India our thought process is not very open to such thinking because for the first time, in our history, a large number of fitter & willing senior citizens are around. There is no history of independent senior citizens wandering about. We met an Indian couple, in early fifties, from Mumbai, at Matterhorn in Switzerland; they were kind enough to help us with some photos. While parting, the gentleman made a remark, “Sir, it is creditable that you are doing this journey at your age!” He had a valid point, not many Indians of our age travel internationally in mountains, independently. In the group in which we travelled, we were in middle range of the age group, many were 75 plus!

In general we take our age very seriously and think in terms of “Vanaprasthashrama” (fourth and final stage of life cycle)! Of course we have to be careful that when we travel we do not have any health issues! When we were travelling my wife Jaya had a minor foot injury. Our tour manager suggested, in good faith, that we should avoid mountains so that there is no mishap. But we were careful, reasonably confident ( of course not over confident) and did most of the things that were possible on the tour. We enjoyed the ride on the open deck of double decker cable car at Stanserhorn in Switzerland! Was the weather cold!

DoubleDeckerCableCar

Another thing that happens with the age is that we become a little inflexible with our eating habits. But we always followed the dictum ” Be like Romans when in Rome”! So we did have Pizzas and Pastas and Salads when we were Italy and enjoyed them. Of course “Kartoffelsalat” while we were in Germany! Did we have lovely wines when were in wine country? Of course we did!

What we can do post retirement is dependent on our mind set and openness to try new untried things. Don’t forget that many westerners do come to India where systems, food, weather are quite different for them. They can do it because of the flexibility that they show. You must be wondering why I am giving examples of western world. This is just to explain how differently old age is treated by westerners and what are the joys of this different treatment.

While walking around in Lucern, we had 76 years old Jones from Montreal for company. We saw one Indian restaurant and she said, ” Since you and Jaya are with me, I would like to try Indian food!” We went there and enjoyed the really pleasant food, even by our standards! Only thing I did not manage is to make Jones eat raw onion, the way we eat it! I had also offered to show her how we eat with our fingers but at her request we passed it too! I am sure we also will become more adventurous and try different things! Happy globe trotting folks!