The universe has a way of staging events in your life, often composed and timed within a short period to teach you meanings. Call the confirmation bias or cosmic conspiracy. They do repeatedly occur, mysteriously and suddenly.
Last month, I met up with three aged, grand old men who knew that they would die soon. Men aged 85, 86, and 92.
I learned within twenty minutes with each of them about the wishes of persons with one foot to the grave. And what they hold as essential to address and express before they depart when Mr. Black (AKA Lord Yama) is knocking on their doors.
I learned more about life than death and what I have not been able to understand or appreciate in my 64 years with just twenty minutes with them.
The first man, Nagraj, paralyzed, with fading memory, eager to express gratitude to all the people who had helped him. An entrepreneur, 84, smoker, moderate drinker, and a good family man.
He had sent word through KBV, my ex-colleague and long-term friend, that he wanted to meet me. It was more than 30 years since I had seen him and I wondered why.
“He had a stroke and has been losing memory. He said he wanted to tell you something before it was too late,” KBV told me.
So that Sunday, I went to his reasonably large house painted in all white in the evening.
An elegant elderly lady in her late seventies wearing a green Sari, black blouse, and a gold bangle on her right hand welcomed me and ushered me inside.
No sooner had I taken a seat across him he said;
“Mohan, I wanted to thank you for bailing me out 30 years ago,” he said. It looked like he was eager to express his gratitude before he forgot.
I did not even remember what I had done.
“How are you doing, Nagraj?” I asked, trying to trivialize whatever he thought helped him.
“I realize now how important to remember and express gratitude to those who have helped us in our lives,” he said.
“Sorry, but I really do not remember, but whatever it was, I must have done it because it helped me too,” I said.
He stared silently at the floor for a few seconds and, in his slurred speech, said;
“You gave me work when I was bankrupt. You gave me an advance to pay my unpaid rent and adjusted it against my job work charges for your Jamun and Rasagulla mix.”
I was speechless.
The second, declared clinically beyond redemption by doctors and sent home, was a fighter to the core and a believer in working tirelessly for the welfare of the elderly. He was Ramaswamy, 85, paralyzed, bedridden, frail, and so thin that he was just skin wrapped around his bones.
Using all his last energy source, he expressed that he wanted his son-in-law’s book to reach Prime Minister Modi, wants his granddaughter to be married, and to eat all the culinary goodies despite being fed through a tube until recently.
The third, Krishna Rao, aged 92, was happy and content, swaying between dementia and normalcy. He was jovial and grateful to his daughter and son-in-law. He pointed to them and said they were the reason he was still alive and thanked his stars for begetting such a wonderful son-in-law. His 86-year-old wife, equally jolly and happy, gave me chocolates to give to my children and doubled up in thanking her daughter.
After my experience with these three wise men, I thought about my own old age and what would happen to me.
I also contemplated the confusion about right and wrong while dealing with the aged and infirm, their quantity vs. quality of life. For example, should the person tending to a terminally ill person fulfill the person’s desires or deprive them of the wishes to prolong life?
I would surely want my wishes to be fulfilled but is that the righteous thing to do for the person tending to me?
I want to die quickly and without fuss, preferably in my sleep when I am still self-reliant and not be a burden to my kith and kin, as I am sure every one of you does.
As Mark Twain would probably put it, it is not that I hate old age. It is just that I don’t want to be there when it happens.