Category Archives: Life and Death

Of celebrating life, even in death — this category contains some of my more personal posts.

Mud and Me

Life and death has been a recurring theme on my blog. Confronted with our mortality, a common stance we assume is one of anger. Hearing of such a stance recently, I thought I would expand on my notion of gratitude in this writeup, liberally paraphrased from Shelly Kagan’s lectures on this subject.

Gratitude is best described in mystical terms, where we have a generous, benevolent giver (namely God) and a receiver (such as ourselves). A mystic poem that Kagan quoted goes like this (paraphrasing again, of course): God was a bit bored, so he created the universe and all the beauty in it, like the sun and the stars, beaches and mountains, forests and lakes, snow and waterfalls, and so on. At the end of this creation, God wanted an audience. So he looked at some mud on the ground and said, “Sit up and see all this beauty that I have created.” And I sat up and looked. Then I saw. I saw the beauty, not only in love and life and pleasure and happiness and everything nice and great, but also in loss and grief and misery and struggles, in all things bad and mean as well.

I cannot even begin to tell you how grateful I am that I got to be the mud that sat up and saw it all. All this beauty. So much of it that it hurts if we allow ourselves to see it. I got to experience the pleasures and the pride, and the pangs and the anguish. I got a glimpse of God’s own thoughts, written in these immense volumes of beauty. Imagine, if my parents had gotten amorous a minute earlier or later, I wouldn’t have been, and all this beauty would have been lost to me. How can I be anything but grateful for this singular fortune, this supreme gift?

What does it matter that my awareness of all this beauty will cease in 20 or so years? Or tomorrow? I see it now. My experience at this point in time is etched in eternity. It is mine. For now. And for ever.

This little bit about eternity is my dim understanding of an old song, but it is also an oblique commentary on the different outlooks of life. The western outlook is that life is a gift to be appreciated, a container to be filled with as many great things that we can muster in this short blink during which it lasts.

But we, of the East, beg to differ. We view life as a burden or suffering (as in Buddhism), or as a difficult patch in the cycle of life and death. We deal with it by not getting too attached to life and its pleasures.

When I say “we,” I am not sure I include myself in it. Well, may be I do. I see the beauty in detachment as well, in actions performed devoid of any attachment to their fruits or glory, in kindness for its own sake, in a life lived to its fullest, but oriented toward a salvation that is the very antithesis of life. I see beauty in our petty fights and our noble gestures, in our worldly worries and our heavenly pursuits. In everything that adds a little piece to this grand collage, a little square to this magnificent Persian rug, a little shade to this dome of many-colored glass, staining the white radiance of eternity. And I am grateful that I get to see it all.

Binding Books

When I was about 15, oh so long ago now, I had this crazy hobby of book binding, which is like the process of turning a paperback into a hardcover, or adding a hardcover to an exercise book. With the mild OCD that I have, I do get a bit carried away with such things, and no books around me or in my dad’s collection were spared. I collaborated with a local printing press to access their cutting machine and local stationery stores to research on various techniques and acquire supplies. My crowning moment was when I did a “full-calico” binding on a rather useless book that my dad had recently purchased.
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Pointlessness

When my mother gave birth to me, it was a touch-and-go sitiuation. I was created with an abnormally huge head, which I would like to insist is filled with a brain the size of a small planet. Whether because of the head or some other medical reason, my mother had to undergo an emergency c-section. Remember, this was more than half a century ago in a remote hill station near Munnar in Kerala.
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Childhood Friend

When I was a child, I had a friend in the neighborhood. A smart (and slightly nerdy) kid, not unlike myself. We used to hang out, play badminton and do physics experiments. By the time we were teenagers, we kind of drifted apart, as our paths diverged. Later on, I went the IIT-USA, global-citizen-route and ended up in Singapore. He, of more modest ambitions, stayed back at home, and got a job roughly similar to what my father used to do. I kept hearing of him, although I never really ran into him. He got married, probably had a couple of kids, and everything must have been going smoothly, even a bit dully. But a couple of years ago he suddenly died of leukemia.

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American School Shooting

Another day, another American school shooting. The predictable aftermath will be “thoughts and prayers” (although people use different words now because of the current climate of skepticism), another pointless debate over gun laws, and a few “never agains” and “never forgets”. Instead of those exercises in futility, I thought I would write about some other curious aspects of America’s deadly romance with guns.

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Contradictions

Life is full of contradictions.

I am attending a research retreat on mindfulness and contemplative practices at the beautiful Garrison Institute. I am learning a lot of interesting things, and meeting a lot of like-minded and excellent people – the kind of people with whom I could have deep conversation about the unreal nature of reality, unlike most people from other walks of life would politely and tactfully excuse themselves when I get a bit unreal.

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Twilight Years

At some point in our life, we come to accept the fact we are closer to death than life. What lies ahead is definitely less significant than what is left behind. These are the twilight years, and I have come to accept them. With darkness descending over the horizons, and the long shadows of misspent years and evaded human conditions slithering all around me, I peer into the void, into an eternity of silence and dreamlessness. It is almost time.

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Bhagavad Gita

Among the religious texts of Hinduism, the Bhagavad Gita is the most revered one. Literally presented as the word of God, the Bhagavad Gita enjoys a stature similar to the Bible or the Koran. Like all scriptures, the Bhagavad Gita also can be read, not merely as an act of devotion, but as a philosophical discourse as well. It presents a philosophical stance in understanding the world, which forms (for those from India) the basic and fundamental assumptions in dealing with life, and the unknowable reality around them. In fact, it is more than just assumptions and hypotheses; it is the basis of commonsense handed down from generation to generation. It is the foundations of intellect, which form the instinctive and emotional understanding of reality that is assimilated before logic and cannot be touched or analyzed with rationality. They are the mythos that trump logos every time.

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Aging Mind

I used to have a pretty sharp mind, particularly when it came to simple arithmetic. I think age has begun to dull it. Case in point: recently I had to check a friend’s pulse rate. So I felt his pulse for 15 seconds and got 17 beats. At that point, I wanted to call out the heart beats per minute. And at that point, my mind suddenly went blank. It started going through this chain, “Ok, I got 17 for 15 seconds. So what is it for a minute? It should be, what, 60 seconds over 15 times 17. Hold it, where is my iPhone? I need a calculator. No wait, it is 17 for a quarter of a minute. So 17 times 4. Where is my calculator, dammit?!” Granted, it was a slightly stressful situation. But this is not at all the way my mind used to work.

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