Enjoying Obituaries: Churchil Not Alone


(B Someswar Rao)

When I wrote on the benefits of writing one’s own obituary,  the only thought I had was the thrill of making an assessment of that journey and counting the  milestones, real if you are old and imaginary if you have miles to go before you rest (for ever)

I recall that  two friends, both in their sixties now, writing my ‘obit’ decades ago, remembered the weekly I edited not knowing my publisher friend had a shady financier. They forgot the four new dailies whose first issues I produced or that I entered the Street of Ink as a minor with a celebrity mentor

So you remember only your achievements and others   only the eminently forgettable events. As a news agency’s regional head I recall how obits of celebrities are kept ready weeks in advance and released with an: embargo:  when the countdown begins. They are the only life sketches about those alive we write in the past tense

Having worked in both the rival news agencies l created a joke when one of them “killed” celebrities hours before they died Spurred by the urge to ‘beat’ the rival by few seconds, operators “jump” the embargo only to ”kill”  the item itself after a few seconds .

I used to say one presumed the celebrity dead on seeing a follower in tears while the rival, being over cautious, waited for the death to pinch the celebrity or ask him/her to say if (s) he was really dead.

So that was making a joke on death – which we are warned never to do.  But it did make a scribe ‘enjoy’ death like Churchil.  The rule about death and fun concerned headlines — never give a funny headline to a death item

Responding to my article on obits it’s only reader Mr. Vemkat Raman wrote:  “About obituaries, Sir Winston Churchil wrote to a friend “I could not attend the funeral, but enjoyed reading the obituary “.

“Once   when The Hindu used to publish obits in the left hand classified column of page 4, it was the most read page by many readers. They were happy if the age of the dead is higher than their own age.

“Even today when someone mentions that so and so died, the first question asked is about the deceased’s age. There is a natural feeling that death of a senior person is something not to be grieved.” To die is one of the most common duties of the old this is what the seniors have to do – one grows old and   duly dies it is natural and normal

After-all”old” is ones age plus some days. And it was normal for the old to die. L is ONLY 84, not ‘old’.

“When I read the highly paid obituaries with photographs in all editions, it makes me wonder, is it worthwhile to grieve for such an old person, who lived long enough, achieved something and duly passed away at ripe old age. They have contributed a lot to the nation and attained a good age”.

Thanks to mushrooming retirement homes and much more cash, they are at least

taken care of. The end is a relief….to all.