(B. Someswar Rao)
Do you know the names of your cousins’ children or the grandchildren of your uncle twice-removed? Ask your parents and they may be able to tell. But that was decades ago.
Social media connectivity has changed that scenario. Contribution of the year 2020 to our thinking is: social media play a vital role in human relationships that again play are very important in maintaining our physical and mental health – the main problems of the elders.
A joke on social media was a story I received on the phone in Marathi. Having used it in a blog, I recall it was about a young man who meets an elderly ‘uncle’ living in the same housing complex. A distant relation, the elder asks if he was married and the youth replies in the negative, saying he was too busy on the computer to do so. Was he ‘seeing’ any prospective bride? No again. Then he was asked – did he make any match-making visits to eligible girls’ houses to ‘see a girl’ (every Indian language has a word for it), common in India’s arranged marriage system, he was asked. The young man replied, “Where is the time for all that? I am too busy as a computer engineer.”
Some months later, the youth comes to the elder with a wedding invitation. When did he ‘see the girl’, the ‘uncle’ asks. The youth says that he ‘met’ her first on the Internet. They had become friends on Facebook, had a Zoom meeting, and decided to marry. All invitations were sent by WhatsApp or emails. A card was being given to him only as he stayed in the same building.
When he attended the marriage, the elder finds that only a handful of guests were present. The youth tells him that he got all greetings and blessings online. Even some gifts came by courier. A few years later the elder gets a late-night phone call from the youth. His pregnant wife was in a hospital with a gynecological complication. The doctors said she may not survive and asked him to “call the elders” as she was critical.
Then the youth realizes that he had met very few elders face-to-face in the last some years. He knew all only on WhatsApp and other social media. “You are one of the few I could think of whom I knew personally, so I am calling you,” the young man says tearfully. The elder tells his wife this story when they drive to the hospital after midnight. Many such stories against the social media go viral … on the social media.
The children of today, given whatever they ask for and dropped by their elders at school in cars, may find this difficult to understand. So it is good if you get used to hardships or deprivations as a youth, and voluntarily give up luxuries. It will save you a lot of discomfort and unhappiness in the golden years if, by chance, you are denied these. Being prepared is no problem even if you have all luxuries. Gandhi advocated voluntary poverty that needs to be understood and practiced by all. While not affording anything one needs is poverty, choosing not to have all one wants but does not need, is voluntary poverty. Wanting more and more even when not needed is greed, a cardinal vice.
The best way to avoid disappointments in life is not to have any expectations or always anticipating the worst. Whatever life bestows on you in the final years will appear to be a great blessing. Minimalism is the best way of life. This does NOT mean self-denial or doing without what you really need. All it means is cutting down desire for unnecessary things and ask, before buying anything, whether you really need it. Indian culture and outlook advocate sacrifice and renunciation. Anyone who is over 60 is urged to take to Vanaprasthaashram or renounce all worldly wealth.
A major mental problem of the elders is fear – fear of death or of the pain that precedes it during illness leading to it. Death is nothing to be afraid of. It is, as William Faulkner put it, the ultimate reality: eight feet long, 26 inches wide and six feet deep. Poet H.W. Longfellow says “dust thou art to dust returnest” (literally ash for Indians on cremation ) and it is also “not said of the soul”. Death can come to anyone at any age. Everyone has to be born a helpless infant, but may die young or at a ripe old age.
We hear talk of the ‘untimely’ death of young or middle-aged people, but even in the old it is never ‘timely’. As the sun rises it must set. As per Indian belief, one is reborn again and again with another body, but only Karma (or actions) of this life affects the next; habits or memories mostly end with life. (Parapsychologists have been studying the extremely rare phenomenon called past-life memories.) What cannot be averted has to be endured. Whether you await the end with contentment and joy or die a hundred deaths by being afraid of it, is your choice.
The young are too busy with a difficult, alien, lifestyle that causes many diseases and with earning a lot of money, all of which they may have to spend on treatment of the diseases of old age, robbing them of the enjoyment of the golden years of life with grandchildren. They, instead, eternally dread death and the pain of ill-health that precedes it.
No event in human history, perhaps, made people more apprehensive and aware of death as the recent Coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic made all human beings, irrespective of race, nationality, religion or gender, afraid of death every minute, morning and evening. All their waking time they think only of death from Covid-19. Infection is suspected in every place. Lakhs die from cancer, Tuberculosis, heart diseases, and many other ailments in this country. . Even road accidents killed more than Covid-19. And yet it is feared more than all of them.
Almost every Hindu sits briefly in a temple after ‘darshan’ ,to recite, in the mind, a sloka, but few know the hymn and fewer sill recite it. The sitting for a minute or two in a temple has become a mere ritual like many other percepts of Hinduism. The hymn is an invocation to God to grant painless death without dependence on anyone and with God present (obviously in one’s mind) in the last minutes. The sloka reads:
Dehantey tava san nidhyam
(Painless death, Life without dependence on others, Your presence in thought when leaving the mortal remains, God please grant me)
All a human prays for, whatever the faith, is summed up by the film song picturized on Sandhya, in V. Shantaram’s ‘Do Aankhe, Bara Haath’ …” jaaki haste hue nikale dam…” (…so we die smiling).