Unlocked thoughts: Live a long life but happiness is not guaranteed
Novel coronavirus has brought to surface a bundle of ironies. The best among those comes from some of our politicians who normally give two hoots to human rights. They suddenly want people to live long with health, if not in happiness! Why this paradox? Is it because they will be left with no people to impose their will upon, if the coronavirus pandemic snatches away all the preys that ‘legitimately’ belong to them? Is it the reason why they do not want herd immunity to develop?
As a matter of fact, herd immunity seems to be the only remedy for the novel coronavirus because a recent report from the Center of Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota says that the virus won’t go away anytime soon until about two-thirds of the world’s population becomes immune. Then, there is also the fact that this world is home to thousands of undiscovered viruses which await a proper ecosystem to become active. So, does it really make any sense to remain in extended lockdown?
But, try telling this to those politicians who have suddenly become the personification of compassion, they will raise their eyebrows and ask- “Are you a human? Do you want our young and old people to die? How can you even suggest such a beastly idea?” Politicians owe their existence to people, especially young people. This is because they question, protest and revolt. In a way, without youngsters, power of politicians will forever remain inconspicuous. So, it is only natural such power-hungry politicians want them to remain alive, because without them, they are not!
It is just not politicians alone who relish the company of the young. As a matter of fact, even the God of Death is rejoiced whenever he is able to lay his hands on youngsters. In the play, Alcestis, produced in Athens in 438 BC that focuses on young and old death, Thanatos – the Greek God of Death – is delighted to have a young victim. “They who die younger yield me a greater prize,” Thanatos chuckles.
That is the Greek God of Death for you. But, India has a legacy of outwitting even the God of Death. Stories are many. One such story revolves around Nachiketas – the young boy – who on his own volition goes to the abode of Yama after his father Vajasrawas in a fit of rage says, “Unto death, I offer you!” Vajasrawas was enraged because Nachiketas had questioned his action of offering old, infirm and unproductive cows as ‘daan.’
Nachiketas later is forced to wait for three days and nights without sleep, food and water at Yama’s palace, because the Lord of Death is not at home. Upon return, Yama is aggrieved that the boy was not given a proper welcome and in atonement offers to fulfill three of his wishes. There was no difficulty in fulfilling the first two wishes. But, the third one proved tricky, because Nachiketas wanted to know what becomes of man after death.
Instead of granting this wish, Yama requests Nachiketas to release him from the obligation and tries to lure him by offering prosperity, wealth, jewels, long life, land, elephants, horses, chariots, beautiful maidens and musical instruments. But, Nachiketas would have none of it. To Yama, he says, “You can keep all the dancing damsels and chariots. They will be of little value once you appear.”
If Nachiketas cleverly escaped the snare laid by Yama, in the story of Yayati, it was turn of Puru – another youngster – to outwit the Lord of Death. Thus goes the story: Yayati – the mighty king – is cursed with old age by Sukracharya, his father-in-law. Devayani, the first wife of Yayati is sad and requests her father to take back the curse. Expressing his helplessness, Sukracharya, however, says one of Yayati’s sons could exchange his youth with him. His two sons born in Devayani refuse. He had three more sons in his second wife, Sarmishta. The first two, too refuse while Puru – the third son and a young boy – comes forward willingly.
Even Yama feels pity, and says, “You’re so young, not even married. All your brothers are old and they’ve lived their life. Why do you do this?” Puru replies, “My father has lived for over 100 years. My brothers have lived their life too, to the fullest and yet no one is ready to die. That shows even if you live for one thousand years there would still be some unfinished task. Satisfaction is not possible in this life.”
India with such a spiritual depth and inner strength to look at life and death from a different plane is well qualified to experiment with herd immunity- there could be some amount of casualty though. This is especially because 90 per cent of the country’s population is below 60 years. So, that is what you will expect from the country which is ruled by a political party whose members lose no time digging into Gita and Mahabharata when faced with a moral crisis. Yet, is it not another irony that none of them would take any cue from the stories of Nachiketas or Yayati?
Tuesday, 05 May 2020 | TS Sreenivasa Raghavan | in Guest Column