A news report says Eileen Neame aged 89 died at her home in the town of Torquay, southwest of England on September 2, 2010. There was no one to pay for her funeral. She was reclusive and died a lonely death. She was about to be given a pauper’s burial by some social organization.
But everything took a sudden spectacular turn. Authorities entered her home to find any clue to her relatives. The search landed them to a treasure trove of many medals, and certificates for her commendable service in the WWII. The documents revealed the life of a woman once known “Agent Rose”, who defied Nazis as a wireless operator in occupied France. Now the unknown lady shot to instant fame after her death. British media compared her death to that of fictional Eleanor Ribgy, who died alone in a Beatles song. “She was to be buried, like Eleanor Rigby, along with her name,” said the Times newspaper, which published on its front page a large black and white photo of a young Neame in a beret. She was only 23, then.
“It ought to be, given Eileen Neame’s service to her country. Her courage was capped only by her humility. Her life deserves to be sung about every bit as much as Eleanor Rigby’s,” Times said.
She served as a member of a Special Operations Executive helping coordinate resistance fighters and spies during the war. She was arrested several times and transferred to forced labour camp in Silesia, from where she escaped but was rearrested before escaping one last time. After the war, she was awarded an MBE, or Member of the Order of British Empire, in recognition of her services.
She lived the rest of the life with her sister Jacqueline, who also served in the SOE. Since her sister’s death in 1982, Neame lived alone and never spoke about her war time exploits.
The story ends here triggering a rambling stream of thoughts in me. She assigned meaning to her mission and performed it with dedication. She did her job well facing innumerable dangers in the alien lands and bearing all the hardships and tortures in the enemy camps and won laurels, which she rightfully deserved. Her fluency in French helped her avert many minor troubles. Afterwards left everything behind her; not basking in the past glory of adventure and achievement. She didn’t bother what the world was watching or not. And nobody knew about it. What she did during the long intervening period of over six decades between the end of war and her death, is not known. It is assumed; she led a happy and contented life. Suppose she was denied the pomp of a befitting funeral, do her exploits and achievements lose all its worth? Now that she reclaimed her glory, and is given a respectable burial how her life did get affected? Actually, not she but her name acquired new identity after her death. Moments ago she was a non-entity and in an instant she was catapulted to fame. Sympathy and appreciation poured from all over the world. Was her life a dream? For that matter anybody’s life is an illusion, a mere fancy of the mind? In your dream you may be a king of kings or a wretched beggar; may be tormented by a demon or charmed by a fairy, but the moment you wake up, it’s all void. What difference it makes in actual life, if you earn name and fame or remain an unknown cipher?
In a conversation, Einstein countered the view of Tagore assigning no value to the beauty of wild flower. In the wilderness what is the worth of wonderful bloom? Is it that only external agents can bestow value on something? It means the beauty of flower doesn’t have any intrinsic value of its own. The beholder sees the reflection of his/her own mind in identifying beauty or ugliness in any thing.
Ronald Reagan - a victim of Alzheimer’s - forgot he was once the President of America and all the biggies of the world affairs were his buddies. As long as one is alive and others, surrounding him or her in the near vicinity or far-off, contribute to inflate the ego – in other words, what we call giving recognition. And consequently, the satisfaction or jubilation follows. On death or loss of total consciousness the ego no longer exists and the resultant elation vanishes. You take it in any way you like, it ends in a void. Is it what Mahayani Buddhists call “Shunyata” and the Oriental sages “Maya”?
So, what is life? There is no single answer. It is what meaning you ascribe to it. And there are myriad ways of doing it – everywhere varying from individual to individual. It all depends how your outlook is shaped over time through upbringing and experience. In the end – in all the cases – it turns out to be only “Maya.”