97 Year Old Philosopher Faces Death by Nalinaksha Mutsuddi SignUp
97 Year Old Philosopher Faces Death
Nalinaksha Mutsuddi Bookmark and Share

It’s a short documentary ‘Being 97’ produced by Andrew Hasse about the last days of his grandfather. It’s published in The Atlantic under the above named title.

Herbert Fingarette taught philosophy for forty years at California University. He was of the view that fearing death is irrational. Everybody knows that he has to face the inevitable and die one day. Those who are born none can escape death. There is nothing after death. Why to fear death when you won’t be there to suffer it.  Believing in life after death is self deception. But later he couldn’t reconcile with his own idea. He began doubting whether he was right in his thinking. Though it is not clear whether he believed in rebirth or not but from his comparison of life with a journey of a tourist, it’s easy to guess that he did. However, rebirth also is not a universally accepted uniform belief.  Half of the world population believes in instant rebirth after death and reaps the fruit of good or bad Karma of previous birth. The other half thinks dead souls are brought back to life by God from the graves only on the Final Day of Judgment to be rewarded with a heaven of eternal pleasure or condemned to never-ending hell fire depending on good or bad deeds done in this life. There are thousands of other variants among different tribes of the world.

Stillness of time, diminishing physical strength, constant dependence on others for help frightened him.  Fear of death started haunting him. He couldn’t think out of it. On his last day he was lying on his bed with eyes closed and suddenly  woke up and uttered:  ‘Now it’s clear enough’ followed by a long pause to say again, ‘why don’t we see if we can go up and check it out?’ And then he sank into eternal silence.

Being haunted by fear of death in old age is very common. It’s natural too. I consider fear of death – for young and old  -- is a tool devised by Nature as a survival mechanism. It’s applicable to all living beings. Otherwise, all beings will fall easy prey to death endangering continuation of the species.

Now the question arises can the fear of death be averted. My personal belief, it can be done. I think I’ll not be afraid of death. Fingarette warned, you cannot be sure until you reach the final stage. I still think that I won’t be afraid of death even at the last lap of life staring death starkly face to face. I’m 91 now, only six years away from Fingarette.

Have a critical view of my strategy.

I’ll not be afraid of death because I’ve already died many times over and die almost every day. I don’t miss an opportunity of reminding me of death any time. Whenever I hear of any accident leading to death or injury to human beings or animals I imagine it could happen to me. Whenever I go out for work or on tour I think I may not come back. Here I cite actual instances.  Once we planned to visit Rishikesh and Mussouri from Noida. We were four -- my wife, sister-in- law, who came from London, my son and me. My son was at the wheel. Just before starting I called my daughter in Delhi to say we are going to Mussouri, in case we don’t return you will find important documents in my green briefcase on the left of the third shelf of the bedroom cupboard. Note that I didn’t ask her to pray for our safe return. After all it's so uncertain -- nobody can predict what is to happen next. On another occasion we were fast asleep at night. Suddenly, our four-storied buildings began shaking.  All the residents were out on the street for safety and making noise. My wife also was urging me to run out hurriedly.  I told her in a casual manner, ‘you go and let me die here.’ She too didn’t come out and we couldn’t die either.  I leave out other examples.

For minor illness I won’t mind taking medicines. I gave clear instructions to whoever is looking after me now not to take me to nursing homes if I contract cancer or something like that. I had bypass surgery in 2014. I know I cannot choose the manner I may die, am ready to welcome death in any form it may come – a fall, murder or whatever, but in no case due to prolonged suffering. The moment I realize I have a deadly disease I’ll stop taking food and medicines including water. Vinova Bhabe died on the tenth day of fasting. I too may die soon by total fasting and evade long-drawn suffering. 

I firmly believe I’ll live up to my words.

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