Birth of death

Aug 25, 2013, 07:30 IST | Devdutt Pattanaik

Stars, they say, are created and destroyed. So are planets. So is light. But do they die? To die, you must be alive, crave for life, withdraw from threats, seek protection and nourishment. Life began when death was sensed, and feared. When fierce attempts were made by that entity -- not a thing, but a creature -- to avoid death’s fatal embrace. It could be a virus, or an amoeba, no more than a single cell in size, perhaps deep inside the ocean, or simply floating on its surface, greedily seeking sunlight and water, reproducing itself by breaking into two -- thereby doubling its chances of survival.

Illustration/ Devdutt Pattanaik

We don’t see those micro-organisms struggling to life. We see plants growing towards the sun, its roots finding its way to a water source, its branches bursting with leaves, stretching itself to stay alive, unable to move when a bird or a beast tears a leaf or fruit or flower or bark or the entire stem, to feed itself. Silently suffering as it is consumed, hoping that from its seed will rise another to replace it.

Animals eat to avoid death by starvation. They run to avoid death at the hands of the predator. They compete to get more food. They herd and pack to keep death at bay. They migrate to survive. They form pecking orders to increase their chances at life. All living creatures mate and mutate, all to prolong life and delay death a little longer. All diversity in nature really comes from its determination not to succumb to death.

Life is precious. But what is life? No one thinks about it until humans come along. If the earth is a day old, then humans walked this Earth about a minute ago and dinosaurs about 10 minutes ago. Death was born 20 hours ago, at early morning, before the sun rose. We started thinking about death about 30 seconds ago as imagination conjured up images of the world that goes on without us. It terrified us.

We established farms and built cities and markets to ensure we live longer, that storms, predators do not kill us and we do not kill each other. Death forced us to civilise ourselves. We created the notion of property -- this is mine and that is mine: I can die but what is mine can outlive me. Thus through property we realised dreams of immortality.

We told stories to explain death -- we built monuments to our dead, and turned them into tourist attractions. We created stories that made death bearable -- ideas of legacy, heaven and rebirth. We created stories that made life more desirable. Death made us conjure up God, Devil, soul, aliens. Death made us think about equality -- for death spares no one, not even the young, slim and beautiful. Not even the saint or the child. Death made us see the terror in other people’s eyes -- the fear of living a meaningless invalid life. Death taught us how to love, comfort the frightened, the disheartened. Death created the expiry date botox cannot keep at bay.

Everything will die, become stardust once again. Until death wants to be reborn and decides its time to create life once again.

The author is Chief Belief Officer of the Future Group, and can be reached at 
The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper. 

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