That dying of the light

Published: 04 April, 2020 04:15 IST | Lindsay Pereira | Mumbai

The older I get, the more I think about mortality, which makes me question everything I once thought was important

I like to think that the idea of death has changed how I approach the business of life. Pic/istock
I like to think that the idea of death has changed how I approach the business of life. Pic/istock

picI am not a senior citizen, despite the implications of what I choose to write about here. I am not depressed, neither am I recovering from grief at the loss of a loved one, nor does this have anything to do with the possibility of a pandemic wiping us all out. I am simply thinking about death because I find myself doing that a lot more than I used to.

It isn’t as morbid as I once thought it would be, possibly because I have come to terms with the fact that none of us will be around at some point. That would never have occurred to me as a teenager, naturally, when my body told me that the world was mine for the taking, and the possibilities ahead were limitless.

It hit me as I turned 20 though, when someone I went to school with passed away in a freak accident. This was someone I had known since I was five; someone I saw almost daily for years, who went away after college and never came back. At the funeral, confronted by the sadness of his parents, siblings and friends, I was shocked by the revelation that life could be so fragile.

Other deaths followed. Older relatives, or friends claimed by accidents and disease. I lost grandparents, teachers, colleagues, and slowly began to get used to the idea of what it means to be mortal. This isn’t something that people who came before me took as long to accept, because life and death were once more closely intertwined than they are now. A couple of centuries ago, we know parents automatically assumed most of their children wouldn’t survive childhood. Before advances in medicine, something as seemingly trivial as a cold could carry someone away.

The fear we have of death doesn’t extend beyond the borders of our cities either, simply because rural India still grapples with the kind of crises that once occupied a lot more of us. Outside Bombay, children continue to die of malnutrition, while others continue to lose their lives without access to healthcare. The grief they feel isn’t any less, but one imagines their outlook on how they live is drastically informed by the tenuous nature of their existence.

I like to think that the idea of death has changed how I approach the business of life. Most of the decisions I now make, personal, financial, or professional, are based upon how long I think I have. It has changed the way I interact with friends, affected how or why I make purchases and made me question a lot of what I thought was important when I graduated from college.

My tastes reflect this relatively newfound comfort with death too. Where I once gifted copies of Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh, I now pick Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. The latter, published in 2005, was written as a means of Didion coping with the sudden passing of her husband, followed a year later by the death of their daughter. I turn to that book often, not because the writing is compelling, which it is, but because I am struck by how literature continues to offer us tools with which to manage what is often beyond our ability to comprehend.

There are other things I have begun to take for granted with my newfound acceptance, such as the fact that I will not grow old with the people I was young with. Friendships that I thought would last forever have begun to unravel at the seams, as those I once lived alongside move to other cities and countries. It’s also interesting how those I was close to in my formative years now know almost nothing of what my life is like. My priorities have shifted too, and things I thought were non-negotiable have turned out to be surprisingly unimportant.

I believe it’s nice to think about death every once in a while, because it should have an impact on how we evolve as a country too. It often feels as if we are regressing, not just in the way we continue to hold on to what the rest of the world has moved beyond, but in the way we stifle all possibilities of our children growing up in a better place than the one we were born into.

I like to think that, personally, I finally have managed to grow up. It is an accomplishment of sorts that my ex-girlfriends would be very happy about.

When he isn’t ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira
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