Grave concern: No one wants to talk about death

With hundreds of deaths taking place all around us, with patients dying gasps for oxygen or want of medical care, with dead human forms floating in the rivers or lying dumped in piles, the atmosphere is gloomy

In the Indian families anything connected to death was rarely spoken about and discussed. To talk of the qabristans and shamshan-ghats or crematoriums or cemeteries was greatly discouraged if not a complete no-no. Well, no longer! All seems changed since last year, more so in these recent weeks.

With hundreds of deaths taking place all around us, with patients dying gasping for oxygen or want of medical care, with dead human forms floating in the rivers or lying dumped in piles or getting carted here and there, we are but bound to dwell on death. Yes, today our talks and thoughts, worries and apprehensions cannot move away from death and human destruction!

Khushwant Singh would often lash out at our hesitancy to talk of death, “Why death is rarely spoken about in our homes? Why? And this when each one of us knows that death has to strike. There’s this line from Yaas Yagana — ‘Khuda mein shak ho to ho,maut mein nahin koee shak (you may or may not doubt the existence of God,but no one can doubt the inevitability of death).

And one must prepare oneself to face it .Once I’d asked the Dalai Lama and he had advised me meditation, to meditate on this, but I introspect about death: what happens once you die, where do you go, what’s next! As far as I am concerned I accept the finality of death, we do not know what happens to us when we die. Yes, I do think of death.

I don’t know where I will be after my death! I don’t see death as something to be worried or scared about. Earlier, whenever I was upset or low, I used to go to the cremation grounds. It has a cleansing effect and it worked like therapy for me.”

Khushwant Singh would also come up with these verses on death.

Allama Iqbal’s verse, in Persian:

Nishaan –e – mard -e – momin ba too goyam/

Choon marg aayad,tabassam bar lab-e – ost.

(You ask about the signs of a man of faith? when death comes to him, he has a smile on his lips.)

These lines of Alfred Lord Tennyson:

Sunset and evening star/

And one clear call for me! /

May there be no moaning of the bar /

When I put out to sea …/

Twilight and evening bell,/

After that the dark!/

And may there be no sadness of farewell/

When I embark.

He would also quote Omar Khayyam:

Into this world and why not knowing /

And like water willy-nilly flowing…

More lines of Khayyam on the very mystery to life and death:

There was a door to which I found no key, /

There was a veil beyond which I could not see;/

Talk awhile of thee and me there was /

Then no more of thee or me.

♦ ♦ ♦

Deaths and destruction in Palestine

Though a ceasefire has been announced but the eleven days of Israeli bombardments have left back haunting shots of death and destruction in Palestine.

I have heard the successive Palestinian envoys to India, detail Israeli intrusions into their territory. I recall one of the former Palestinian envoys to India, Dr Khaled Al Sheikh, speak at the various forums and platforms, detailing the violence inflicted on the Palestinians. And later when Osama Musa was posted as the Palestinian envoy

to India, he spoke along a broader perspective as he was the Commander of his country’s Air Force when the Oslo Agreement was signed in 1994, and thereafter he was appointed Chairman of the Regional Security Committee which was meant to oversee the implementation of the Agreement on the Palestinian side.

During the course of a series of interviews with me, Osama Musa detailed that Israeli tanks get right inside Palestinian homes. “The situation in Palestine is so bad that it is Israel which decides everything, including the mass killings of our children! Today America -backed Israel controls our lands, our lives! Can’t America see the disasters taking place! And I can tell you that without America’s support, Israel is zero. Israel cannot survive a single day if America didn’t support it!”

In fact, Arab commentators had been commenting that if the American government does not back the Israeli policies, there could be a halt to the barbaric atrocities on the Palestinians.And the former Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s son, Saif -El -Islam was specific when he spoke of “outside interests” behind the anarchy in their region. I had interviewed Saif-El-Islam for a national daily, when visited New Delhi, in the autumn of 2001. He came across as brilliant (yes, brilliant!) and well-aware of the changing world order.

He was very apprehensive of the “designs” of the Israeli agencies, “Those dangerous designs could be countered if there was some semblance of unity against the fascist forces. I want to see the entire South Asian block united together. I realize there is little unity amongst the Arab States. A pity we aren’t together. And because of these divisions we don’t speak in one voice. We are not together and that’s why we have been humiliated by the Israelis and the US.” Saif had also detailed, “If I’m given a chance to rule Libya, my first priority would be to get all the Arab countries together, bring about unity amongst the Arab countries, as that alone can save us from America and Israel.”

And when I had interviewed the well-known Arab academic, Clovis Maksoud — he was then Professor of International Relations and Director of the Centre for Global South at the American University in Washington, and before that he had served as the Arab League ambassador to India (1961- 66) and later ambassador to the United Nations and the US — he focused on the fact that people of the Arab countries had realized that there were vested interests of “outsiders” to destroy their lands. Clovis had also detailed, “There is a broad strategic dependence of the Arab States on the US, based on the false assumption that the US is the only power that can make Israel respond to the Palestinian issue.

This dependence is flawed because Israel has flouted all international norms. In fact, Israel is the only country that has never declared its boundaries since 1967. It has not acknowledged the fact that its an occupying power and given itself the license to expand its settlements. This has meant violating U.N. resolution of the 4th Geneva Convention that does not allow any occupying power to alter the boundaries of the country it occupies…At the same time the US has chosen to make Israel its principal ally and this has given Israel the license to defy the UN convention with impunity.”