By Shevlin Sebastian
Every day, at 6 a.m., when I sit and read the newspapers, there is one moment when time stands still. This is the period when I look at a page, full of obituary notices, in a vernacular newspaper. When I stare at the faces, looking unblinkingly back at me, I feel uneasy and nervous.
All kinds of people – young, middle-aged, and old – are dying every day. At times, when I look at the age, I get a shock. If I had the same destiny, I would be dead within two, five or ten years. I feel hopeful when a 90-year-old has passed away. That means there could be a long life ahead of me.
There are also moments when I feel bereft. This happens when I see the faces of children. Why, I ask God. As always, He keeps an enigmatic silence. Sometimes, I wonder: Does He exist? The truly shocking moment arrives when I see a photo of a stunning young woman. What a loss for mankind that they can no longer enjoy the sight of this beauty? Now, she is either a few grams of ash, or six feet under the ground. Either prospect is heart-breaking.
This daily morning ritual is a reminder to me that time is running out. Sometimes, a panic arises in me. There are so many things to do. Can I do them, before destiny forces me to hit the exit button?
Who knows? You need a lot of luck, pluck, and good health to get the life you want. However, luck cannot hold your hand forever. It has to cater to so many people – more than seven billion and increasing daily. So, luck leaves you. Then darkness and despair appears on the horizon. You pine for good fortune to return. Sometimes it does, but most of the time it does not.
When I have a chat with my parents, I get confirmation that luck is sleeping a lot these days. Every now and then, they will inform me of a death of a member of their generation.
“Thomas was a nice person, but a man of few words,” my dad told me one evening. My mom said, “Where did he stay?” And both of them racked their brains to recall the address.
A recent death of my father's friend was poignant. The wife had gone to America to spend time with her son and his family. Her 80-year-old husband did not go, because he was not keeping good health. On the day, she returned, to Chennai, she was so glad to see him, from a distance, sitting patiently, on an armchair, in a ground-floor verandah. But when she came close, she got a shock. The eyes were lifeless. Her husband had died, moments before, of a massive heart attack.
Another day, my mother tells me that I should take her to meet her friend, Shanti. She is a childless widow, who lives in an old people’s home. “Shanti is feeling depressed, because two of her closest friends at the home have died,” my mother says.
I am middle-aged now and can only watch, apprehensively, as Yama, The God of Death, whistles past me, busy in his work.
(Published as a middle in The New Indian Express, South Indian editions)