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Face-to-face with death

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K S S Pillai
The present pandemic has scared me. After the havoc being caused by a wayward virus that dons new forms every other day, there are reports of people losing their limbs and lives due to a fungus. In the beginning, it was black in colour, but now there are more deadly white and yellow ones.
In addition to praying, I wear a mask most of the time, keep social distancing, and wash my hands several times a day. I go out of my home only when necessary. I have renewed my friendship with medical stores and make discreet enquiries about the availability of life-saving drugs. Though life is far from the proverbial bed of roses, I won’t mind living a little more. Now I examine my body often for any changes taking place and go to doctors at the slightest sign of danger.
That is how I landed in the consulting room of my family doctor the other day after detecting a minor swell on my gum. The doctor beamed his torch into my mouth and stared at the boil-like growth on my gum for a long time. A shiver went down my spine when his expression changed gradually from his usual friendly one to one of extreme gravity.
He asked me how long I had the swelling. “More than a month,” I replied.
He shook his silvery head a couple of times and asked me to get a biopsy and CT scan done immediately. Handing me a printed card, he asked me to get the tests done only in that laboratory and show him the reports. If I am still alive, his body language seemed to say. His gestures confirmed my worst fears and left me in no doubt that my days were numbered. The only thing he left unsaid was, “Draw your last will if you have not done so, and inform all the near ones.”
While leaving his room, I tried to remember what the scriptures say about death. One describes it as the transmigration of the soul from one body to another, like the discarding of old clothes for new ones. One gets a new body after death, which could be any one of 84 lakh species of living beings, depending on one’s deeds during one’s lifetime. For a moment, I try to visualize the new body that I might get, but it is mind-boggling to select just one out of so many. Anyway, the doctor’s demeanor seemed to suggest that it was too late to make any amends as my next body might already have been decided.
One’s destination after death will be either heaven or hell, another scripture says. I try to evaluate how I have lived all these years and wonder how many of the Ten Commandments I have breached. I would certainly be happy if I found myself being escorted by angels from the gates of heaven to the five-star facilities inside. The possibility of getting eternally fried in hell also loomed large before me, though I had no doubt I would get an impressive company there.
In one of his novels, Paulo Coelho presents death as a beautiful woman sitting by his side, ready to kiss him at any moment. I am baffled. Isn’t he trying to bribe her? If I were to select a female figure for death, it would be someone with protruding fangs and demoniac looks. However, I have been told from childhood that the angel of death is a potbellied, red-eyed demi-god with bushy, upturned moustaches and eyebrows, carrying a trident and a coil of rope, riding a fierce bull buffalo.
Mounting tension makes me dizzy, and not wanting to get killed by a heart attack then and there, I hurry towards the laboratory to get the tests done without any delay.
(The author is a retired professor of English. Apart from The Kashmir Vision, his articles have appeared in The New Indian Express, The Deccan Herald, The Hans India, The Tribune, The Herald Goa, and elsewhere)



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