Last Rights

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Notwithstanding the hundreds of babies who die every year in hospitals of the Gorakhpur and Farrukhabad variety, rates of both infant and maternal mortality have been consistently declining. One of the main reasons for this happy development is the govt’s push for Institutional Deliveries as against the age-old practice of home deliveries, presided over by midwives. The former, by ensuring better hygiene and medical care, has led to improved survival rates for both, mother and child. Strangely, however, the opposite appears to be happening for older people! More people are nowadays dying in hospitals than at home, at least in urban areas. “Institutional deaths” anecdotally outnumber “home deaths”. (Try to recollect how many people you know who have died at home in the last few years – I can’t think of even one). There are many reasons for this but we will not go into them as that is not the subject of this piece. But what it has done is left me with an insurmountable problem!

At a sprightly 66, I am uncomfortably conscious of the fact that I am now just two years short of the average life expectancy in India and may not live to see either Rahul Gandhi or Arvind Kejriwal become Prime Minister of India. As things stand today that may require the said average to go up to about 90 or perhaps require even a second rebirth. But you can’t fight with averages, and since I am  about as average a Joe as any you’ll come across in a week of Sundays, its time for me to start thinking about the grand exit and the family pension for the long suffering wife. And that’s where the problem arises.

You see, I don’t want to be told Bon Voyage or Happy Landing (or whatever they say in Sanskrit these days) in a hospital, attached to more pipes and tubes than a vat in a distillery, with a ventilator pumping air into me as if I was an old, retreaded tyre with a dozen punctures. It is my fervent wish to board Yamdoot’s busy shuttle service (the last mile connectivity) from my home, surrounded by the few family and friends whom I have not yet managed to annoy, gazing wistfully at the “Aam Aadmi” cap I had promised to wear when Mr. Kejriwal became Prime Minister. Since that doesn’t appear likely anytime soon, I may as well not hold my breath, if you see what I mean. I have written all this in my will for my sons to read and carry out. However, since they are products of Bishop Cotton School, Shimla, I can’t depend on their ability to decipher words with more than two syllables, hence this public statement.

But I digress, as usual, from the main point, which is this: Who will issue my Death Certificate if I cop it at home? I am told that only a govt. Doctor or Hospital can issue a DC. Now, I can hardly hope that a sarkari doctor will deign to come to my house in Puranikoti village, considering that they rarely go to even their places of posting! Please press the Save button on this problem, dear reader, while I move on to the next one.

The second, even bigger problem for me is this: I am a non-practicing Hindu (i.e. not a gau rakshak) but do not wish to be cremated at Benaras or Haridwar, for the simple reason that I do not want half of my torso floating around in  polka dot Jockeys till I land up at the Ganga barrage in Kanpur – though, I must confess, since I belong to Kanpur this will be my final “ghar wapasi” of sorts.

There are other reasons too for avoiding the barbeque. I don’t wish to be converted to CO2 or methane or whatever gas ex-bureaucrats are composed of and burn another hole in the ozone layer. I’d much rather become top soil and end up as a begonia or a daisy and, if my luck holds out, perhaps be plucked by a pretty young girl some day ! My desire, therefore, is to be buried – and that too on my own land in Puranikoti village, and not in a cemetery which is probably an encroachment on forest land. (Having served for almost four years in the Forest department, I certainly cannot become a party to this, you will agree). It took me two years of bending and genuflecting to obtain permission from the govt. to buy this land, and another three years of scraping and begging to build the house on it, so I don’t intend giving it up so easily. I fully intend to hang around there – as a daisy, if you will but more likely as a cactus shrub – to further ensure that the DC Shimla does not resume the land on the grounds that, since I don’t have an Aadhar number, I never existed officially. But the problem of that damn Death Certificate remains, now worse confounded. You see, one also needs a certificate from a crematorium or burial ground authority that the body has been properly disposed off ! Without this the police are likely to dig me out again, register an FIR against me and then I’ll become case property. And we all know what happens to case property in police stations – it gets buggered – sorry, burgled!

Maybe I should just convert to Jainism, climb into that hole in the ground, and take “samadhi”. That will solve all these problems. Or maybe I should just listen to the Beatles and Let It Be. But there’s reason to worry here too: what if my sons decide to be like the chap who, having just lost his wife and being asked whether they should bury, cremate or embalm her, shouted: “Don’t take any chances – do all three!” That would be too much of a good thing.

Avay Shukla retired from the Indian Administrative Service in December 2010. He is a keen environmentalist and loves the mountains.....he has made them his home. He blogs at http://avayshukla.blogspot.in/

2 Comments

  • Nodnat says:

    Now that you have decided that D-Day is nearing, I second (squared) you idea of getting buried in your own land, instead of seeking ‘do gazz zamin’ somewhere in the hope of reincarnating as a lily (or daisy) of the day! With a little more foresight (or is it hindsight?) you could deservedly reincarnate as a Cedrus deodara and then go on living to see Khejriwal and descendants clamber the PM’s throne or even bear witness to whether planet earth gets to see the 22nd century!

    Wishing you a very long innings in the afterlife (after this one of course)!

    • Avay Shukla says:

      I could live with being a deodar, Nodnat, provided it’s not planted by the Forest deptt: their survival rates are very low!

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