03 November 2014

On death and preferred funerals

A 'grave' as good as any, if I am lucky.
[Pic courtesy www.yamu.lk]
‘I plagiarized shamelessly,’ a friend confessed.  He had copied something from an article I had written, ‘On heart-unbuckling’.  I told him that my words were not born in me, that they were engendered by others and therefore it does not matter where they go after they leave my fingertips, i.e. the moment they die and receive afterlife.  I told him that I don’t care much for copyrights, although I understand that other do and therefore acknowledge when necessary. 

There’s a heavy storm raging outside.  Only essential areas have power from the generator.  I am not sure if the email connection will be restored quickly enough for me to send this to my editor.  My words are under threat of being incarcerated by a technological glitch.  Things die.  It is inevitable.

A few days ago, on a bus from Athens to Chalkidiki, a resort village in Greece, I suffered a strong allergic reaction.  It was around 11 pm.  There were 33 people in the bus, including 4 doctors.  I asked for some medicine and was given Piriton and some other tablet.  Didn’t help. The dose was increased.  I fell asleep.  Not for long.  Hives had broken out all over my body. I felt I was going to faint.

About 12 years ago I suffered a similar attack and a bout of vomiting and purging helped cure me.  It might work, I thought to myself.  I went to the bathroom in the bus and collapsed with such a crash that Dr. Lamwansa and others heard me, dragged me out, called an ambulance and sorted me out.  ‘You lost your pulse for awhile,’ Dr. Lamawansa told me later.  Kind, efficient and professional, Dr. Lamawansa’s presence was reassuring and critical.  I believe he saved my life.    

I remember the moments just before losing consciousness.  ‘This is death,’ I told myself.  I felt peaceful.  I didn’t want to wake anyone up.

Today, fully recovered, I am thinking of other deaths.  Words, for example.  Deaths and lives too, for they come and go together.  The words I used, are they the mortal remains of others who wrote before me?  Do the words I write in their survival of my death fertilize literary soils that give birth to other writer-trees?  

I am thinking right now that funerals are all wrong.  Whoever or whatever manufactured the notion of death could have done better.  About 6 years ago I asked a question: ‘When voracious readers die why is it that their mortal remains do not turn into so many pages that will fly in all directions celebrating literacy?’

Maybe they do, maybe not, but shouldn’t the bodies of musicians disintegrate in a way that they are reconfigured into song and music score?  Shouldn’t the bodies of dead cricketers be transformed into a flurry of sixers or so many doosras that crash into the wickets?  Would the bones of liars and thieves be transformed into tall tales and loot with the names of those they beguiled and stole from tagged as appropriate so they can recover dignity and wealth? 

What kind of afterlife should the bodies of dead chess players have?  Will magnificent combinations rise from their ashes and stay suspended above a tournament hall for a few minutes so the living players can gasp in awe?  Will it be their monumental blunders that get preferred treatment post-death? Will they be remembered for flaw or brilliance? 

The remains of those who till the earth should, I believe, become manifest as all the grain  they produced so their progeny and the beneficiaries of their labour can get a sense of what they owe the dead. And the living. 

Far better, don’t you think, than grand funerals and mourning, incineration or burial? 

We all drink from other people’s wells and are fed by roots we did not sink into the good earth.  We are all parasites even as we are givers, willing or not, conscious or otherwise.  

The dead are dead and need not worry about the fate of mortal remains, one can argue.  We all want immortality in one form or another, though.  This is why we tend to prefer our children to do what we failed to do.  If life is to be celebrated then the kinds of death-rites I alluded to above would be fitting, don’t you think? 

Speaking strictly for myself, I am convinced that the final resting place of a writer is a dusty shelf at the back of a used book store.  I am human and ego-ridden, though. I prefer a different fate.  Speaking strictly for myself, I want my words to escape their page-prisons and scatter in the winds so I am distributed across time and space in such infinitely tiny pieces that no one can put me back together for others to dissect and define. 

I prefer to be remembered for my silences.  In silence.  For a while.  By those I love and those who love me. 

*Written 4 years ago and first published in the 'Daily News'

Malinda Seneviratne is the Editor-in-Chief of 'The Nation' and can be contacted at msenevira@gmail.com