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Monday, July 20, 2009

Goodbye, old man, RIP

I was much cheered to read (here) about how Henry Allingham of the UK passed away on July 18: at 113, he was then the world’s oldest man. He was one of the last of the veteran soldiers of World War I (lesson: if you are blessed with a long life, even a world war can’t kill you), he had a vivid memory well into his ripe old age, and he died peacefully in his sleep. Most comfortingly for the likes of sinners like me, he had once laughingly attributed his longevity to ‘whisky, cigarettes and wild, wild women’ (so much for the medics who keep trying to take all the fun out of your life by telling you how bad these ‘risk factors’ are, statistically speaking. Someday someone should tell these statistical experts just what they can do with their expertise. I studied quite a bit of statistics once, and the most important thing I learnt was its limitations, especially where human lives and minds are concerned…)

On a more sober note, how terrible it must be to live to 113! His wife (second? third?) must have passed away decades ago (the news item didn’t say). His children must be in their 80s, dotards themselves if not already dead. His grandchildren must be in their mid-50s. He seems to have seen one great-great-grandchild! How long has he worn that silly toothless grin (had he been handsome, with a magnetic personality, as a young man)? How long has he been out of touch with the world, and how hard and sad did it feel? Could he even move about without help and difficulty these last twenty years, or use his mind to do anything worthwhile? I feel only pity for people who live too long. The Bible prescribes three score years and ten as a full life, and I agree entirely. Unless you are very fit physically, and have a lot of interesting work to do, rich, and surrounded by a lot of friends and admirers (chances of which diminish rapidly as you grow old), living much beyond seventy is a drag like no other. For every old man and woman my most sympathetic prayer is that they may be taken soon, without pain, horror and humiliation… and if I do manage to survive beyond seventy, I’ll be praying the same night and day for myself.

I am reminded of the sad joke about the man who goes to consult his doctor about how he can live to be a hundred. ‘Don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t womanize, don’t keep late hours, don’t eat meat, don’t party, don’t worry about money, wake up at daybreak, do a lot of manual labour daily…’ chants the doctor. ‘Doctor,’ says the dismayed patient doubtfully, ‘if I follow all those rules, am I really going to live a hundred years?’ ‘Well, let me put it this way,’ says the doctor, ‘you may not actually live that long, but it sure will feel like it!’

Science says it has ‘blessed’ mankind with ever longer lifespans. I wonder. I also wonder that people these days are so afraid even to think about their own dying, even when most of their lives are behind them – they are scared witless of letting go of the only reality they have ever known, I suppose. I hope I can look death gladly in the eye when it’s my turn, looking forward to ‘quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over’. As Professor Dumbledore said, echoing the greatest sages of all lands and times, ‘To a well-ordered mind, death is only the next great adventure.’ If I do long for anything, it is that I might be twinkling out of a picture as D. does for Harry, long after I have gone, for a lot of people, who can still hear my voice inside their heads when they badly need it.


Anonymous said...

Ya sir!But people like them living till 113 have 1 advantage though that they get their names etched on guiness books! otherwise theres no 'fruit' in leading such a fruitless life!

Amit parag said...

Didn't Henry Allingham feel weary?He was not exactly old,he was ancient.God bless him if he really enjoyed his last years.Personally If I would have any chance of living that long I would not take it.After a certain time death certainly becomes a "welcome relief","going to bed after a very long day".Most of us die unhappy in the end,few of us die happy-only those who "lived" die happy, they had "seized the day" -carpe diem.The final question which we have to face on our deathbed - what did I do with my life?,is the only question worth living for.

Anonymous said...

A veteran of the first war! May his soul rest in peace! I wonder sir, which part of the allied front would he have helped protect? If he still remembered the war? 113 is ancient like Amit Parag said. Maybe Henry Allingham did feel weary. I can't help agreeing with you say that life after the seventies might be a bit of a drag, but again each to his own I suppose! I hope Henry Allingham had a fulfilling life, that his later years were filled with the memories of that life. That it made him happy even then, gave him company. I am sure he was ready for the end when it came and I am happy that he died in his sleep. L.M Montgomery, says that to the prepared, death is not a phantom come to snatch you away, but an old friend, come to lead you on. The exact words escape, but that is the crux of it. I hope it was like that for him. On a lighter note, in my opinion sir, Professor Dumbledore was rarely wrong!!

Shilpi said...

Suvro da,
This is the loveliest post that I've read on your blog in the recent past. Don't get me wrong. All your posts hit me but this one is hilarious, poignant, glinting, bizarre, haunting, wicked, reflective, wondrous, hilarious yet again (just when one was starting to finally wonder about poor Mr. Henry Allingham, his doddering kids and his grand-kids), and then it ends off with a final flourish. All in one post too. Quite something.

As for poor Mr. Allingham - God bless his soul and may he be in heaven happily looking over us with his women, whisky, wine and cigarettes (and with all his teeth intact, I hope among other things)....and everything or anything that he may wish for.

On a more ruminative and serious note, I do wonder too about science stretching life out till the human being is almost a malformed vegetable. And I’m glad but slightly bemused that we can (thankfully enough) relieve our pets/animals of their misery when they are too old and feeble but think it's criminal to assist human beings to die with peace and with their faculties intact.

Didn't Winston Churchill say something similar? - that he owed his long life to drink and cigars, I think it was for him (don’t think he made any mention of wild women or other women). One rather eye-widening piece that I read quite some time ago compared Winston Churchill and Arthur Ashe. There was Churchill smoking and drinking (and I don’t think he exercised much) and with all that he had on his plate and here was Arthur Ashe who never smoked nor drank but exercised and was remarkably fit (don’t know anything else about his daily habits) but who still had a heart attack at a ridiculously young age (mid thirties or so) and as if that weren’t enough – he managed to contract HIV during the blood transfusion and passed away while barely 50. I think I remember this so well only because I used this tale often to tell people why smoking can’t kill me.

I wonder these days whether it makes a difference in how we face our deaths. Do you think it makes a difference? A difference in where we “go” among other things? I had never imagined that I would see death as anything but the next great adventure – but these days I’m not so sure. I’ll most likely need more than my self (a well-ordered mind would be good) to face death as it’s meant to be faced.
As for your own liners – you always have my prayers. I have no doubt in a way that you’ll meet death with your smile – but that’s what I pray for. However, I pray too and it’s my most earnest prayer yet (along with completely related ones) that you don’t go off for this one adventure within the next couple of decades at least. I'm absolutely sure that just hearing your voice and/or seeing you twinkling from pretty picture frames is not going to be good enough for some of us. Ah well. God knows best. My case I rest....is one way for me to see it I guess. But let me end this humongous comment for now.
Take care.

Subhanjan said...

The most valuable thing that a man has is his 'life'. And the greatest fear that he has is that of 'death'. But he who finds 'death' to be the commencement of a new journey, for him, there is no word called 'fear'. However, I believe, the moment of death has the power to give one a terrible shock - the kind of shock that will make one blind to these ideals. No wonder, one needs to be a Bodhisattva to have victory over death.

Sayan Datta said...

So many ideas, thoughts and feelings, all woven so intricately into one single whole. For me as well, this post must stand out as one of the very best that I have come across.
To talk about the post itself -
a sinner I am too (save the part about "wild wild women") considering that I smoke heavily and drink only once in a long while. I remember this little story I think I read in 'Anandabazaar Patrika" about a rickshaw puller who had crossed a century of years and still pulled his rickshaw (not for money - his children and grand children fed him well, but because he enjoyed pulling it - or so I think he said). And he had tried everything from bidi to country liquor, in considerable quantities for a rather long time! The secret to his long life, then? His simple answer was -I have lived so long only because God had willed it so.

Science of course has increased lifespans, but I wonder of what it has done to improve and better the quality of it- and I am not even talking about intellectual and emotional development. I wonder too about whether science can indeed accomplish anything worthwhile (say for a large scale upliftment of the masses) save for the man who pursues it. I for one at least, have long stopped thinking of science as a panacea for social evils. If it can do any good, then that good is reserved only for the man who pursues it much like the artist who pursues his art.

And talking of death, Sir, that Dumbledore quote said it all.... no explanations required......just that one line that carries within it the weight of volumes of books.
Let me just end here with this little quote from J.R.R Tolkien - "Still round the corner there may wait, a new road, or a secret gate."
Sayan Datta

Subhasis Graham Mukherjee said...

Not more than seventy? not even if you are a Hugh Hefner?

"Hugh Marston Hefner (born April 9, 1926), sometimes known simply as Hef, is an American magazine publisher, founder and chief creative officer of Playboy Enterprises."


looking at his story from the wiki referred above, starting a few years before the 70 year mark till date-

In 1989, he married Playmate of the Year Kimberley Conrad, and they had two sons, Marston (born April 9, 1990) and Cooper (born September 1, 1991). The E! True Hollywood Story profile noted that the notorious Playboy Mansion had been transformed into a family-friendly homestead. After he separated from Conrad in 1999, however, Hefner began to move an ever-changing coterie of very young women into the Mansion, dating up to seven girls at once; among them, Brande Roderick, Izabella St. James, Tina Marie Jordan, Holly Madison, Bridget Marquardt, and Kendra Wilkinson. The reality television series The Girls Next Door depicted the lives of Madison, Wilkinson and Marquardt at the Playboy Mansion.

He is currently dating 19-year-old identical twin models Karissa and Kristina Shannon, along with third girlfriend Crystal Harris.

still think 70 is enough?

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Hahaha, Subhasis,
Very few of us are so richly blessed ... I have said that in my blogpost already. The rest of us have to make do with what we have got, and one doesn't like to make do for ever and ever. That's what I have got against living too long!

Sritanu Chatterjee said...

Dear Suvro Da,

This is an interesting blog. Lending your words from the blog "Someday someone should tell these ....". Well, that someday has already passed. About human life, statistics, medicine and credit crisis. Here is an interesting article in Financial Times (http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/912d85e8-2d75-11de-9eba-00144feabdc0.html). It is worth reading the article. The article includes all those I mentioned above and that too in a chronological order. Anyone who wants to read should not do it in a hurry.

Thanks & Regards,

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Well? No more inputs?

Neel said...

How will death be ? I would abhor the thought of dying in sleep. It takes out the romance of having once in a life experience (pun intended). Though I doubt if ever will I have the mental makeup to face it eye to eye. I would rather feel that death is when the mid does work and your had does not. When the thoughts hit you right,left and center in a blazing fury of colours, I feel frustrated as the keyboard loses its speed. By the words settle on the screen, the mind has plunged into another depth of delirium. How would you feel when you lose that tactile feedback of your words getting penned for eternity. Words that you have gave birth to , but unable to feed, to rear or grow. Or at least tell the world in a loud and clear voice - :"YES I HAVE FATHERED THIS". That too me is death, not counted in years but in that dimension where the mid and the heart fuse in the search for a mental nirvana.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Readers make take a peek at an article in this month's Reader's Digest magazine. Silly journalists are having orgies over how the latest science is promising to increase human life expectancy even further. Morons dazzled by technology, completely incapable of thought...