“Who was the fool, who the wise man,
Who the beggar or the emperor?
Who the hero or the villain?
Whether rich or poor, all are equal in death.”
Whether a hero or a villain, the above quote highlights the inevitability of death. Chiranjeevi, a young hero, not even past forty, dies an untimely death leaving behind a distraught family and countless grieving fans. Such an unexpected death brings to fore that old question; is everyone equal before death? To my mind, the answer is a big NO. How can the death be counted as non-discriminatory when it consumes someone who is barely into teens and allows someone to fade away at ninety? How can the death be counted as non-discriminatory if someone has to die after a suffering life and few others have to die after a life of fulfillment? How can death be counted as non-discriminatory if someone dies when the world around anticipated an end and others die when it was least expected?
The preachers often remind us, “Remember, you are in queue to die.” I partially disagree. Queue suggests a kind of orderliness, a kind of a laid down system, and a kind of an unconventional rule. Death is different; there is a sense of chaos, dis-orderliness, and arbitrariness. It picks up anyone at will; there is no system and no solution.
There is a term in Latin, “Memento Mori,” translated into English; it means, “remember you must die”. It means, without brooding over it, everyone needs to be prepared for it. In the olden days, many educated Europeans kept an actual skull on their desk just to remind themselves to always keep ‘death in their mind.’ Likewise, in few sects of Buddhism, there is a mandatory ritual called ‘Vartha’ which entails newly initiated monks to visit the burial grounds continuously for 72 days. This practice is aimed to make the monks face death with equanimity and equipoise. Again, in the days of Roman Republic, a victorious General was accorded a welcome ceremony where the cheering crowds waved and hailed the hero of a campaign. But, as a customary, a slave would be seated behind the war hero and his sole job was to whisper into the ears of the conquering hero, “Remember that thou art mortal.” This was to remind the General that although he is victorious, he is not immortal.
Death makes everyone equal is true, but not absolutely. Rich or poor, hero or villain, man or woman, a sinner or a saint, it doesn’t matter; everyone would die someday. Death is a great leveler, but it makes a distinction, it indeed is discriminatory.
In the end, it may be worthwhile to recall what someone had said long ago, “Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day. … The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time.”
Forewarned is to be forearmed!