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by Mr. Sudheendra Kulkarni

The Asian Age, Mumbai - 8th January 2005

As Q & A sessions go, Yaksha Prashan (question put by Yaksha, the invisible semi divine spirit, and Yudhishthir's wise answers to them) in the Mahabharata must rank as one of the most educative dialogues in the world literature. “What is the greatest wonder in the world?”

Yaksha asks. The Eldest of five pandava brothers calmly answers, it is man delusion that life will go on forever, in spite of daily proof that death stalks life like a shadow always and everywhere. “This answer on the death is salient as much for simplicity of its truth as for the perennial self – deception of human being that makes them turn their faces away from that truth. Neither the truth nor the non acceptance of that truth has changed a wee bite since the time of Mahabharata. Look how stealthily, how utterly capriciously death come to tense of thousands of people in a cluster of countries at nearly the same time on the morning of December 26. Death stole them when they were strolling on the beaches of Chennai and Phuket. It is snatched away fishermen when they were pouring out there catch on the shores at Aceh and Pondicherry . It is plucked out children when they were on the streets of Nagapattinum and Car-Nikobar. It is smashed “Sea Queen”, the train from Colombo to Galle in Sri Lanka, off its tracks, altogether changing the destination of the journey of its 8 hundred unsuspecting passengers.

In the wake of the tsunami disaster, death has once again lived up to its reputation of appearing when it will and taking away whom it will. The drama of life at We have witnessed, and participate in, since our births can come to and end any movement. Take life for granted, and death has way of sucking you in, a sucking your loved once in awareness of the nearness and immediacy of death can completely reorient our outlook to ward life. It cold makes us more humane and less prone to anger and aggressiveness. Yet, humans generally do not like to life awareness of the death. Why? Two reasons can be discerned. Firstly, there is what disaster management experts call the non event fatigue.” If early warning message about an impending calamity are broad caste and nothing occurs accept panic, people tend to believe that the event is not going to happen. The second reason is obvious. We are must to attached to this world, to our own hopes desires, relations, creations and comforts, all rooted in this beautiful world of ours, to entertain the idea that we would one day the separated from all these.

It is amazing that, where as human being take birth only in a one day, which is both predictable and anticipated, we die in countless different ways which I often unpredictable and anticipated. Birth is a probability, death certainty. Birth has parentage, death has none. Only one of the numberless sperms has a change to find and egg. For the fertilized egg, there is again inescapable, resident in the mother's womb for nine long months. Death follows no such journey often, knows no such waiting.

Man's pretense about the permanence of life is under stand able. But when death comes, why should we blame the very power that gave us life? While watching TV channels of the tsunami disaster, one world in the reporter' commentary struck me as odd: "cruelty of Nature". Haven's we used the word out of context? Is God (or Nature, If you are an agnostic) ever cruel to man think again what happen on the morning of December 26, near the Island of Sumatra was perfectly natural. In the course of the ceaseless geological activities beneath the ocean bed, to tectonic plates reportedly moved in the manner that made one dip below the other, causing the earth to quake and water to wobble. The resultant tsunami caused death and destruction on the colossal scale.

But should this lead us to conclude that nature has been cruel to man? To do so point to mentally that holds that man is a lord and master of the universe has an obligation to serve him and to be subservient to his will how arrogant and how ignorant too! What ever mat not be the larger meaning the tsunami catastrophe, it is difficult to conclude that it was natures act of cruelty. The truth is only man can be cruel to man the diverse ways in which death comes to man fall, broadly, in three categories. One the death cause by natural calamities, which are as yet beyond the control of man. The effect of these calamities can perhaps be mitigated by the deploying the tolls of science, technology and management, but not altogether obviated. The other category is death caused by natural processes, such as old age and diseases. Here again science technology and the art of living and healing not to speak off the right policies and initiatives of governments – can improve the health, cure disease and lengthen life but death is never forever prevented.

Come now to the third category this is the altogether different from the previous two; death caused by act of human being which are intended to harm and kill other human beings. Murders, riots, torture, terrorist killing, religions and ethnic persecution wars of aggression – all theses are premeditated acts of violence by men against others men. Truly speaking, “cruelty” is a term that is appropriate only in the case of the third type of deaths and, to a certain extent, also in the first and the second type. After all, an awfully high number of deaths are caused by factors in which there are no direct evidence of the intent to kill or to cause harm. For example, there is no apparent motive to kill in deaths caused by hunger and malnutrition, epidemics and poverty – induced health disorders, road accidents (which claim as many as 80,000 lives in India alone), hazardous working and living conditions, etc. Nevertheless, many of these deaths are preventable and reducible. Hence, to the extent that individual and institutional malfunctioning has failed to prevent or reduce mortality in these cases, it is correct to say that the unseen hand of social order that takes away human lives in a “cruel” one.

Indeed, the number of deaths caused by natural calamities is far less than those due to poverty and disease, individual crime and organized killings, and, of course, unjustified wars, wage3d by power hungry rules. Therefore, rather then asking, “Why does nature kill human being in the earthquakes, cyclones and tsunamis?” we ought to ask ourselves, “Why do men kill men in hundred different bestial ways?” Such a self critical gaze would make us look at the deaths and destruction caused by natural calamities. As some inscrutable, nevertheless unflattering, commentary on the way humans have organized their life on this planet.

It is time the look at God's destructive powers in different light, as something totally contrary on His apparent unkindness. Indeed, it too is a reminder of the infinite generosity of the Divine. This may seem a contradiction in terms, but it is not. Even when God takes away life (as against humans taking lives), our inner voice tells us that we ought to be grateful to our Creator for the opportunity of being born into the human race and of having experienced the miracle 0 of human life, for howsoever a short period. This uplifting thought is contained in the funeral – time recitation from the scripture of every religion. For example, the holy quran tells us: “To Allah we belong, and Him we return.” Listen to those wonderful hymns a little more attentively, and we would realize that, we are perhaps not mortal at all and that our finite residence on the earth, like the residence of the fertilized, egg in the mother's womb, is but a stop in the journey along the infinite path of life Immortal. Therefore, why not learn to be humble before death?

The author is well known among intellectuals,unattached with this Web-site.