How Will I Die?

A listless mind is the devil’s workshop. This oft repeated adage has been with me since school and has now manifested itself in a rather sinister way. Well, not sinister ideologically. What struck me was the eternal question many ask but rarely get an answer to – “How will I die?” It wasn’t as unexpected as the recent blasts, which were very much expected, but at a later date. The number of people dying around India everyday and the continuous reminder of the death toll in news channels caught my attention and made me think of how my life would end. Discussing this topic with friends and family was out of the question, since they would assume I am taking suicide tips and being the eternal sadist. So I turned to myself and my pen and paper to see the plausible ways death would take.

It isn’t much of a mathematical model as the words used may indicate. However, I would like to make a few assumptions and sketch a probability distribution of my chances of dying in a certain way.

Firstly, on an individual level, there is a 50-50 chance that I die by natural and un-natural causes. Natural causes would entail old age and disease setting on any time after the age of 40 contingent to my lifestyle pattern prior to that, a family history of the disease and age. (I assume I am no longer eligible for child mortality and other infant measures whose levels are very poor in India.) Another important determinant of which disease(s) get to overtake my will power will be my Nationality (Indian) and income group (currently: student shoe string budget with no future certainty). Out of my chances of a natural demise, I further have an equal probability of dying by heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other diseases as of yet unheard of. Going by news reports of number of Indians who would make it to every third spot for heart, diabetes or tobacco related diseases, the odds do get stacked in against me.

In short, India fares poorly in terms of various health indicators and incidence of diseases, and these dismal statistics can be representative of any Indian, you or me.

Though, natural death may give goose bumps to many since it doesn’t catch you unawares, it is a lot easier for my near and dear ones to cope with. What is hard on most is the untimely death setting upon promising young individuals in the most unexpected of ways. Going by experience of others there are many more unnatural ways to die, and given my nationality it has a greater probability. So, it would be a privilege for me to survive and enjoy my old age.

The recent Kosi Flood and, the floods in Orissa, parts of Maharashtra and landslides due to heavy rain in the lower Himalayan belt, including Himachal Pradesh and other parts of India have taken the lives of many in such short a span. Women and children are the worst sufferers. More so, even from those who survive the calamity, surviving the rehabilitation camps is another struggle, with many losing their lives due to lack of ration, clothing or disease. What is more striking is that the poorest of people bear the brunt of nature’s fury and administration’s neglect leaving them at the mercy of charity, which again has cases of rampant corruption. Given the vast majority of Indians facing poverty, it could have easily been me in any of these villages.

Road accident could be another determinant of my life. With the infrastructure around the country left wanting with a few odd cases, and low levels of regulation regarding loading of trucks, speed, drunken driving etc I could easily be a victim. Maybe not a drunkard or a wage labourer, getting crushed under an imported car, but a regular commuter colliding with a truck or being caught under it. The permutations and combinations of road accidents are numerous and the possibility high.

Then, given the recent spate of successful terrorist attacks in Jaipur, Bangalore, Ahmedabad and the most recent, New Delhi there is a very good chance I could be one of the unfortunate victims in another part of the city, in another city of Indian on my regular routine or on a special day out. My body may be charred beyond recognition or dismembered and strewn over a wide area. My name forever featuring on the Missing list- my parents hoping for a miracle till the end of their days.

The other side of the blasts is the terrorists or so-called terrorists and encounter specialists killed in India. Jammu & Kashmir has a high rate of innocent people being killed after being tagged as terrorists. However, apart from cases of such deliberate or unintended mis-information, we have many jawans who lay their lives on the border. Maybe in another life this could be me.

A woman is raped every 26 seconds in South Africa, and every day many women are raped in Karachi. Most cases remain unreported. New Delhi is the Rape capital of India, besides, women face sexual harassment in various forms everyday all over the country. In extreme cases of rejected love (as we read in the papers daily) and rape cases, many women die or are killed. It represents the most gruesome form crime can take and we are no strangers to the gang rapes in New Delhi Dhaula Kuan case, or the Bangalore Call Centre cabbie case, or even for that matter the recent Pune case where the victim was raped by employees and cab drivers together. What goes on in the minds of these offenders is beyond my comprehension but the victim can easily be me walking on the roads at any “safe” time of the day – I could either day or be mentally scarred for life which is worse than being dead. The shame, the trauma can never be erased from any victims living memory.

Even if we consider the numerous cases of suicide, either due to farmer debt in Vidharba or poor academic performance, the numbers are anything but small. Neither government policy nor emotional help lines seem to have made a difference. When I see this, it could have been me- a debt ridden farmer or a depressed failure.

There are numerous stray cases about people being murdered, tortured, kidnapped and killed in the most inconceivably gruesome way. No one is immuned from such incidences, so the victim could be a lot closer home than we would probably realize.

Looking at the world and seeing Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Darfur etc we are fortunate to escape what the people there face – in terms of hardships and violence.

At least, I am not refugee camp, or shifting my home from Pakistan to India or vice versa. At least, I haven’t been caught in an earthquake with nothing left but rubble and political indifference. At least, I am not dying of malnutrition trying to make ends meet or committing suicide in desperation. At least I have been protected from extreme violence so far and lead a comfortable life. There are no easy choices to decide which way you want to die, but when Death (natural or unnatural) does finally catch up with you, you know it’s you when it could have been someone else.

Charulata Somal

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