Saturday, August 30, 2008

This Above alL
We all want a painless death
Khushwant SinghKhushwant Singh

I am obsessed with the topic of death and have written a book on the subject, Death at My Doorstep (Roli). I read an article by Valerie Grove in The Times (London), entitled Let’s use death as a celebration of life with added interest. She writes in her first paragraph: ‘To cease upon the midnight with no pains.’ Keats, in his Ode to a Nightingale, ‘half in love with easeful death’, voiced the mortal wish of us all. The government’s proposed end-of-life care strategy to support people if they want to die at home is welcome and long overdue. What people dread and fear most is not death itself but the pain and humiliation preceding it, in a strange place and among busy strangers.

Love and companionship can make the twilight years easier to bear
Burden of old age: Love and companionship can make the twilight years easier to bear — Photo by Reuters

I agree with her that though most of us dread death, we accept it as inevitable, and hope when it comes, it is painless (acute pain is worse than death) and not messy.

As we grow old, our dependence on our children becomes an increasing burden on them. We become slovenly, spill food while eating, find it difficult to control our bladder and bowel movements and use bedpans which others have to remove. We lose all our self-esteem and dignity. People are relieved when it is all over.

Origin of OK

Of all the abbreviations which have become common currency in all languages spoken around the world, the most widely used is OK for yes. Though yes also has its variations such as yah, yeah, yup and okey doke, it is OK that is the most frequently used. Yet no one is sure of its origin. One theory is that it was taken from the language used by Choctaw Red Indians of America in which Okeh means yes.

The more current theory about the origin of OK gives it a precise date of birth, March 23, 1839. The Boston Morning Post of that date wrote "....he of the journal, and his train-band would have the contribution box etc OK — all correct — and cause the cocks to fly." I failed to make sense of the item in the paper except that OK was at that time ‘all korrect’.

However, there are a few other abbreviations which have gained universal acceptance. One is RSVP from the French repondez s’ill vous plait—reply if you please—and PS from the Latin Post Script. A Punjabi gentleman coined suitable explanations for them in his mother tongue. For RSVP it is ruqqa saanoo vaapas paiyyo. For PS it is pichhon sujjhee.

Indian on the moon

It will be a jolly good idea

To have an Indian on the moon;

We, the pavement dwellers, will look up, and expand

Our skinny shrinking chests with justified pride and glory; With bated breaths shall we wait for the manna and honey dew;

To fall from heaven, while our national dustmen (oh, Dickens);

Play their dirty blame games in the national dust yard

To capture or retain the throne;

By hook, crook or by bribe;

While we’ll wait and wait till eternity;

For, patience is the badge of our tribe.

(Courtesy: P S Nindra, N. Delhi)

Son by post

The most unforgettable character of my Lahore College days was the superintendent of our two college hostels, Gian Chand Bhatia. He treated hostel students like friends and I, being the secretary of the college students’ union, was treated like a close favourite. Bhatia was, besides being the hostel superintendent, in charge of all junior staff like peons, malis and watch and ward staff. One day as I was sitting in Bhatia’s office a gardener, Ganga Din, hailing from eastern UP, came to him for getting 10 days leave to see his newly born son at Bareilly.

"But you have not gone home from Lahore for the last five years. How did you get a son?" asked Bhatia. Ganga Din saw nothing wrong in this and replied humbly but confidently: Sahib, hum nahin javat hain lekin chithhee to pathavat hain (Sir, I have not gone home for some years but I have been sending letters regularly).

(Contributed by Jai Dev Bajaj, Pathankot)

Khushwant Singh is indisposed. His column will not appear next Saturday