How long will you live; Dad?

Ok God, if I cross that line before that car does, you will add 20 years to my mummy and papa’s life. Done!,” Mumbling something like this I would dash full speed ahead, trying to cross an imaginary on the street before the car coming from the front does so. To be honest, the line was always drawn in a manner which would be a trifle hard to attain but with a certainty nonetheless. Also, the opponent car would be selected with care, the slow-poke stuttering Fiats and Ambassadors would be preferred over the flighty Marutis. Not surprisingly, I would win almost all the contests, crossing the line, winning the race and yes, adding years to my parent’s lives.

Though I am not too sure as to when I started playing this game, it was surely when I was less than 10. I guess, there’s something about that age when we suddenly become conscious of mortality, about life, death and the things beyond our control. We see birds dying, people dying sadly in films and on TV, we hear about the deaths of some far-off uncles and aunties, and then there are these absolute strangers that die up in some conversations, that were snatched away by  the pot-bellied Yama in some accident, disease, crime, or just about anything. Sadly, the blissful reverie and the innocence of childhood is besmirched by the burly god of death riding his dark buffalo to the underworld. It is at this age that it dawns upon us that life is a balloon that can be punctured by the prick of death. La Vita, is not necessarily and not always, est Bella.
The vulnerability is acute when it comes to our parents. Somehow the majority of the people dying seem to be strangely of about the same age as that of the mum and dad. In fact, the very thought of a lifeless dad or mom can absolutely ruin the fun and frolic much common to that age. We do realize that the parents are pretty crucial, as providers of course, to our existence. They buy us gifts, they give us food, new clothes, fees, toys, and other things. And though they can be pretty irritating with their lists of dos and donts, they are like a protective shield around us, saving us all the times from the big bad in the world. In a manner of speaking, parents are a necessary evil for our existence, like that sour medicine that spoils the taste but makes us healthy nonetheless.
Even the fairy tales are replete with instances of how terrible life can be without parents. I mean look at poor Snow white who lost her real mum, or for that matter Hansel and Gretel who were almost cooked to a curry because of their step-mum.  Or the reason why the big bad wolf was able to gobble down Red Riding Hood was because she had no mum and dad to take her care. You see, in almost all the fairy tales, the misery for the kids is beset by the death of a parent, most often a mother that is replaced by a wily step-mum.
Such tales kind of underscore why we kind of need our parents at that age, and why we are so interested in them living out long — often very very long. 100 years to be the very minimum!
It is the interesting conversations that I have with Idhant and Vihaan that reminds of my childhood dash that helped me to add continuous years to my parent’s lifeline. Invariably, any discussion that even has a hint of death and tragedy ends up with a discussion of how long we both (dad and mom) will live. Numbers are thrown up, calculations are done, and then a figure is arrived at.  At present, as per the current negotiations, we are supposed to live at least a century, a number of 150 years is not all that undesirable either.

Oddly enough, discussions on living are more common these days, as we find ourselves talking about such matters quite a few times through the week. While I have done my very Vihaan Chaturvedibest to reassure the kids of my personal intention to stay around for a century and more, there’s still a little scepticism and suspicion that seems to grip their minds. Even though they are appreciative of the fact that I don’t smoke or drink (not knowing what occasional drinking is), they are not all to certain about my commitment to good health.
The reason they are in doubt is because of some extra flesh that seems to be spread unevenly over my torso, especially the middle-part. Am times and again reminded about my commitment to longevity and oddity of my lifestyle. Similar concerns are expressed over the mother, but they are reassured a bit by the relatively leaner frame.
And so, the kids grow, with a little sword hanging over their heads, ruminating and pondering over matters much beyond their recourse, what is life, death and afterlife. Come to think of it, did not little Nachiketa ask about the very same when he was given a boon by Yama. Quite possibly, Nachiketa was stricken by Thanatophobia (fear of death) for his paa Vajrashrava and wanted the answers to be relieved.
The best I can do at the moment is to assure them of my intentions, make them believe in the powers that be, and yes, play away the notion of separation. Fortunately, the Hindu Idhant Chaturvedisystem of reincarnations and many lives comes handy when it comes to providing soothing balm for the worried mind. There are also so many benign gods that can be propriated for long life. Religiosity often has a solution for such intangibles.
The good thing is that such worries tend to evaporate with age. When you cross the teens, and matters of school and college become more pertinent than imaginary calculations of lifespan. The days in which we start living, we stop counting how many more are left. Independence brings confidence, and parents are required for the emotional connect, as Banyan that gives shade, not a Mango tree that necessarily gives fruit.
I really don’t know when I stopped dashing against on-coming cars, but I did stop it sometime. Possibly, dumbfounded by the sheer stupidity of the entire construct. Of adding years because of silly races. If only life could be that simple, or stupid.
So too, a day will come when Idhant and Vihaan will not actively seek out a promise from me on how long will I live. They will accept death as a consequence of life and not be too overly concerned about it. They will forget about Hansel and Grethel, and bother not about wily step-mums. Life would be a canvas to paint on, not a morbid saga that will end someday.
And then, one fine day, many summers late, when some little fingers suddenly talks to them about life and death and seek a promise or two of a 100 years and more, they might just happen to recall the conversations they had with their dad. Of beautiful live and its happy dash. La Vita est Bella, after all.
P.S. Mums too are very important, especially, when we know how devilishly terrible step-mothers can be. But then, I would be lying were I not to admit the profuse pleasure I have in crafting the headline in a peculiar way. All animals are equal, but some are more equal than the others. Or are they???

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