As I navigate the 7th decade of my life, living in a time when the fragility of life is becoming so evident, I am left thinking on how to deal with something that is the most certain in life but the most uncertain in timing. There is a lesser-known story, about this dilemma, from Mahabharat which has left a deep lasting impact on me.
STORY OF YUDHISHTIR AND BHIM
After end of the great war of Mahabharat, Yudhistir was crowned as the King of Hastinapur. Once, he was having a meeting with his ministers. Since the subject of discussion was serious, he did not want the meeting to be disturbed by anyone. He, therefore, asked the guards to direct anyone (who wanted to meet the King) to his younger brother Bhim, who was authorized to decide whether the person should be allowed to go in or not.
After some time, an old and seemingly poor person came to the gates of the palace and requested guards to allow him in, to meet the King. The guard brought him to Bhim. When Bhim asked him the purpose of his coming, the old man replied, “Sir, I am a poor priest. My daughter’s marriage is fixed for next week. I do not have enough money for the expenses of the marriage function. Therefore, I have come to request our great King for some monetary help.” Bhim realised that this was not an urgent enough cause to disturb the meeting. But after thinking for a while, he allowed the poor priest to go into the meeting room.
After a few moments, the priest came out of the meeting room. He appeared to be happy. He told Bhim, “Sir, the King listened to my request carefully and then, told me to come tomorrow at the same time when he will give me whatever help I want.” Bhim requested him to wait for some time near the palace gate. Now Bhim called the Army Chief and ordered, “Go and ask all soldiers to start beating drums and shouting slogans in praise of our King.” Chief looked perplexed by this sudden and unprovoked order but Bhim sternly asked him to follow his instructions.
Within a few minutes, the palace was filled with deafening roars and sounds of drumbeats. Yudhistir also heard the noise and came out of his meeting room. He asked the Army Chief why all the soldiers were shouting. The Chief meekly pointed towards Bhim.
Bhim bowed to Yudhistir and said, “Sir, indeed, this is being done on my orders. I wanted all of us to rejoice and celebrate your unparalleled great victory, which is unique in the history of mankind”. Yudhistir, now little annoyed, asked, “I do not understand this. Which victory are you talking about”?
Bhim smiled and said, “Sir, let me explain. We all know two absolute truths of life. First is that you are known in the world as Dharmraj, someone who will always speak nothing but absolute truth. Second fact is that, in this mortal world, every living being has to die and no one has ever been able to win over his Kaal (Death) even for a second.”
Yudhistir was now losing his patience, “Bhim, please do not talk in riddles. Please tell me clearly what you want to say”
Bhim then explained, “Sir, you have asked that poor priest to come tomorrow, when you will give him whatever he wants. Since, your word is always a truth, this means you are sure that for at least next 24 hours, Kaal (Death) cannot touch you. Now you tell me – is there any one on this earth ever who has won over Kaal, and that too for 24 hours? This is your unparalleled, unprecedented and unique achievement on this earth and hence we are celebrating.”
It was a big lesson for Yudhistir. He immediately called for that poor priest and gave him whatever he wanted.
LEARNING FOR ME
I am sure, we all very well know the core elements of this story (certainty of death and uncertainty of its timing) at the intellectual level. Still, the way it is presented, it hit me hard when I read it for the first time.
My purpose of disseminating this story is not to create a sense of anxiety and hopelessness. If we look positively, it gives us a clear message –
“Plan and hope for the best, yet, at every moment be prepared for the worst.”
Let me share some of my experiences and changes in my behaviour, after reading and grasping the message of this story:
- I have become more tolerant towards people, their differing views, and behaviours
- I am now more conscious of the need to remain connected with those for whom I care. As and when a thought occurs that I have not talked to a friend for some time, I immediately try to call him and not leave it for (uncertain)tomorrow.
- Same is true for all members of immediate and even extended family. (Some of you may be surprised that I am in regular touch with even third level of my cousins and their families). Almost religiously, I connect with each family member, especially my seniors, frequently.
- If I have hurt or harmed someone, I immediately try to talk to him and apologise, not leaving it for some other day.
- Similarly, if I have a grudge against someone (who may have hurt or harmed me), as soon as possible, I try to forgive, call him, and try to mend relations.
- Whenever a thought of doing a good deed (like making an offering to a good cause) crosses my mind, I try to act on it immediately. In my mind, I am in “Debt” to that person or organization from the time the thought occurred, to the time I acted on it. And I do not want to leave this world in “Debt” to someone (as far as possible).
- Similarly, I avoid buying anything on credit even from a known shop. Once, while picking up a pan (betel leaf) from a regular shop, I had only a hundred rupees currency note, but the shopkeeper did not have enough change to give back to me. Since I was a regular customer, he suggested that I can pay to him on my next visit. But I insisted that he keep the 100 Rupees note and give me change when I visit him next. Once again, my thought process was same – I do not want to be in debt at any time.
- I have become very conscious that my wife and children should always (once again the same thought process of being prepared for the worst at any moment), be fully informed of all my monetary transactions, assets in real time. A proper record of all assets is clearly made, updated regularly and is accessible to each of my dependents so that no one is left running from pillar to post for the administrative work post death. Almost all investments are in joint names with clear nomination.
- In my personal view, handling immovable property is one of the most difficult projects for the successors. It is time consuming, needs voluminous documentation and a lengthy interaction with our notoriously slow bureaucracy and judiciary. It is also a leading cause of conflicts between siblings. Therefore, I have disposed of all properties except the house I am living in.
Please, even for a moment, do not think that I have become an ideal person and am trying to impress everyone with (or boasting about) my planning.
Far from it, I am only trying to take a few steps in the direction of leaving as little a mess as possible whenever that unknown and unseen but certain moment comes. Like the true and exact value of the constant “Pi” can never be determined fully, but, for our everyday life we use a reasonable approximation ( in Calculus, a variable tends towards a value but can never reach it); no one can ever be fully prepared but each of us can make our efforts in that direction.