Enigma of Life

The Imphal Free Press
March 26 2010

Don’t take life too seriously; nobody gets out of it alive. It is never certain who originally coined these much used words, although something in this line “No one here gets out alive” was the title of the first biography of the late Jim Morrison the lead lyricist and founder of the enigmatic Los Angeles rock band of the 1960s and 1970s, The Doors, by journalist Jerry Hopkins. A fitting title to a book dedicated to a man who must be one of the best exponents of the philosophy contained in the simple thought. This thought should instil humility in anybody sensitive enough, for in the end, death levels out everything. Yet few bother. The eternal paradox of life is such that nothing seems to matter except life, and the fear of the certainty of death remains generally repressed. Although repressed, let it however not be said that death is not feared. If this were so, terrorism of the state or non-state would make no sense. Those of us in violence torn Manipur know for sure how real this fear is. Nobody dares to come out in the open and speak up or do anything that might invite the wrath of those who can cause violence and death, even if what remains unarticulated are his most cherished beliefs and dreams.

But our appeal is that the time has come for us to reflect on this thought once again so that everybody is willing to contribute to toning down the ever escalating pitch of negative emotions in our midst. The mounting hatred and suspicion of others, the growing frequency of xenophobic crimes, the increasing withdrawal of the intelligentsia into private shells, the incorrigible inward looking middle class which sees only personal problems and nothing beyond... all these are giving Manipur a potentially implosive situation. True all these problems are weighty issues and have causes that go much deeper than apparent. All the same let life be paced out a little so that the intensity with which these issues are viewed is sobered down and made more comprehensible. There cannot be a time more urgent than now for the state to step back a little so that the larger picture becomes visible. A close vision picks up details, but never the complete picture. Both are essential, but in our case the scale tips towards the former and at severe cost to the latter. It is time now to readjust the balance of vision again.

It is in the spirit of not taking life too seriously that we like to divert the issue under discussion to related questions but ones which presume two different answers. We ask these questions not in cynicism but in the hope that answers would be forthcoming. One was the Haitian earthquake which left two lakh thirty thousand dead, three lakh injured and 10 lakh homeless in matters of minutes. Where was the benevolent divinity which looks after and protects life when the calamity of such a scale happened? Even wars have not caused devastations of such magnitude. These calamities undoubtedly would leave many either questioning the existence of any divine, benevolent order, or else calling for a redefinition of the very concept of divinity and indeed life. In contemplating such events, one also recalls the words of the wise old man in the 1946 novel by Nikos Kazantzakis “Zorba the Greek” subsequently made into a movie by the same title. When one day Alexis Zorba in deep mourning asks, “Wise old man, why do the young die?” The man replies “I don’t know”. Zorba in exasperation screams at the elderly scholar “what use are all your books then. What have they taught you?” The man again in cool humility replies: “I read them because they teach me of the agony of a man who cannot answer questions such as yours.” This is indeed the agony of the enigma that is life.

The second event is a book by a very successful American professional psychiatrist Dr. Brian Weiss, titled “Many Lives, Many Masters.” The book, which has sold over 1.5 million copies, is about the psychiatrist’s account of one of his patients whose memory extended beyond her present lifetime, and how in his treatment of her, not only the patient’s life but also his own ended up profoundly changed. It does not matter if one believes in parapsychology, or whether reincarnation is a possibility, but the question that lingers after going through the book is, what if there is a scientific explanation to the phenomenon of deja vu where someone has the sense that he or she has been to a place he has never been before, or knows people he has never met before. Well, let the knowledge suffice that nobody gets out of life alive.

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