You don't speak ill of the dead.
You don't speak ill, even more so, of the near-dead.
So far, my gold standard of a lecture at a university - any commemoration lecture that is - is Steve Jobs' convocation address at Stanford in June 2005. Recently I was one of those who added up to the curious 10 million who've hit youtube to see Randy Pausch's Last Lecture.
And you know what, my Steve Jobs gold standard has just become platinum.
RP's talk was painstakingly gung-ho. For some reason it had the same effect on me as when a stranger had once begun to cry opposite me in the local train. You know, you are taken aback, then you want to reach out, mumble some pacificatory stuff, put your arm around the person with what you hope will be taken as compassion rather than pity, and when the stranger disembarks, there is a curious sense of being touched yet untouched - I would even say achievement rather than sadness - like the feeling just after doing a good deed or participating in charity.
What else can you feel anyway?
Randy Pausch's Last Lecture (note the capital L's - it's already an epigraph) was so much 'Look at me, I am OK, Don't pity me' - esp the push up part, remember? that contrarily, 'pity' starts becoming the overriding theme of the viewing. And also it was somehow nerve wracking in the speech's intensity of dotting every unfinished 'i' of life, and crossing every 't' junction he is now never likely to reach.
In Steve Jobs speech, otoh, the quiet 'I've seen death face to face' moment (incidentally both touch on pancreatic cancer), is not reduced in any way just because he managed to get out of it providentially... In his talk, there is a sense of expansion, of breathing deeply and savoring every transient moment of life - that gets infectiously communicated.
So much so that you expand, reach out. Want to send the talk to all your loved ones. And this is surely the story of 9999 of us in every 10000 perhaps, who have no idea how long or short is going to be our Future, with a capital F. We, who have no idea when and how we are going to die. There is one day in every year that posterity will know as my Death Day, but we are blissfully unaware of it now. What comes across in Steve Jobs' Stanford speech, with its minimal number of words, is the sense of quiet and monumental creativity that will always find an outlet whatever the circumstances doled out by fate - of a person whose genius is surely one in a billion.
And so. In the years to come, give me the June 2005 lecture of Steve Jobs anytime -and I will draw sustenance from it. Randy Pausch's?
Well... All I can say is, we all have to die one day, don't we? So many of the 10 million who hit youtube are perhaps already dead, for that matter. Who were vicariously trying to figure out this 'death' thing from afar.
Recall the first week after Princess Di died? In 1997? It was like the world came to a standstill, every minute, every hour in that first week was encased with Diana, enshrined on every channel. But after the stirring funeral, there was a sense of closure, of in fact feeling a bit abashed at having spent so many hours glued to the TV, and of everyone in the world wanting to get back to the daily routine.
I have this peculiar habit - and I know it is peculiar - of clearing up my tables, finishing my backlog of work, and sort of ensuring that my paperwork is in order, when it is time to go abroad (not as often as some, but often enough - say once a year). Yeah, yeah, I know more accidents take place on the streets in your local town blah blah blah. But bus, waisi hi hoon.
So right now, have made lists of all payments made, future payments to be made, cheques, bills to be cleared, pending dues... I mean the domestic and home related stuff. Not work of course. That has a semblance of order courtesy income tax and the chartered accountant.
All my keys are now neatly labeled. I mean the tangible ones. Kaun jaane cyber space passwords ka kya hoga... where no duplicates can be made either... Preparation, preparation, preparation.
In one respect, am way behind Chhotokaka. When Baba, my father in law passed away so suddenly back in 1991, we were all caught unawares. Shocked. Everyone, and especially the soft hearted Chhotokaka, in disarray. The religious sanskars came to the rescue keeping the mind occupied - the rituals, the preparation for the shraddha. Attending to the hundreds of well-wishers who came over in Calcutta. And in the midst of it all what did Chhotokaka - Baba's youngest brother - do?
Having witnessed the chaos in locating a good photo of the departed soul (ultimately a group photo was enlarged, spliced and a part again blown up - this was way before the ease of the digital times).
He suggested to all the siblings and his gen to go to the nearest photo studio and take the right photograph. With proper lighting etc. To be garlanded in the future.
'At least when our time comes, we'll rest in peace knowing what everyone is sadly staring at', he said.
Saturday, May 3, 2008
You don't speak ill of the dead.