Ways of the Maker

Some years ago, I happened to watch, on American television, an interview with Kirk Douglas, a famous Hollywood actor of a former era, an actor with a trade-mark tough-guy image. The interviewer questioned him on the recent air crash that he had survived. He must have been in his 70s at the time and what he said in reply was rather striking and gave one much food for thought. He said “God, in sparing my life, while so many young people died, must have had some purpose and, may be, I am meant to do certain good things in the time that is still left to me.” That was perhaps the best way of appreciating his  good fortune in getting a fresh lease of life and of expressing his gratitude to his Maker.

This had also set me thinking about the other side of the picture. Why are certain people cut off in the prime of their lives? Could it mean that whosoever controls these things, has decided that their day is done and there is nothing more for them to do in this world?

Can there be any answers to such questions? These thoughts came back to me recently in a most poignant form at the sudden passing away of a young man, whom I used to see almost every day in a bakery, of which I am a regular customer. He was a most friendly and cheerful young man, always serving the customers  with zeal and a ready smile. I did not even know his name. When I read the news in the papers of how a young person, working in a bakery in Saraswathipuram, Mysore, had met with a scooter accident in trying to save a child, on Sankranti day, I felt a nameless fear and wished with all my heart that that should not be this particular person. (Not that anybody else’s life is less precious but only that you are not affected so personally in the  case of a stranger.) But, alas, it was. When I went to the bakery a couple of days later, a short announcement of the sad occurrence and his photo had been put up. I paid him a silent tribute and turned away.

Sadness is often followed by philosophical speculation. There is a saying that those whom the gods like, die young.  Jesus Christ was only 33 at the time of the crucifixion.

The great Shankara lived only 32 years, half of the period said to have been gifted to him by Sage  Vyasa. This makes us octogenarians think “Are we pretty low on God’s preference list?” When someone questioned the late Prof A N Murthy Rao, who  lived up to a ripe age of 103, about the secret of his longevity, he (a self-declared atheist, who got an award for his book ‘Devaru’, arguing against the existence of any such thing as  God) replied, tongue in cheek, that God seemed to have forgotten to summon him.) Yet we  can take heart when we remember that Sri Ramanujacharya, founder of the  Vishishtadvaita philosophy, is said to have lived a full 120 years and Vidyaranya, the patron saint of the Vijayanagara empire, was more than 100 years old, when he attained  Samadhi.

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