Just the other day, I made an egregious faux pas at a friend’s house by jokingly referring to the violent demise of his spouse. In my defense, we had just finished watching the movie seven whose entire theme is about this psychopath who goes around killing people gruesomely and my comment was made while discussing the movie afterwards. The room fell silent and even I could make out that I had committed a blunder. I sure got a earful from Anupa while going home. I also apologized to my friend the next day if I had said something to hurt his feelings.
This incident got me thinking – why are we so touchy about the subject of death in general? Anupa assures me that the hesitancy is pretty widespread and that I’m the anomaly for not minding. Perhaps it has something to do with both my parents being doctors. We discuss death all the time at home. Just the other day, my mother and I were discussing the best way to commit suicide without pain and expense in case my parents get so old and pain ridden than life is just not worth living anymore. In fact, whenever my mother used to go on a trip somewhere, she would pull us aside before leaving and tell us where the important keys and documents were kept just in case she never came back. I have a file in my Google docs which has all these important details so that we don’t have to go into a flap in case someone in the family dies.
So as a person who’s quite comfortable talking about death, I find the tendency to avoid the topic in Indian society pretty puzzling. I mean sure, no one wants a loved one to die. But talking about it won’t cause it to happen. Keeping quiet about it won’t prevent it either. Unless of course it’s a superstition, in which case I understand. We’re all superstitious about something or the other I guess. But if it’s not superstitious, what is it?
Strangely, I find that it’s Indians who dislike talk of death more than people here in the US for example. It’s strange because Hinduism is arguably a very chill religion when it comes to the final end. Other religions postulate that there’s a final judgement which is pretty scary if you ask me. Hinduism on the other hand simply treats death as shedding your clothes. The soul finds a new body and things go on as usual. Krishna told Arjun not to grieve for loved ones because they’re not really dead.
If anything, it should be the Atheists who hate discussing death because everything literally ends for them. No rebirth, no heaven…nothing. But I’ve met quite a few Atheists who don’t mind discussing their death or the death of others in public. But I don’t know whether it’s a religious thing, or a cultural thing here. Perhaps the problem is philosophical and people feel that since death is a horrible and bad thing, then talking about it is in poor taste.
It’s like the elephant in the room. Every knows it’s there but no one wants to acknowledge it. We all know we’re going to die and everyone we love is going to die and yet we don’t talk about it. This despite that fact that talking about death can be very interesting since it presents concepts such as the soul, mortality, God, the value of life etc. One of the most important distinctions between humans and animals is that we seem to be the only creature who is aware of our own mortality.
Could someone who is more clued into this help me understand this recalcitrance?