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What Is the Perfect Age to Die?

A THOUGHT ON LIVING, DYING AND IMMORTALITY

I Wish to Leave the World

I wish to leave the world
By its natural door;
In my tomb of green leaves
They are to carry me to die.
Do not put me in the dark
To die like a traitor;
I am good, and like a good thing
I will die with my face to the sun
— JOSÉ MARTÍ
(Text source: All Poetry, http://allpoetry.com)

Rock ‘n’ roll fans would scream 27 it is, but methinks the number is too less for ordinary mortals like us. Perhaps, Janis Joplin ((1943–1970) wanted to live as long as the French lady, Jeanne Louise Calment (1875–1997), who died at the ripe age of 122 years and 164 days. From archive records on life expectancy, Calment is also ‘the oldest person in history whose age is verified by modern documentation’. She was already 95 when Janis passed away soaring on a cocktail of heroin and alcohol. Jimi Hendrix (1942–1970), who knows, he might have dreamt about teaching tongue-licking-riffing the guitar to his kids after getting married and having a dozen of babies.



Live to tell the tale

These two rock stars belong to the 27 Club, an exclusive group of western rock musicians who died at the age of 27. Some of the other members include Jim Morrison (1943–1971), Ron McKernan (1945–1973), Mia Zapata (1965–1993), Kurt Cobain (1967–1994) and Amy Winehouse (1983–2011).

And I am not frightened of dying, any time will do,
I don’t mind. Why should I be frightened of dying?
There’s no reason for it, you’ve gotta go sometime.
—From Pink Floyd’s The Great Gig in the Sky 

The Guinness World Records (GWR) ‘beholders’ are ever excited about the details on the oldest and the longest and the shortest and what not. As of November 2015, Susannah Mushatt Jones from the United States and Emma Morano-Martinuzzi from Italy—both of them born in 1899—are the oldest living human beings. In a report prepared by the US-based Gerontology Research Group (www.grg.org), the top 10 oldest human beings are all grand-ladies. For the male-super-ego community, Yasutaro Koide—a Japanese grand-gentleman who was born in 1903 is the oldest living man.

Incorrigible optimists would surely want to rephrase the question. It is about, for them, the number of years to live rather than the age to die. Some researchers who belong to their ilk have found the relation between longevity and positive thinking/outlook too. A news report mentions that ‘many of the near-centenarians are optimistic, easygoing, like to laugh and are outgoing than introverted. They are also more likely to express their emotions, rather than keeping it all inside’. (Source: Researchers discover optimism may lead to longevity, CBS News www.cbsnews.com)

However, if you are a fan of the Big Lebowski, a lazybones who carries a paunch that would shame Boddhachandra or a couch potato that Garfield would feel jealous of, then it is an entirely different story. You will surely die of diabetes or some cardiac diseases—yes, it is the best possible outcome as you might as well have believed it. If I may add, pessimism is more about understanding the meaninglessness of our existence than believing in the bad prevailing over the good.    

Facts and figures in a time frame

Back in my town, Manipur has a well-documented history from 33AD. Nongda Lairen Pakhangba, the first king according to the Chaitharol Kumba chronicle, is believed to have ruled for 120 years. One hundred and twenty, it is the Manipuri GWR fans’ pride and others’ envy! Older folks tell us the early Manipuris were taller and lived longer in the bygone centuries. This is a contradiction to the western ideas that longevity has increased with the advancement of science and technology. (Sidenote: Several ‘puya’ or scriptures mention the earliest known king is Taangja Leelaa Paakhangba who ruled during 1445–1405BC and he was followed by Ningthou Kangba from 1405–1359BC.)

At 176 cm, I consider myself to be average-ish; and talking about life’s longevity, now and then, the nihilist thoughts overwhelm me, nudging me that I had already reached my mid-life at 25! I have no idea about the stereotypical crisis. By the way, the old timers quip that we can die anytime at any age nowadays. We have guns, drugs and murderers in abundance. If we do not die young, we need not worry as the millions of fear-, stress- and tension-building elements in our conflict-ridden society ascertain that we will die sooner than what is elaborated in surveys and records.  


The Population Foundation of India (http://populationfoundation.in) and the Population Reference Bureau (www.prb.org) has found in India that life expectancy at birth is going to be 66.8, 69.8 and 72.7 years during the phases of 2011–2016, 2021–2026 and 2031-2036 respectively. In the same duration, life expectancy in Manipur is pegged at 74.0, 75.9 and 77.6 years in that order. Kerala at 77.0 occupies the first position for 2011–2016. When I turn 100 during 2081–2086 India’s longevity will reached 82.0 years, while that of Manipur will be 82.7, which is the same as Nagaland. A 100-watt bulb appears here. Suppose the Isaak–Muivah’s successors appear with diadems and hornbill-feathered headwears after achieving the Great Lim sovereignty demand of the Nagas, would the forecast remain the same?  

What would all these figures mean to a fitness freak? Usually we prefer quality to quantity. Only such a ‘freak’ would know it but it will not be a surprise if the answer varies from one person to another. Such is the relativity of our universe. The lack of Absolute allows the rock fans and the GWR enthusiasts to sit on the same boat and nobody would talk about their dates of birth. Even if they do, it is certainly lesser important than the ride to their destinations.

Live for the moment

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.
—from the first stanza of Emily Dickinson’s Because I Could Not Stop for Death

A sage once slept for 100 years and when he woke up, he realised that our life is like a story. It is not the length but the ‘interesting’ factor of the story. Many of us took it literally and started smoking in our teenage days. Smoking makes our lives interesting. Hence, the great moronic thinking of our lives saw the light of the day and it has culminated into another great wisdom of 2015: Stupid people die fast.

Now, how about my father who died at 46? Was he stupid or just too lazy to look after his family? If we go by his age, I can tag him—just for the sake of tagging—along with Albert Camus, JFK, George Orwell and Oscar Wilde in the yet-to-be-formed 46 Club. Even his father lived one year ahead of him. Edhou, our grandpa, was then mostly confined to his bed but did take regular short walks around our veranda. He was a nice and wise old man but it was annoying when he would yell from his bedroom, set one mile away from mine, to stop playing the flute. I was playing my guitar. He was 98 when he breathed his last. I was 17 and eight years short of hitting mid-life. You know I’m kidding.

On a serious note, it was tragic when the NSCN-IM in cahoots with the establishment murdered Thingnam Kishan (1972–2009), a young and upright government officer who used to excel equally as a scholar. He was abducted and killed for standing in between the militants and government’s plan to insert proxy names in the electoral roll and creating job cards against such names. Their motive was to siphon off money from a government employment project under the Indian Ministry of Rural Development. The murderers had also admitted openly that Kishan was interfering in their effort to launder money looted from the public exchequer. He went away young but he left us with some original, critical and insightful works on literature and humanities.

That’s the condition of our society and those sycophantic assholes in public spheres, academics and all the institutions are well and alive. I take back my word that stupid people die fast; it was just a passing comment. In Manipur, you have to be a sycophant if you want to live long. The more you kiss the police and insurgents’ asses the longer you live. Experiences also confirm that this kind of ass-kissing can make you rich quick. The number of such people in every neighbourhood in the town is just too high. We stand to gain so much if they die younger and faster.

If we talk of practicality and life expectancy, 80–90 years of age appear to be ideal. In a traditional society like ours, the sons usually look after their parents; though in reality, the daughters-in-law are more involved. We believe in community living and the concepts of geriatrics and an old-age home are almost non-existent. Times have somehow changed and as in ‘developed’ societies, the sons and daughters have started kicking out their parents, to put it bluntly. Alternatively, it is quite an individualistic view but till we are 80–90, I believe that we can take care of ourselves, not be a burden to the family members around and thus this age range. However, it would be wonderful if I can live up to 180!

How to live forever with a bit of science and religion

Immortality is such a bitch. Oxford Dictionaries defines it as ‘the ability to live forever; or an eternal life’. We would be lying if we say we do not want to be immortal. Immortality, fame, power and money, to be precise. Amongst these aspects, there is some unknown charm in the idea to live forever; though the only problem lies in its ethic, which is no different from those in abortion, surrogacy, artificial intelligence, euthanasia and all. Sometimes, though, the fear of death is more crushing than the desire to be immortal.

In the animal world, there are organisms that live on forever, which in science-speak is referred to as biologically immortal. A species of jellyfish, Turritopsis dohrnii undergoes a process known by a Martian-like term called transdifferentiation that enables them to stock up their cells after sexual reproduction and it goes on ceaselessly. That makes the Turritopsis dohrnii ‘jelly well’ and deathless.  



Great men and women in history have left behind their legacies that the posterity will always remember them by/from. The only exception is Woody Allen, who said he do not want to achieve immortality through his work but rather through not dying. What do the lesser mortals like you and me do? Three years ago, some legislators started pro-immortality political parties in Russia, the United States, Israel and the Netherlands. They are not utilising their ubiquitous muscle and money power nor spreading propaganda. Their motive is to concentrate on research and study anti-ageing to develop life-extension technology and solution, which will further accentuate the process of immortality.

This life-extension technology is broadly studied in disciplines such as geriatrics, cryonics, experimental gerontology and biomedical gerontology and so on. Apparently just like India’s eternal militarisation will solve insurgency in our region, science is going to help us become immortal. Does it mean we will have to do with one nationality forever? What if the technology becomes feasible and there arises the likes of Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot and Okram Ibobi? On introspection, it will not be a problem with these asses, because a longer time implies more possibilities and in such a hypothetical situation, the possibilities will be boundless. (Sidenote: Google ‘2045 Initiative’. It yields about 804,000 results in 0.30 seconds. See the objective of its movement below.)



Sample this news report:

Scientists take a step closer to an elixir of youth

A naturally occurring substance that can create ‘immortal cells’ could be the key to finding a real elixir of youth, scientists claim

Researchers believe boosting the amount of a naturally forming enzyme in the body could prevent cells dying and so lead to an extended, healthier lifespan. The protein telomerase helps maintain the protective caps at the ends of chromosomes which act like the ends of shoelaces and stop them unravelling.
By RICHARD ALLEYNE, the Telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/3489881/Scientists-take-a-step-closer-to-an-elixir-of-youth.html   

The scientific views on longevity are based on an idea that the rate of ageing can be reduced if our cells and tissues are repaired or replaced continually. This might take care of old age and diseases, the two causes of death. For the other two causes, environmental change and trauma as in accidents and calamities, mortals have to rely on the working of the Universe. And now if science arrives, can religion be far behind?

The Meitei people—who are scattered over Manipur, Assam, Tripura, Burma and Bangladesh and followers of Sanamahism—worship Atiya Sidaba Mapu as the creator of the Universe. He got a punk middle name! ‘Sidaba’ means ‘never dying’ or ‘eternally living’; ‘siba’ is to die. Now the people have also given him a title like ‘Guru’ to him, or HIM, because the Meiteis act like a donkey while naming things. For the Hindus, they have the concepts of immortal soul, reincarnation, ‘samsara’ and karma. For them, all the people, cows and everything go through a continuous cycle of birth, death and rebirth until their karma is purified and finally the soul rests in eternal bliss. Karma is a bitch, they say, just like what I feel about immortality.

For those who love Jesus, the world is just a temporary abode after Adam and Eve played around an apple tree like Shahrukh Khan and Sunny Leone would do in a Bollywood movie—while the man cannot think of anything but eat, the woman, she was lost in how she was going to make a skirt out of the apple tree leaves and figs. And long story short, they lost immortality forever and thus the mortals were born, waiting for the doomsday. On the other side of the world, Buddha came and left in one part a long time ago but there are two sects that are devoted to him. The first group, Hinayana believes in attaining Nirvana, while the second, Mahayana cares about reaching Buddhahood. Back again on the other side, for the Zoroastrians, the soul hesitates for four days after death—like our regional elected representatives do when they go to Delhi for freebies—and then it becomes an everlasting empty shell. To sum up, death is inevitable and we only rationalise our living with relative to death. Significantly, technology has also replaced gods and goddesses in the last century or so.

A foregone conclusion

Qin Shi Huang or Ying Zheng (260–210 BC) is considered to be the first king of China when he united the country in 221BC. During his reign, he would send men and women aplenty to mythological islands and non-existent mountains to find the elixir of life that would make him immortal. He was so desperate for immortality that he died of mercury overdose from a medicine that his court physicians had prepared to aid his eternal living. Legend has it that it was also a group of people he had sent for the elixir that colonised and built Japan.

The moral of the story is to live like a rock star regardless of your age. Be forever young or maybe try some Botox if you are helpless. If nothing works, take inspiration from Qin Shi Huang and start your journey to the Fountain of Youth. I saw it once in the Pirates of the Carribean: On Stranger Tides.



In real life, even the mightiest kings are a mortal. Remember Shelley’s Ozymandias that we read in high school literature? If you are a prose-person, picture Peter Pan playing the pipes. He is, in Latin, a puer aeternus, or the ‘eternal boy’. Or imagine about the Picture of Dorian Gray. However, no matter how much the ages of the Hardy Boys and the Nancy Drews never change as if those are stuck in the prints on paperbacks and hardbacks, the grave is waiting for us by the riverside. It’s just the matter of making the walk interesting.

On an altogether different level, technology is aiding human evolution. Sci-fi writers forecast that in the next couple of centuries, cyborgs will be a reality, distinguishing the rich and the poor. In another word, the rich will survive and the poor will die out in the same way as we can see in dystopian Hollywood films these days. (Sidenote: I’d recommend you to watch In Time, an average film on eternal youth in a country which is separated on the basis of a unique Time Zone, which is again divided according to the wealth of the residents.)

Finally, the perfect age to die, the number of years to live and the world record for living the longest have little significance, comparatively to what is to become of our lives five years down the line. Ironically, only death is immortal.

Haiyum sidaba!

Eternally yours,
K. A.

PS: This is another western product that often makes us wonder how in the world they keep coming up with such ideas; but you may want to try DeadSocial (www.deadsocial.org). It offers you to be immortal in your digital avatar. This online service is available at free of cost, on which you can upload texts and images or schedule to post them for the next 999 years. The posts will be auto-updated on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites including the DeadSocial website. Consider the online/social media trends in the last decade and half: we had Yahoo Messenger, mIRC, Gmail, Orkut and now we got Facebook—there is something wrong with the math if it says that we can maintain the posts for 999 years.

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