Saturday, February 8, 2014

Ending up in one’s Country of Birth

A View of Main Building, IIT Delhi


It has been mentioned in ancient literature that a man or woman is fortunate if he or she can spend their last days in their country of birth. In fact the source ( I forget which now) listed dying in a foreign land as one of the great misfortunes of life that can fall upon a person. I have tried to relate this piece of ancient wisdom with my own experience of life as described next, even as I am reminded of the Prophet of Khalil Gibran and his tearful departure to the land of birth in his last days.

India is a country of vast diversity. Even hundred years ago, India had the most modern of cities and towns such as Lahore, Bombay, Simla and Nainital that competed in their quality and modernity with most modern cities and towns of our world of those times. On the other hand, there were until recent times, areas inhabited with fully nude tribes such as the Angami Nagas, Andaman tribes and a whole lot other half naked or topless tribes. These are aside from religious mystics such as the Digambar Jains, Naga Sadhus and the kind described in my novel – Nude besides the Lake – who as a matter of practice strut about with their stuff naked even in  a modern shopping area and consider being dressed in nothing but the sky is a philosophical statement.

In this diverse country, where there are educational institutes that run in ramshackle rooms, there are also some that compete with the best in the world. A photo of one such, the Indian Institute of Technology at Delhi accompanies this blog. This is the institute I graduated from. Admission to it is through a stiff competition where thousands compete for a few seats. In high school I was less decadent :) than now and being a serious and brilliant student received admission to this college ( My position in the entrance examination was around 200 out of 200, 000 or so good high school students who had dared to sit for the entrance examination). The graduates of this Institute are sought after much by industry and universities, not just in India but also in developed countries of the world. Hotmail a precursor to other email services was invented by one of them - Sabir Bhatia Therefore it is not surprising that around a third of my class went abroad after graduation and settled in new countries (mostly USA and a few in Australia, Canada and UK). My own case was  unique in that unlike the fifty other class fellows, I went to Canada but then returned to India after a doctoral degree. After working for around seven years as faculty at IIT, I returned to Canada again, and then continued to work around the world until nearly fifty. Eventually my desire to travel was completely exhausted, at least for this life, and presently I lead a sedentary life, that involves  a minimum of travel, back in the country of my birth.

One unique thing about our graduation class called Mech71 ( 1971 Mechanical engineering graduates of IIT Delhi) is that ever since internet became common, we have revived  contact and kept in touch. We have our email group through which we exchange frequent communications and arrange physical get togethers. With my unique position as having lived in India as well as abroad, for many years I served as a bridge and coordinated activities of this group. I still maintain a blog about its activities at http://mech71.blogspot.com.

Every life goes through ups and downs and the state of affairs is reflected in the kind of communications our group members exchange. I have been a keen observer of this. For many years the emails from the group in USA were more exuberant and cheerful on the whole as compared to those from India. Working life is less satisfying, even frustrating In India as compared to that in a developed country especially for talented persons and this is the likely cause for the difference. In an earlier blog post, the life of a human was considered divided in five stages of twenty years each. All of us Mech71 friends spent the first stage in India whereas as mentioned many went on to spend the remaining stages abroad.

We are all past sixty now and in the fourth stage of life where most have retired fully or partially. Now in this fourth stage of our lives a change has been noticed in the emails. The emails from the group in India have now become cheerful whereas those from abroad reserved, in some cases distressed and even reflecting frustration.  Some in India who were reserved during their working years have become exuberant now and trying new fashions, taking up new hobbies and traveling to exotic destination etc. (Ramakrishnan Ramanathan, Girish Bhatnagar and Vinod Khurana are some of them) Perhaps this is because one is never at home even at home, in a foreign land howsoever long one may live in it, as one can be in one’s country of birth or the country where one has spent ones non-adult years and at this stage when one has retired one does not have to contend with a less than satisfactory work environment of a developing country but rather more with society in general.

Thus my own experience does seem to validate a piece of ancient wisdom set out in the first paragraph of this post and upheld by the prophet of Khalil Gibran.

7 comments:

keiko amano said...

Ashok,

Your view sounds similar to the majority of Japanese's. We're nostalgic because the landscape and food and many things are unique to our land, not to mention our language.

But if we believe in continuation of life beyond our current life, then anywhere in the world is okay for us to die.

For instance, if you're heading to Washington DC to see your grandchild, there is small percentage of chance to die there or on the way there or back, perhaps above the pacific ocean. I always think of this when travelling.

I came to this conclusion. It's okay to die anywhere. Over the pacific ocean, or at the airport, or at a hospital, or in own bed, or while visiting a friend, or a motel during a vacation, or on a bus or train or whatever. It could happen anywhere. I think it's best not to attach ourselves to a fix notion of the location to die, for our happiness. That way, we would feel at peace, and also feel at peace about others' death with respect and love.

When people say something like they decided to live or die in certain country or city or town because it is the best in the world, I always think this. How would they fairly evaluate the place to be the best in the world? To conclude it like that, we have to go all over the world and sample our living extensively, tally our favor according to twenty or so categories such as job opportunity, languages spoken, standard of living, immigration status, and so on. It's impossible. I would say those opinions are illogical and narrow, and comparing with others' circumstances has no point.What do you think?

ashok said...

You are quite right in whatever you have written Keiko and your observations are valuable, more so because you live across two countries.

The mention of dying in a place of birth must not be interpreted too literally, because after all no one know when one would go and it is not a matter of choosing. perhaps what the ancients meant was spending the last stages or old age in ones country of birth.

Spiritually, for those who believe in next lives, that has value since new lives are considered a continuation of old ones and our psychological baggage at time of departure determines our future lives. One has perhaps greater opportunity to relax fully and resolve (thus discard) the emotional experiences, or even some deep attachments of childhood, of a life time in ones home country rather than a foreign one, before moving on to a new life.

Vinod Khurana said...

Dear Ashok ji, A wonderful analysis.It requires deep introspection.You have in fact touched a raw nerve.I would like to express my views in the following lines:
Root
A bud unfolds
Springing from beneath
A tender roots holds it
And supports it underneath

When bud becomes a tree
Confident and free
Spreading branches in full glee
Root grows but silently and deep

Tired of being tied to one home
It explores lands far and unknown
Making godfathers and setting up new homes
But home is where you heart is, not just bricks and floor

When it is old and a spent force
New homes don't comfort it any more
It longs to return to its first home
Which waits to welcome the owner back home

Peace descends when you now step into your home
Its root is quite old but still strong enough
To hold you in its lap so you can have a good nap
And when rested to listen to your stories untold

Home is where your root lies
And there as a child you cried
Uniting with the root is so satisfying
Before the life bids final good bye!
With warm Regards
Vinod

ashok said...

Lovely words Vinod. Thanks for posting them here. Please do post it in your poetry blog too with an apt title and let me know about it here too for me to check out.

ashok said...

Perhaps the last two lines in this could be edited as:

Uniting with the root so satisfies
Before comes the final good bye

Ramakrishnan Ramanathan said...

Certainly a thought provoking post. Vinod has added a poetic flavor. Yes we in India are happy and become more communicative and travel more. But have the chaps who live abroad really become introverts and are they enjoying life or traveling any less ? I am not so sure about this ! They must have other peer groups with whom they must be having gregarious interactions !

ashok said...

You are right Ramu, it may be true for some of them at least, or perhaps some are involved with grandchildren now and that is one of the most joyous of experiences at this stage in life. it has been so for me.