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  • Writer's pictureGirish Karnad

What My Obituary Taught Me

RIP….dear Girish 😢 🌹. This message stared boldly at me from my Facebook timeline. I recollect just glaring at this post for a few moments as my mind went blank. My shock turned into exasperation as the realization dawned upon me. It was only the previous day that the famous playwright, director and actor, who also happened to be my namesake, had passed away. Over the years I have borne the brunt of being mistaken for him on several occasions. I have been congratulated for being conferred the prestigious Jnanpith award. I have received bouquets for the wonderful plays written by him and brickbats for his controversial stance on various issues. All this happened on social media or emails, with him remaining oblivious of the confusion caused by our identical name. Never during all these years did I ever imagine that one day I would be reading my obituary.

My exasperation gave way to amusement, though my better half did not share my sentiments on this case of mistaken identity. As the day passed, this message somehow seemed to have got entrenched in the back of my mind and had a sobering effect. I started thinking more and more about it. What if this was really my obituary? My mind went into an overdrive as millions of thoughts started pouring in. The experiences which I have had in life – both good and bad, flashed before my eyes. Over the next few days I tried to put some order to my thoughts and pen down some of my learnings from this rather unexpected obituary.

The first thing I learnt was to practice gratitude. Am I happy to be alive! But did I really give any thought to this during my day to day busy life? I would get up in the morning, go through my daily rituals and get ready. I would light the lamp and say a hurried prayer to the Almighty. The prayer would invariably end with asking Him to bless me and my family with a successful day along with many other material things. I now thank God for keeping me and my family alive and healthy. When I thank Him for everything – whether good or bad, I disengage myself from being judgmental about whatever happens during the day. I also do not forget to mentally thank all those who are or were a part of my life: family, relatives, friends, colleagues, well-wishers and yes, even my enemies.

A very important lesson which I learnt was to take a stock of my dreams and goals. Sometimes, certain incidents, priorities and emergencies tend to divert you from your chosen path. It had happened to me as well and there was a phase in my life when I was wallowing in self-pity and always complaining – why me? I have now come to accept that these diversions are meant to teach me things which I had not anticipated and prepare me to face the future in a better way. It is only when we keep continuing on the diverted path that we end up in a quagmire of life and get totally lost. There is a need therefore to regularly do a course correction. I realized that now more than ever, I wanted to be remembered as a successful man and a wonderful human being. All of a sudden I understood what the priorities in my life were and started planning for them.

I have learnt to live in the present. The past is gone and the future is unpredictable. It does not forebode well to dwell on our past successes and failures beyond a point. Learn from the past and plan for the future, but remember to live today and every day to the fullest. In spite of various unforeseen events in our life, we must remember that there is always something to appreciate. Do not take life very seriously and learn to bring in laughter and cheer to your life. After all what is life without some humour? It will be these lighter moments which will ultimately light up your memories. We can either make a list of what life has given us or a list of what life has taken away or not given. Negative thoughts have the habit of coming in uninvited and unannounced. Focusing on the negative things will only make us sad and desperate. I have realized that thinking positively makes me happier and more and more things come together for me.

I have learnt not to take for granted the people I love. It is strange but true that we end up expecting too much from the people we love and often take them for granted. If we are lucky to have a wonderful family, relatives and friends who love us, make a point to call them, visit them often and show that you really care. In today’s world, social media has made our relationships shallow and artificial. A few greetings and messages on WhatsApp do not really build relations. Today we are part of so many family and professional groups. We often see good morning and birthday messages flooding these groups, to the extent that Indians are known to be prone to this disorder of ‘spam to greet’. After some time it becomes just too much and I stop contributing or sending messages. I now make it a point to call and wish on a birthday – that makes it so much more personal and helps to develop better relationships. I do not need a birthday or an occasion now to pick up the phone and connect with my family and friends.

I no longer expect life to happen exactly in the manner that I have planned. Often life comes up with surprises, putting us on the backfoot. We often end up disappointed when things do not happen according to our plan or get upset when we do not have what we want. If we can let go of our expectations and find reasons to be happy, we can still lead a good life. We have to make do with whatever we have and may actually end up liking what we have got. I have realized that life becomes a lot better when I learn to accept it. I no longer blame myself when bad things happen beyond my control. Guilt can be a merciless taskmaster and can very often put us off track. We can neither change the circumstances behind such events nor can we prevent them from occurring. I know that whatever the circumstances, God will provide me the strength and energy to pull me through it. I now believe that miracles can happen. While life brings in its unexpected lows, it also ensures that it will surprise us with highs which we never dreamt of. I have learnt to accept these highs with gratitude and not let anything slip away.

I have learnt that life always comes with choices. Even if the outlook of the choices seems dark at times, the choices are nevertheless there for me to make. To act or not act is also a choice and holds an outcome. I am where I am today as a result of the path I selected and the choices which I made along the way. I have the choice to change direction and go down a different path, which may or may not be for the better. I have learnt that someday, everything will make perfect sense. So for now, I laugh at the confusion, smile through the tears and keep reminding myself that everything happens for a reason.

Reading my obituary made me think differently and brought about several learnings for me. What I learnt may or may not find acceptance with many others. If your thoughts resonate with whatever I have written, I would encourage you to try and write your own obituary. This will help you see the kind of life that you might want to live.

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