The Dreaded Fine Print
As we scroll down the rules of this prepaid card, many conditions appear in fine print. These are stringent clauses, too.
• This credit can be revoked only once.
• No reset is allowed.
• It may be extended minimally based on the case history of each applicant but can be reduced substantially for abuses. The God that giveth also taketh away.
Several entitlements are built into this contract. The human system is a high maintenance device. Sleep is the main technique of maintenance. 8,000 days are set aside for this requirement. But luckily we are not going to sleep that long at one stretch as the famed literary character Rip Van Winkle did. Sleep relaxation is a distributed load on each day.
10,000 days are allocated to learning basic functions and growing into self-sufficiency (birth through teen years). For system breakdowns of various types such as disease (short term and long term) and injuries, especially during the latter years of life, a liberal allotment of 1,000 days is earmarked. The balance of 13,000 days of the individual life span, including a third of that period for sleep, is the net available for a whole range responsibilities such as specialization in fields of work, raising a family, earning a livelihood, obligations to the community we live in and extending a hand of help for those less privileged than we are. This is payback for being born a human on earth.
Meanwhile, the time machine keeps relentlessly ticking towards a tryst we call: Fate, Destiny, Providence or Vidhi. Nobody is exempted from these general rules. The individual brain has to prod itself to find ways and means of making life worthwhile.
The life story of several distinguished Indians and Europeans who lived and worked as role models, from ancient times to the modern, would provide an appropriate story line to this essay in one very special manner. All of them received their traditional Vidhi time debit cards with a stipulated life span of only about half the normal authorization of 24,000 days.
Adi Sankara. (788-820)
A religious reformer non-pareil who put forward the concept of Advaita Sidhantam, and wrote the immortal poem, Bhaja Govindam, describing the human preoccupations during phases of life in the cycle from birth to death and assigning the function: “Vridha Sthapal Chinda Saktha” (Think of what, if any, you have accomplished so far and what awaits you) left the world arena at about 12,000 days. Adi Sankara is generally believed to have engineered the largest export from India, Buddhism, to the countries around India, from Afghanistan, Tibet, Japan, China, Indonesia and Sri Lanka. However, the late centurian Sankaracharya, Chandrasekharananda Saraswathi of Kanchi, disputes this allegation.
Wolfgang Mozart (1756-1791)
Representing the classic Salzburg tradition of Austrian classical music, Mozart distinguished himself as a top class pianist and composer, well respected to this day. He died in about 13,000 days after some undiagnosed skin eruptions.
Swathi Thirunal Maharaja (1813-1846)
Ruler of the former state of Travancore, now part of Kerala, Swathi Thirunal composed hundreds of kirthanas in the Karnatik style in various languages and promoted the fine art of music extensively. P. Sankunni Menon (A History of Travancore from the Earliest Times, 1878) records an incident when Swathi Thirunal told Col. Welsh, a visiting British officer, that the words “geometry,” “hexagon,” “septagon” and so on were derived from Sanskrit. His life span was only 12,000 days.
The Bronte sisters. Charlotte Bronte (1816-1855), Emily Bronte (1818-1848) and Anne Bronte (1820-1849)
After very severe struggles in early life, all three became well recognized writers of fiction in English literature. Each one of them wrote her best work in the same year, 1847. Jane Eyre by Charlotte, Agnes Grey by Anne and Wuthering Heights by Emily. They all died early of tuberculosis in about 11,000 to 14,000 days.
Anton Chekov (1860-1904)
Anton Chekov, the Ukrainian/Russianwrier and playwright, a medical doctor by profession, gradually moved to writing. His fame soared posthumously after translation of his plays into English and other languages. He lasted only about 16,000 days.
Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902)
Raised in suburban Calcutta, under very humble beginnings, Narendranath Dutta, later assuming the philosophical name, Vivekananda, developed a broad perspective on the role of religion in human life, the one-ness of humanity and the divinity of man. He was the first Asian to address the Parliament of World Religions at Chicago in 1893. He adopted Sri Ramakrishna as his Guru, after whose passing he established the Ramakrishna Mission which is still a thriving philosophical organization all over the world. His life span was limited to just about 14,000 days.
Subramanya Bharathi (1882-1921)
An ardent activist fighter for India’s freedom, Bharathi was a linguist and composer of national songs in Tamil in praise of freedom and self dignity. The British colonial power relentlessly targeted him as a revolutionary, banished him to Burma for a while and jailed him several times. His compositions are still very much in vogue and sung frequently in concerts. 14,000 days was his allotment.
Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887-1920)
Ramanujan was a mathematical prodigy from the southern part of India with exceptional skills in mathematics and disinterest in other fields of study, so much so, he failed to pass high school the first time around. He was invited to Cambridge University where he excelled in disciplines like number theory and partition functions and acquired a Ph.D. and Fellowship of the Royal Society. He was humble enough to claim no credit for his skills and thanked the Goddess Namagiri from his village temple at Namackal in Salem district,Tamil Nadu. His life span lasted about 12,000 days.
Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968)
He followed the Gandhian principle of non-violent civil disobedience to obtain civil rights for the African American population of the United States and achieved success after a prolonged struggle. He met a violent death soon after as in the case of Mahatma Gandhi. A brilliant orator and statesman, he lived just about14,000 days.
Steve Jobs (1955-2011)
I include Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Computer, Inc, the world’s largest company, based on market capitalization, in this list deliberately, because he had already achieved extraordinary distinction by the time he completed about 15,000 days of his life. He had a very checkered life from the moment he was born; he was put up for adoption right away and his last name was that of his adoptive father. Every aspect of his early life was trying. He sought solace in India, briefly, which he later admits to have been very beneficial. He lived through another 5,000 days with terminal cancer leaving behind long lasting benefits for mankind.
It is not known whether any of these luminaries had any premonition of their limited life span and the urge to make their days count fully in their life’s work. Anecdotally, however, Adi Sankara left his home in Kalady, Kerala at age nine and promised to come back only for his own mother’s last rites.
Will it be preposterous to even speculate that based on the life story of several, but still only a miniscule fraction of the world’s population, a trend towards universality exists among the denizens of this Earth in which an ill defined super power, randomly tasks selected individuals to be role models or heroes, to perform spectacular functions in limited time and thus stimulate the rest to reach the designed potential of achievement by all?
There is no future in the past except the guidelines they have provided. A Churchilian analogy may be appropriate here. “It is a mystery wrapped as an enigma and stored in a riddle box with no keys.”
As for me, as always, I do have many more questions than answers.
P. Mahadevan is a retired scientist with a Ph.D. in Atomic Physics from the University of London, England. His professional work includes basic and applied research and program management for the Dept. of Defense (India). He taught Physics at the Univ. of Kerala, at Thiruvananthapuram. He does very little now, very slowly. He acknowledges the benefit of discussions with Mr. K.V. Satyanarayanan, Motivational Speaker, Chennai, India and Dr. T.V. Krishnamurthy, Spiritual Counselor, Costa Mesa, California, in the preparation of this article.