Suresh Menon

Re­ports of our colum­nist’s death are greatly ex­ag­ger­ated…

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Some years ago, one of my col­leagues re­ceived a mes­sage from a mu­tual friend. Where was my widow, and did she have an ad­dress he could send flow­ers to? Think­ing he had mis­un­der­stood, the col­league won­dered why the friend should be send­ing flow­ers to my win­dow, or per­haps it was a wind dhow, maybe even a willed oar. So he asked the friend to re­peat the ques­tion. No, there was no doubt about it; for some rea­son, the poor mis­guided man thought I was dead.

Soon the rea­son be­came clear. A news­pa­per in In­dia had car­ried my obituary, telling the world how much I would be missed and stop­ping just short of say­ing it was the end of an era. I could have writ­ten to them and clar­i­fied – that might have been the end of an er­ror – but what with one thing and an­other (mainly an­other), I let the op­por­tu­nity slip. Which means there are a few peo­ple liv­ing in eastern In­dia (that’s where the news­pa­per is pub­lished) who, when they think about me, think warm thoughts as one would of some­one no longer around.

Per­haps I could have sued the news­pa­per for caus­ing dis­tress to near and dear ones, not to speak of the re­fusal of pizza de­liv­ery boys wont of say­ing, “I can’t de­liver pizza to your house be­cause I know you are dead.” But I was told that prov­ing you are alive is even more dif­fi­cult than prov­ing the op­po­site.

You could walk up to the edi­tor and say cheer­fully, “Hey, I am alive,” but that wouldn’t get you any­where. The red tape in­volved is enor­mous. You have to put ev­ery­thing down in trip­li­cate, get it signed by half a dozen of­fi­cials to each of whom you have to prove sep­a­rately that you con­tinue to be in the land of the liv­ing, and prom­ise never to die again with­out in­form­ing ev­ery­body first.

Per­haps Elvis is alive, af­ter all. His prob­lem is the re­verse of mine; peo­ple can’t be­lieve he is dead. And he con­tin­ues to earn more money than half those in the en­ter­tain­ment busi­ness who are a fifth of his age.

There are even peo­ple who be­lieve my great grand­fa­ther is still alive. Many rel­a­tives be­lieve he comes to visit them reg­u­larly and ad­vises them on how to live their lives or what clothes to wear and vi­tal stuff like that. Dead men – this col­umn is a good ex­am­ple – do tell tales.

Mark Twain had it so much eas­ier. “The re­ports of my death are greatly ex­ag­ger­ated,” he said, and that line alone has lived more than twice as long as he did. Im­mor­tal­ity is easy; it is mor­tal­ity you have to strug­gle for.

Suresh Menon is a writer based in In­dia. In his youth he set out to change the world but later de­cided to leave it as it is.

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