Reports of our columnist’s death are greatly exaggerated…
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.