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Death and After


The Telegraph, Oct. 29, 2005

Photo: Khushwant Singh

Life after death, be it in paradise, hell or in another human, animal, bird or insect form, is a subject better left to the speculation of the spiritually-minded. Scientists and sceptics have put it out of their minds for the time being, to be thought over if fresh evidence is brought to light to re-examine it. So far there has been none. As far as heaven and hell are concerned, Mirza Ghalib put an end to the debate in two pithy lines:

Hum ko maloom hai jannat ki haqeeqat lekin

Dilko khush rakhney keh liye Ghalib yeh khaayaal achhaa hai

(We know the truth about paradise

But, says Ghalib, it is a good idea to beguile the mind)

The notion of rebirth in human or the animal form of life persists largely because Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism lend support to it. For reasons best known to them, the conventional figure of lives he or she can return to is 84 lakh - chauraasee lakh jaan. Since we cannot communicate with other forms of life which cannot converse in human tongue, the only possibility of examining the theory is when a person is reborn in human form.

Scriptures of all the aforementioned religions assure us this is possible and has been proven to be so: the Gita asserts in no uncertain terms that death is no more than a person taking off old clothes to put on new ones. Every few months our newspapers carry stories about the birth of some child who, when he or she is able to speak, recalls members of the family he or she belonged to in previous lives. Nobody cares to follow up these stories and they disappear from the public mind to be followed by others. So the legend of rebirth continues.

The reason why I bring up the subject is an hour-long programme on Aaj Tak T.V. channel, entitled Punar-janam, next life. It had two families claiming that a child born in one was an incarnation of someone who had belonged to the other family in its previous life.

It was introduced by a man who started off by asserting that there was no doubt whatsover that when a person died, his or her atma (soul) floated about in space till it entered another at the appropriate time. Sitting beside him was a man, with a foot long snow-white beard adding weight to his wisdom, who nodded his head in approval. The two families of the child who had died in one family to be reborn in the other were shown at intervals, both verifying the claims of punar-janam.

The one word that was repeated dozens of times by all participants was vishwaas (faith). It is the one-word answer given by people who have run out of logic, reason and common sense. It was pathetic. What would have been proper was to subject the two families to a session of cross-examination by a panel of scientists and skeptics; they would have proved to the viewers of this channel that what these fellows were saying was absolute crap and the proper words to use for it was andh-vishwas - blind faith devoid of reason. It was wrong on the part of Aaj Tak to give publicity to gross superstition just to keep up its viewership.