Eat, Drink, Be Merry For Tomorrow You Will Die

POV

Eat, Drink, Be Merry For Tomorrow You Will Die

Illustration: Akshita Monga/Arré

T

he boiler blast at NTPC’s power plant in Uttar Pradesh earlier this week that killed more than 30 people got me thinking about death and its unpredictability once again. Death is like Monday-morning blues – the feeling grips you every Sunday evening, but there is no escaping it. But the one thing that’s scarier than death is a headline death like that of former DD anchor Kanchan Nath.

Kanchan Nath went for a walk on a rainy morning in July and the world watched her making her way on empty streets. There she went, a fine, upstanding, accomplished woman, a yoga enthusiast, a non-smoker and drinker, probably looking forward to breakfast and making to-do lists for the day, when suddenly, out of the fucking blue, a tree fell on her and she died. Just like that.

I’ve watched the Kanchan Nath video on loop since it went viral. Not because it’s gory or shocking. Quite the opposite. It is so unspectacular, in the middle of such an ordinary moment and so utterly random. Death is not supposed to be this way.

I’ve seen death before. There is meaning, reason, or at least the slow drumbeat of decline that helps us rationalise it. But Kanchan Nath like the NTPC explosion has made me wonder at the monstrous randomness of life and the utter disregard it has for us. It makes me question how can anybody believe in an ordered and meaningful universe?

We live in a world where millions of people die every year at a time they could never in their wildest dreams have imagined. In factory explosions, terrorist attacks, plane crashes and road accidents. In stampedes while crossing over-bridges at railway stations, or while riding a bicycle in New York or at a concert in Vegas… She was 17. He was 64. She had just discovered she was pregnant. They were on their honeymoon. They were celebrating a birthday. He was on his way to help his father. She was supporting her two siblings. They led good, clean lives. Or bad, fucked-up ones. They had nothing in common except for one thing: They didn’t know they’d be dead that day.

Here is my question: Had they known, would they have lived their lives differently? I would. Or scratch that, I am. As can be seen here, here, and here. I guess you could call me a hedonist. But what I am, is an Epicurean.

Hedonism is a much-misunderstood and under-appreciated philosophy. At its core lies the belief that the aim of human life is pleasure and happiness. Maximise pleasure, minimise pain.

Epicurus (born 341 BC in Samos, Asia Minor) said, “Pleasure is the beginning and the goal of a happy life… I don’t know how I will conceive of the good if I take away the pleasures of taste, if I take away sexual pleasure, if I take away the pleasure of hearing, and if I take away the sweet emotions that are caused by the sight of beautiful forms.”

Mind you, this guy didn’t live in a big house, nor did he have lavish feasts over wine. His rules for happiness centered around three things. Friendship is the first. “Before you eat or drink anything, consider carefully who you are eating and drinking with, rather than what you eat or drink.” We don’t exist unless there is someone who can see us existing. What we say has no meaning until someone can understand. Friends are a reflection of who we are and who we want to be. And true friends don’t evaluate us on worldly criterion, which brings me to the second thing.

Freedom. Epicurus and his pals didn’t want to have to work for asshole bosses, so they removed themselves from the commercial world of Athens and set up what may have been the first commune in history. Communes have today come to be associated with religious madness and hairy saints but their original raison d’être was to distance members from the values of a city, the central value being the focus on money. In the cities, we build our gods on money. We spend our time making money and then spending it. Only outside of cities, money ceases to be important. This distancing is critical. That’s when we cease to judge each other on a material basis. Among a group of friends living outside the political and economic centre of the city, there is – in the financial sense – nothing to prove. That is true freedom.

The third, of course, is thought. As Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” So you need to be aware and check on yourself every once in a while to see which way you are heading, instead of heedlessly pursuing external goals dedicating your lives or indulging in deathly boring stuff like dieting, exercising, and eating quinoa salads. If it ain’t fun, don’t do it.

I hope Kanchan Nath was having fun on her morning walk; I hope those cycling in New York were doing what they loved. The WTF-ness of their deaths, and the fight against the random fucking tree dropping on our heads, is the most powerful argument there can ever be for pleasure in the Here and Now.

It is meaningless death that points us in the direction of a meaningful life. So don’t just pay lip service to the “Live every day like it’s your last” adage because very soon, one day it will be. Eat the freaking bacon for your Sunday breakfast already because on Monday you could be dead.

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