RIP – A Prose-Elegy to a Common Man Succumbing to a Virus

RIP. Rest in peace. The term often befuddles me. Not because I am a non-believer in an after-world beyond death—I’ve no idea what happens later. But I do not want to see the present life as a state of non-rest.

I want to think that we can rest even here—on this earth. Surrounded by our little gardens. Taking long walks. Letting the time waft by without worrying where it is headed. Not running a rat race—even if it’s the race of billionaire-rats. But, let us not grovel over linguistics. I am here to talk about my uncle.

One day he was there, in my memories, in his trademark sports cap, talking about IPL. And the next day he was in the hospital fighting the virus. And the day after, he was no more.

I won’t talk about my reaction to these series of events, though. And yet, that’s the only thing we can do? Don’t we?

I won’t even talk about him—my uncle, a gregarious person with a smile always plastered on his face. Performing his duties with diligence. Being socially active. Fulfilling his responsibilities. And living the life as a proud father/husband/uncle/friend. Always celebrating it.

Every moment of his life, he celebrated. So much so that—I think—he must have celebrated even his death. In his last moments, when he was sure that the end was near, he must have enjoyed the ‘passing’. He was a proud, practical soul. He must have chosen his end. And don’t they say? Life is mostly a matter of Will?

But Corona. The current plague that has taken the world by storm. Corona. The killer. The emancipator. The demon everyone is trying to fight. The question everyone is trying to answer. And of course – a virus.

A mere virus doing the thing. One day he was going to the office. And the other his lungs were fighting with a virus two years old. Even after retirement, he chose to be active in life. He was so used to working that ‘taking rest’ was impossible for him.

And how can I forget the various moments we shared? Like when, once when I was young, I had not been taken to a marriage. So when I threw tantrums, he travelled all the way back to my maternal village and took me back. And when he tried to get me a kidney, when I was going through the hell of dialysis. And those innumerable conversations about the state of Indian cricket, and our mutual admiration of Rohit Sharma—the batsman supreme.

How can I forget?

He was the one who taught me one beautiful way to live. By living it. An exemplar he was. Not an adventurer (as in the sense of Beauvoir). He was a serious man—to a great extent. Someone who believed in the ethos given to him by his forefathers and never questioned them. He was a simple common man, who followed the rules, and that’s all.

Yes. ‘Common man’ defines it well. He was a middle class R.K. Narayan-type common man, who wanted to experience life as it was given to him. Perform his duties well. Keep connections. Love everyone. Celebrate little moments. Take on challenges and problems as they come. Provide for his family.

He was a cog in the wheel. He just did what was supposed of him. Even when he retired, and his fellow office-mates gave him a small award—I think he might not have aspired for it. But he still celebrated.

He didn’t want to change the world. He wanted nothing but peace. He was not someone you would have written books about. He was everyone. The one who could shoulder his responsibilities like a King, but was never one.

When he died, the world did not stop moving. No one even knows he has left the world, except for his family. Except for his dear ones. Except for me. And yet, what a hole he has created!

And this makes me think—after all those books/movies/articles about over-man (Nietzsche) and authentic man (Heidegger and Sartre) and geniuses like Modi/Hitler/Jesus/Jobs/Musk living great lives in which production was everything—that the life my uncle lived and the life billions of ‘unknown’ people are living are the only ones worth living.

Not because ‘everyone will become dust.’ No.

But because—no ‘grand ambition’ has ever made the world a happier place. The world is, in fact, unhappier than before. The only happiness I’ve found is in the homes of ‘common folks’. Like my uncle, and those who live one day after another. And do their tasks. And live life with their head held high. And care for their families. And enjoy every moment of celebration like it should.

It is not an empty romanticism. A matter of experience my assertion is. Because I am looking at individuals as individuals, not as empty abstractions of the Human Race (as with Nietzsche) who are supposed to represent and take on its ‘progress’ on their mighty shoulders. Or an Absolute State (Hegel). Though, I won’t go into the details of my argument here.

Because I am talking about a cog.

And yet, think. The virus—which is killing people en masse—results from the Nietzschean (contorted) impulse of being an over-man. We want to conquer everything—Nature, Universe, Death, continents, countries, people, Mars. We are planning to make a restaurant in Space. We are planning colonies on Mars. We are doing everything we can—TO BE A LITTLE DIFFERENT from we were before.

This is what ‘progress’ is. Perhaps. Even though, deep inside, we are still those tribesmen who used to dance around fires in Africa.

Today the common man enjoys more luxury than the king of yester-centuries. And what has one achieved? Nothing. We are still the same foolish race, which considers itself so important that it is ready to submit half of its population (like Thanos) to a virus, in the name of progress.

No, I am not angry. I am not being sarcastic. And I am not even an eco-terrorist. I am, in fact, a little confused. About where I stand.

That’s why the babble.

And yet, I am sure—if everyone lived life like my now deceased uncle—caring for his little garden, a family, the world would progress slowly. But it would be happier. It would have a lesser number of plagues. It would accept plagues with a calm my uncle showed. Like Dr. Rieux—the protagonist and narrator of The Plague, who once said, “I don’t know what it means for other people. But in my case I know that it consists in doing my job.”

And with these words, I raise my toast to one of the most common (and hence, magnificent) humans I know – Late Satyabir Sharma. My uncle. A middle class victim of the virus.

I am proud to have known you, Mamaji. And I know, you will rest in peace. With a clean conscience. For having lived a glorious life. Radhe Radhe.

Nachi Keta is a neurodiverse writer from New Delhi whose work focuses on mental health, oppression and the absurd in social and personal.