How to Identify Death

Step I: Name and Weight

21 grams

They say is the difference between You

Sitting here reading this, and You

Lying inside a coffin

Significantly heavier than 21 grams

Or scattered into all-accommodating wind, or poured into all-sacred river

Significantly lighter.

….a 21-gram shaped hole in the universe

Let us give it a name.

Let us call it Soul. A four-letter word

Like other four-letter words, easy to remember. Easy to give away.

Hard to let go.

Love. Debt. Pain. Ache.

Easy. Hard.

They say-

The Soul exits (inhale)

The Body dies (exhale)

and then the Soul stays back (and here you hold your breath, and keep your eyes open)

Like a stranger at a family funeral

Like the last note of a dirge, echoing through the sky

….a 21-gram sized hole in the universe, outside, and inside you.

Step II: Color And Complexion

The color would be, if you are observant enough, a fluorescent blue. Not the blue of hypothermic lips or flaming Bunsen burners, no. This should be a blue of absolution and finality. Of going gently into the dark night. A blue against which there is no point in raging and raging.

Like optical fibers laid down in a body-shaped circuit suddenly springing to life, blue would flow up, down and sideways, filling every nook and every cranny of what was once LIVING, what once EXISTED. The blue would be stealthy and persistent. unmovable. unchangeable. like truth. or maybe truth itself.

Suddenly for a moment you may wonder if the blue of the amniotic fluid that you were washed ashore, into the world in, and the blue of the umbilical cord tenuously stretching from you to your mother and to her mother and then to her mother, would ever be as blue as this.

Like waves of the Ocean.

Like benign clouds on warm summer mornings.

Like dying sparks erupting one last time from plasma spheres.

And you meeting it with open arms.

Step III: Identification Marks

Sometimes I think if death had an alternate career, other than, you know, going around collecting souls and reckoning up people’s sins and good deeds and doing other morbid, death-ly stuff, it could have been that of an amateur painter. Not a very good one, mind you, not the kind that could do it for money, but the kind that had an overabundance of both painting material close at hand and the time to flip through painting books. Imagine, if you could, death sitting on a La-Z Boy on a rainy Sunday evening, leafing through 100 Great Painters and Their 100 Great Paintings, or Painting Styles through The Ages Explained, and going-

“Ooh, I haven’t tried THAT one out before. I wonder if i could give it a go then”.

The resultant stabs at painting, although they wouldn’t make a killing (oh well) in the art market, could still be considered passably good, good enough to be hung up on freshly dis tempered bedroom walls. or freshly white-washed morgue walls. Maybe your near and dear ones could gain some succor from the fact that when you did go out, it was in a flash of riotous color and shape and texture and..well,life. Those could be your Identification marks.

Sample A: Fingerprint

Meneingioma, brain tumor. Image from Hidden Beauty.

Petunias invade your brain

Floating on a sea of cream and nerve-matter

What was once tabula rasa

Is now an overambitious Jackson Pollock forgery.

Whorls on fingerprints, swirling between purple pomegranate seeds

The grey of the inside of your head, the funeral lament keening inside,

Exits the stage to allow in the marching minstrels of madness

And the clean, child-friendly songs of insanity.

Sample B: Moles and other facial marks

Alzheimer’s disease. Image from Hidden Beauty.

Dark marks of forgetfulness on grey-brown screens of your memory

Small pock-marked remembrances

like newly shaved skin, shaved clean

of who i was

and who you were

Braille for those who don’t remember,

Wary fingers reaching down,

“This is who you were yesterday, This is who you loved today,

This is what you will forget tomorrow”

Brown light radiates from unknown source

like sun-light filtered through the dirty water of a cesspool of memories

with you at the bottom

Weary fingers reaching up

“This is who you might have been yesterday, This is what loved you today,


Sample C: Birthmarks on body-parts

HIV. Image from Hidden Beauty.

One moon-lit night

All the polyps in all the reefs in all the seas in all the worlds

Wake up and give birth.

Inside dark waters and clear waters

and red waters and white waters

New life sprouts out, eager to show its face to the world

Like Athena carving her way out of Zeus,

or like volcanic explosions on faraway islands,

A little mushroom cloud swims up to the surface.

And the sense of a new foreboding shivers and quivers

And then lies in wait. For the next time.

Sample D: Smells and odors, Past records

Cirrhosis of the liver. Image from Hidden Beauty.

An overabundance of lotus-leaves

Chokes the waters of the lake

-or is it the other way around?

If you tried really hard, or maybe if you didn’t try at all, you could float and skip and tiptoe your way through on those lotus leaves, and reach the other side.You have to be sober though. Get drunk on the fumes of imaginary success,count your chickens before they hatch, kill the goose laying the golden eggs or perform other acts of cliched over-enthusiasm,and you might just slip and sink to the bottom,which, to be fair, is not such a bad thing. The company you will be in down there is brilliant, I hear. And the conversation and the wine both flow freely and are both sparkling.

Sample E: Near relations and Family

Smoker’s lung. Image from Hidden Beauty.

Inhale. And repeat transit process.

Silvery cob-webs, and smoky spiders

of your own creation. Lying in anticipation.

Inhale and wait.

Let the bubbles of black and fish-silver grow bigger

and bigger

black spidery veins running through

Like fugitive pariah lifelines

Not to be caught

Not to be pinned down

Like the wild flowing hair of some catatonic temple goddess

swirling and whirling, tangling and untangling

until god comes and takes her away.

Exhale and wait. Now cough it out.

The smoke you see is something drifting off

with a goddess-shaped mass

of hair and heart and hope

nestled safely in its arms.

Inhale. And repeat transit process.

P.S: The three parts of this piece are inspired by, respectively, this, this and this.

Their science is all sound. My silliness on the other hand, is somewhat less so.


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