The final moments of a never-say-die centenarian

 

BAPU SATYANARAYANA writes: In hindsight, it might seem arrogant. But when I wrote about my father some months ago upon his turning 105 years of age—‘Real (and proven) secrets of a long and happy life‘—I thought to myself that he would live at least another five years.

Indeed, no one in our family had any doubt either given the way he carried himself about—his insatiable zest for life, his enormous will-power, and his child-like interest and curiosity in all things around him. In fact, if nothing else, we were sure we would soon be celebrating his turning 106.

Even at five score and five, his mind was razor-sharp. At no time, as might be expected of people of that age, did he send out the feeling that he was waiting for The End. There was not a trace of senility. He always carried on as if the best was yet to come.

At our prompting, he would recite short paras and long chapters from his eventful life. The role of Melanayaka he enacted in the Ashwathama drama as a young boy… Stanzas from his favourite English Geethegalu, especially Anathe (translation of Bridge of Sighs by Thomas Hood), or Bharatha Vachana….

No slice of his life, it seemed, had slipped through the mind of Hassan Bapu Ramanna.

Until…

Until the early morning of September 19. He was proceeding to the toilet using his walker when he suddenly felt weak. He sat down gently mid-way. Since my wife and I could not lift him given our bad backs, we sought the assistance of others in the neighbourhood and sat him on the toilet seat.

After completing the task he walked as usual but again collapsed within a few steps. He then had to be carried to his bed. Even his best efforts would not enable him to sit.

I engaged the services of a person who has been looking after eight other persons suffering from various stages of disability. (We also arranged for a water bed as a precaution.) He would come in the morning and, after changing the diaper, would take him for a bath and then back to the bed.

Even while lying down, our father would strain himself to get up, saying walking-about was good for health. But he had no strength to stand up. So except when he was seated for a bath or in the chair, he was confined to bed. Even so, he never complained of any suffering.

We all hoped it was a temporary setback. But his Maker clearly had other plans, and on 23 October 2007—one hundred and five years, seven months and six days after he stepped on this planet—he left for his heavenly abode.

The End came at 9.15 in the night when all three of his surviving children—two brothers and a sister, all of us in our 70s—were present at his bed side watching a long and wonderful life that was responsible for all of us, slowly ebb away.

We had a sense that The End was near because he had not spoken for the past ten days, and hardly taken any food or drink. For four days prior to his end, the doctor could not locate his pulse, hear his heartbeat, or measure his blood pressure. Yet, he was breathing rhythmically and evenly.

Even our doctor was amazed. He was emphatic that our father was not suffering. He advised us not try to force-feed him through the tube as it would be risky. He also said under no circumstances he should be admitted to any hospital as it would only be a torture with various gadgets taking over.

We thought it was good advice. The most important thing for us was to be reassured that our father was under no pain. His eyes were mostly closed, but whenever we spoke to him, he would acknowledge it by nodding his head.

On October 21, when my sister told him that we were all at his side, he surprised us by saying, “Anandamaya (supremely happy) ”. When I mentioned this to one of our friends, he said that maybe he was already in an astral world of fifth kosha called Anandamaya kosha.

Until The End, his grip was firm, just like his hold on life. When some of our relatives came to look him up on the morning of October 23 and I asked him to shake hands with them, he squeezed their hands like a normal strong person.

On his last day I was even able to make him drink half-a-cup of coffee and eat a bit of a biscuit. When I asked him to eat something more to gain some strength, he did pranams with both hands and gestured outwardly with both hands, as if indicating that he was going away.

He kept repeatedly doing pranams, as if to someone who was not present in the room.

I gave him photos of Lord Venkateshwara of Tirupati and Mata Amrithananda Mayi which he held in a firm grip and looked at frequently.

Towards The End, we could see his breathing gradually subside, with only a slight bobbing of the Adam’s apple in his neck.

I gave him Ganga jal, which he swallowed, and then his life gently ebbed away. His face was serene, as if he was “not out”.

When he breathed his last, none of us cried for we knew for some days that The End was near. But we never suspected that it would be so close for he had always surprised us with his resilience. Since 1999, when he was operated upon and began using the walker, he had fallen more than a score times and he had been none the worse.

We had seen so many deaths at close quarters, of our friends and relatives, in untimely, tragic and excruciatingly painful circumstances, that we had unconsciously perhaps accepted our father’s end with equanimity. For, in a way we felt he was going to a world which is more beautiful and that one day we too may join him, for we know death comes unannounced.

Our only prayer was/is that at least we may face death as gracefully as our father did when he went away gently, without any suffering and without causing nobody any suffering.

Does not our philosophy teach us that there is no death for the soul and that it is only temporarily housed in the present body? And that when The End comes, it chooses to enter another body to live in another place and thus the business of living goes on eternally till attaining Nirvana?

That does not mean we do not feel our father’s absence. The room he slept in, the sofa seat he occupied, the places he walked, the bathroom where I gave him the bath, his morning greeting to me in chaste Kannada, the food he relished, the music he enjoyed, the reading he savoured with delight, etc, all bring a lump of memories in my throat each day.

But his death is also a loss for Mysore for he was an institution by himself. He represented a culture that enveloped all that was noble and graceful. What’s more, he lived a life which exemplified honesty, integrity, dedication, sacrifice, frugality, courage under fire, love for his country, and love for his mother tongue.

He was a self-made man but was ever ready to come to the help of those in distress. He was soft spoken yet steadfast in his conviction. He was a fearless fighter against inequity in the system.

Our father was a repository of values which are fast disappearing from our society.

But, it must only strengthen me—and us—for he showed by example that after the death of his wife (my mother) he lived for 37 years alone, and amidst us, and enjoyed every moment of his life to the hilt. Till The End, he was never weary of life and never entertained any morbid thought of beseeching his Maker to take him away from his earthly life.

Why, on the morning of October 23, he made sign pointing to his beard—almost as if indicating that he needed a shave for The Great Interview upstairs.

Photographs: A file picture of the Hassan Ranganna family into which Bapu Ramanna was born (top)

Bapu Ramanna photographed by T.S. Satyan in 1999 (below)