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     Volume 5 Issue 84 | March 3, 2006 |

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Who First?
The Ambivalent Choice

SD Khan

As we approach the twilight of our lives we come to face certain soul-searing questions the answers to which are not only agonizingly difficult but whose choice is also ambivalent. One such question is, of the husband and wife, which of the pair are to be survived by which as death one day do them part. The answer is as difficult as the question is critical. Envisaging the unbearable life that normally awaits a widow or a widower, it might at times prompt the husband or the wife to desire to escape from this world first. But mutual love and affection forces them to reconsider this urge. By the common demographic rule, the older husband is more likely to say goodbye to the world sooner. Yet, given the choice, what would the husband and the wife themselves ask of the Providence to grant them?

An uxorious husband would certainly not like to see his wife drag on with old age illnesses and die before his very eyes. He will perhaps even shudder at the very thought of burying her with his own hands. A husband may entertain such thoughts and wishes because in the back of his mind he knows that by virtue of his higher age he will die earlier than his wife and so won't have to go through those harrowing experiences. But then again he comes to realise that leaving his beloved wife behind at the mercy of others by his earlier exit from the world would be like 'cheating' on her. So, many husbands instead elect to see themselves as pallbearers of their wives.

Wives, by contrast, have different evaluations about the time of their death vis-à-vis that of their husbands. By nature being very caring, loving and self-sacrificing, they dedicate their lives entirely to the service and well-being of their husbands. Wives would, therefore, never like to leave this world ahead of their husbands in order to serve them to the very end. Contrary to their husbands, their younger age now affords them the possibility to fulfil this desire. In the bargain, they get the reward of a dreary widowhood that might even run into decades. Flinching away from such unsavoury possibility, some wives on the other hand, would welcome death within matrimonial life and an honourable burial by the husband.

It thus appears from the foregoing that we are confronted with a perplexing question of life that has two alternative answers having arguments pro and con to both at the same time. An ambivalence! The choice of the hour of our death is never our prerogative. Nature, by its scheme of things, seems to be somewhat 'partisan' to the husband as she eases him out of this world earlier than the wife within the period of married life. Male widowhood is much rare. But when there is any, the widower suffers a lot more than a widow because a man is much less adapted psychologically to face new situations. So, with the death of his wife a husband finds himself in hot waters. He is completely at a loss to look after him. He will miss his wife at every step of his daily life - right from taking a glass of water to eating a 'cold meal' served by 'Bua'. His taste buds will no longer recognise his wife's recipe in the bland morsel that he will be putting in into his mouth. He will neither enjoy watching the TV alone in his bedroom nor enjoy attending an invitation outside alone. Old memories which, remained dormant so long, will peek every now and then in his mind, sometimes with pleasure and sometimes with pain. The severest distress will descend upon him when he will fall ill and hanker after wife's motherly nursing. If the man is lucky enough to have his sons or daughters in the country he may expect to see some ray of hope. If no, then the lesser said is better. Such is the fate of our widower!

The plight of the widowed wife is no better either. She may not suffer from problems of food and its quality, but how she is going to procure the ingredients for it? Who will help her in doing shopping? Going to doctor? Her problems are more acute with the outside world than inside home. She gets the pinch right from the task of settling the bills of utilities services, getting out money from banks etc. Filing annual income tax returns, paying other urban services tax etc are her biggest headache. Maintaining the house, the car and controlling the driver and all servants pose a big hassle for her. Help from sons or daughters could be aspired provided they were available in the country. Loneliness and past memories will also haunt her the same way as they do the husband.

The problems of husband and wife when their spouses die turn out to be similar. Whoever passes away first the problems the survivor faces are the same. Yet, should there be a preferred order in the departure of these two persons from this world? Custom seems to have provided the husband with a protective shield (by his higher age and consequent earlier death) against widowhood (with few unlucky exceptions). Despite this known prospect of life a loving husband always yearns to live to see the day he can give the last rites to his beloved wife. But the wives who all normally expect themselves to end up in widowhood can but cherish the desire for a 'regal' burial by their husbands. If at all one or two lucky wives ever hit this target, she earns for herself the honourable title of a 'virtuous' lady. A person who must have had a lot of "nekees" or pious deeds to her credit.

In this fatal game of life and death the yearnings and wishes of husband and wife appear to be ambivalent. They sound more like "eating the cake and having in too". But it is God who ultimately decides who will precede who in death. Our wishes and choices do not matter. The husband and the wife have got their own kind of sufferings and hardships of their widowhood. Their children to some extent can only mitigate these. The biggest loss in life that a husband or a wife suffers by the death of the spouse is never to be compensated by anything or in any way. However, the constant company of the children and grand children can ameliorate their condition and make their lives less painful and more meaningful. But here is another area where things are pretty uncertain these days. In most families, the direct descendants of old parents are not available in the country. They have migrated to foreign countries for good and only maintain a slim link with their aged and sick parents by annual visits. The parents - our old husband and wife, are virtually left to their fates.

In a cruel scenario such as this, whoever of the two passes away earlier gets away with lesser torments than the survivor who drags on life to a miserable end! The earlier the luckier (?).

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