Tuesday, 23 September 2014

How (Not) To Write An Obituary..

“I wake up every morning at 9, and grab the morning paper. Then I look at the Obituary page. If my name is not on it, I get up!” said the great Benjamin Franklin (he of the hundred dollar bill).

Having finally reached the age when you are more prone to get written about, rather than write on the Obit page, I too give it a good dekko. So far, I haven’t found my name on it. So I’ve dragged myself out of bed every morning!

Sadly, none of us will be around to read our own obits. Am quite sure the Times of India has no circulation in Heaven - or, as in my case, Hell! Didn’t someone describe Hell as the place where they gave you the Times crossword, but didn’t give you a pencil!

But even if we could, none of us would believe a word that was written!

Obituaries, by their very nature, are maudlin. Mawkishly over sentimental, they have a tendency to gloss over anything that doesn’t immediately tug at your heart strings.

Naturally. When one is misty eyed, has a lump in the throat, one tends to remember only the good. Hell, one doesn’t speak ill of the dead anyway.

I first `met’ Samina through a most stirring piece she had written on her husband immediately after his shahadat. I remember mentioning to her that I wouldn’t mind dying tomorrow if I was sure someone would write me such a beautiful obituary!

We became good friends thereafter. Soon, her parents passed away in quick succession, and she wrote the most poignant pieces for each of them. “I’m becoming somewhat of an expert in obituaries”, she remarked wryly “but really, enough is enough!”

Another friend, Vivek Vyavaharkar, lost his brother Ashok at the (relatively) young age of 63. Ashok’s son Rohan, a trained journalist (some of you may remember him as the dapper reporter at NDTV) penned his tribute to his father on Facebook.

It was a touching piece, and moistened quite a few eyes. What I remember most about it were the closing lines - `I wish I had told him I loved him. But I guess he knew that already!’


I have two basic grouses with them. Firstly, they are like the speeches you hear at your farewell parties or `dining outs’. What a great guy you were, and how your contribution to the world or your unit will never be forgotten.

Reminds me of the story about the drunken lout who died. Now he had never done an honest day’s work in his life, had totally neglected his wife and children, and his passing was actually a case of `Good Riddance’.

Yet at his funeral, the priest was full of the most glowing tributes. “This man that lies before us,” he eulogized, “was a totally devoted husband and a truly caring father!” So much so, that the widow soon nudged her little son “John, go and check if it’s really your father in that coffin!”

My second, and more serious problem, is that the guys for whom these obits are written are never around to read them. `I wish I had told him this or that’ means nothing at all. Dammit, you should have told them when they were alive. To their faces. Repeatedly.

Once you’re gone, you’re gone. Poof! All the world’s a stage, says Jacques in his famous speech in Shakespeare’s `As You Like It’, and describes the last stage as..

Last scene of all,

That ends this strange eventful history,

Is second childishness and mere oblivion,

Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

So here’s my dictum to my children. Don’t wait.

Don’t wait till I’m a garlanded photograph on the wall to tell me what a terrific person I was. Tell me now, while I still have cockles in my heart that can yet be warmed.

If you have issues with the way I do/did this or that, tell me now, while I can still do something about it. If you’re convinced I messed up, tell me now, while contrition is still an option.

Me, I wear my heart on my sleeve. I constantly tell people I love that I love them. I hug people. Repeatedly. Not for me the `I wish I had told him’, I do tell him. Now, when it still counts.

So the best way to write an obituary is to never have to write it. Leave nothing for the beyond. Do it now, and mean it. Leave nothing unspoken, nothing unsaid.

Before it’s too late! 


  1. Harish, only you can make obituaries and death sound funny.
    Your advice taken! Shall tell everyone who counts how much I love them.
    Wish my children could read this too! Very well written as usual!

  2. thats a good one. so let me say this before its too late. harish, you have always been witty and a friend, our little misunderstanding on Facebook notwithstanding. well, sometimes, witty comments can hurt where they should not but what the heck, that should not come between friends. there, now that i said it, feel so much better already!