Recently, I read an article in the Times of India about the "ghee bolo" practice of raising money for charity within the Jain community. In this case, the money was raised for the last rites of a Jain monk and amounted to no less than ₹7 crore.
For years I was preparing for my own death. I had practice, having done the last rites for both my parents. I was supposed to be next. But my life got a second lease or rather I got a second life. That doesn't mean I've forgotten about death, but it does mean I've made peace with it.
Having said that, travelling as much as I do these days, I know I'm just a collision away from death. For all these years, I was prepared to die in one place. Now, the sky's the limit. It does make me wonder... who exactly would the authorities inform if something did happen? I don't have a next of kin. I don't even have a collective group of friends in one place.
For a monk, they will always know where they will sleep, eat and pray. In my case, many times in my life, I didn't have an answer...
Just about the only place that connects me to the world is social media. Should I just have my login id and password for Facebook, Twitter and Instagram on a piece of paper or on my emergency life-alert bracelet so the authorities could make an announcement about my death?
There was a point in time I had lawyers and a protocol in place in case I died. But that was when I had money. Now even that is no longer an issue, so should I have a last rites fund for myself? Will I have a generous Jain willing to pay for my last rites? I'm not a monk but I do have followers. I've written a book --it speaks quite a bit about spirituality and faith and I discuss my thoughts on Jainism. Does that count?
For the past two years, I've seen and been messaged or contacted in other ways by more than 10,000 patients across the globe. They've asked me to help them on their own personal journeys through cancer and I've been successful at helping some. Most, though, I've "blessed" from afar, unable to meet their expectations of me -- quite similar to what a monk does.
I've spent quite a bit of time with Jain monks. Between their vows of silence and treks from one temple to the next, they are constantly visited by devotees who come with their worldly problems and are looking for solutions or someone to listen. Most of the time, the monks simply recite a few lines from the religious text or give group blessings.
While they lived at the mercy of others serving them, I was living at the mercy of others by serving myself.
I was lucky that in my time with the monks, they did give me their attention. It was interesting to sit with them and see how my journey and theirs had so many parallels. We both had left our societal ties and commercial world in the pursuit of something greater. We had walked barefoot for countless miles, eating our meals between sunrise and sunset.
But there was one drastic difference. While they lived at the mercy of others serving them, I was living at the mercy of others by serving myself. It's a difference perhaps that also kept me away from joining the monastic world because I inherently believe that I need to care for myself.
In truth, this is a much harder life than that of a monk. There's no competition but it's a fact. For a monk, they will always know where they will sleep, eat and pray. In my case, many times in my life, I didn't have an answer for any or all of those three. I've been lucky that I always had people there for me, but they were not followers with an obligation.
Perhaps this may be the reason why my NGO has suffered. I don't charge even a rupee for my time to consult with patients. Since I don't prescribe but rather recommend, I feel money becomes an agent of influence and I want what I suggest to carry the weight of careful thought and consideration. I know I would value advice coming from someone who does not have a vested interest far more than someone that did.
I'd like to use this letter as my request for "ghee bolo"... when I die, please permit the campaigns my NGO has been hoping to run to finally happen...
But as a result of my thought process vis-a-vis funds, the work I've been trying to do has not been possible. Rather than charge something, say ₹500, I say please give what you can. What I end up receiving is nothing but blessings, no matter what the financial status of the patient and their family.
With that said, I'd like to use this letter then as my request for "ghee bolo". I'm not a Jain monk but I pretty much have lived like one. I have done quite a lot for my community and for the Jain religion. I have thousands of followers who don't come to me in a temple but rather support me via social media.
I humbly request that when I die, please permit the campaigns my NGO has been hoping to run to finally happen – raising awareness about natural therapies, ayurveda, food as medicine, empowering patients to be in the driver's seat of their own lives. Donate and pay for my last rites and to make things these possible.
I may not be a Jain monk but I have walked in their shoes. That's not me saying it, that's them telling me! I've had countless monks express this fact to me. Here's hoping I can raise some money like they have for some good causes after I die. It may not reach ₹7 crore but even a fraction of that would mean that my life's work meant something more.