Life and Death and Decay

To dwell on death and decay need not be a morbid fascination for us mortals. It should be part of our daily routine of contemplation, conscious or otherwise. As Shakespeare famously said – “From hour to hour we ripe and ripe; and then from hour to hour we rot and rot….. and thereby hangs a tale.”

After a month of blissful existence high on a glacier where with every breath and every step I had appreciated the gift of life, I was hiking back down to the village of Chango. It was the month of August 1998 and the mountain summer was at its zenith, grass and flowers had sprouted along the stony banks of the Chango torrent, the air was balmy, the sun felt warm on my back. Ravi Wadaskar had gone on ahead while I ambled along the trail in a leisurely fashion, stopping often to marvel at the view, to appreciate the oxygen rich air of lower altitudes and to photograph whatever caught my fancy.

It was in this very receptive frame of mind and spirit that I noticed the carcass of a yak. Large leaves had found their way through its abdomen seeking the warmth of the sun. The plant had found nourishment as the flesh of the dead beast dissolved and became one with the soil. Bleached bones of its rib cage had poked their way through the ragged remains of its hide.

I walked around the remains, trying to get a good angle for a photograph. Then I sat down to let the moment sink in. In a way it was totally reassuring to be reminded of the impermanence of my life, my body. There is a basic principle of Physics which we are all taught in school : that matter is neither created nor destroyed. In metaphysical terms, the universe is constantly reinventing and rearranging itself and all life – animal, plant and human – are components of this cosmic game.

In today’s jargon I suppose I should label that experience an epiphany.

Thus comforted, I continued on down the trail to the village.

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