Message to members of JGU Community: Mourning losses, while building resilience for future
A few weeks ago, my 13-year-old daughter was tested positive for COVID-19. At the same time, our Registrar and the wife of one of the Deans of JGU also tested positive. We have all been living on campus, and most of us genuinely believed that we would have reduced the risk and vulnerability with little exposure to the outside world. My wife and I have been distraught for the last several weeks and there were some anxious moments. Thankfully, my daughter is now fine, and so are the other two, and they have recovered well. Unfortunately, many more friends, family members, relatives, colleagues, students, and their family members have been tested positive in recent times and are battling this deadly disease.
Sadly, this was not the case with the three other members of the JGU community whose tragic death we are mourning – Professor Nehginpao Kipgen, Mr. Soumya Mukhopadhyay and Mr. Siddharth Watve. The last several days have been deeply distressing for all of us at JGU. We lost an accomplished and outstanding faculty member, a sincere and wonderful human being among our administrative staff and a young, thoughtful and humane student.
We can’t fathom the loss of these three individuals, who are members of the JGU community. No words can serve as solace for the loss of a dear one. It is cruel destiny that has snatched away from us these young lives. Many have written eulogies for those we have lost. The words of a classmate and friend of Siddharth particularly inspired me:
“Siddharth was a fighter, and he fought with the virus for over a month now. He is an amazing person. He was ambitious that he wanted to create a change in society. He always indulged in very constructive, brainstorming conversations with our classmates. I learned a lot from him. Our classmates had talked to him closely, and we had discussed so much. Losing him is unimaginable. We will cherish and find comfort in his fond memories forever and pray for good health for his family. He will be forever with us in spirits, and his mind-blowing and pathbreaking ideas and comments in class will always remind us of how fortunate we have been to know an incredible person like Siddharth.”
Death is indeed ruthless, and we can never easily come to terms with it. No words can help us overcome the loss. And we are in this ongoing ordeal together. Every obituary written about a life that is lost is saddening.
I have wondered as to what can I possibly say to the JGU community members when humanity faces the pandemic and we are mourning the loss of loved ones. What can I possibly say, especially to the younger people who are probably experiencing the death of a friend or a loved one for the first time in their life? What can I possibly say that could help us come to terms with the reality that we face and help us heal?
The lives we have lost have given many of us memories to share and celebrate. We should indeed do that. That is why I appreciated the message from the classmate of Siddharth, who shared a beautiful set of memories of friendship.
When I Think of Death by Maya Angelou
“When I think of death, and of late the idea has come with alarming frequency, I seem at peace with the idea that a day will dawn when I no longer be among those living in this valley of strange humors.
I can accept the idea of my own demise, but I am unable to accept the death of anyone else.
I find it impossible to let a friend or relative go into that country to no return.
Disbelief becomes my close companion, and anger follows in its wake.
I answer the heroic question ‘Death, where is thy sting?’ with ‘It is here in my heart and mind and memories.’”
Since March 2020, last year, 2020, was one of uncertainty, unpredictability, frustration and helplessness for all of us. 2021, has only brought us more tragedy, loss, sadness and fear.
However, the young members of the JGU community, especially our students, must not lose hope. Therefore, I have five short messages for each member of the JGU community.
First, let’s not hesitate to shed tears and mourn the loss of a loved one. Doing this is perfectly acceptable. It is indeed desirable to express our emotions in whatever manner we feel like doing. It is natural. We must not attempt to stop it. It is a sign of our inner strength and not that of a weakness of any kind when we express sorrow and shed tears. As Henry David Thoreau observed, “Make the most of your regrets; never smother your sorrow, but tend and cherish it ’til it comes to have a separate and integral interest. To regret deeply is to live afresh.”
Second, we should celebrate the life of the loved ones that we have lost. Doing this is vital because in cherishing the memories of a loved one that we have lost, we celebrate their lives and heal ourselves in that process. As George Eliot said, “She was no longer wrestling with the grief, but could sit down with it as a lasting companion and make it a sharer in her thoughts.”
Third, we need to be more grateful and appreciate how important it is for us to treasure our family, friends, relatives, teachers, mentors, and indeed our lives. Rarely do we recognise how privileged and fortunate we are, even at this time when we are vastly better situated than many others in the world around us. Let us remember the privileges that we have, and constantly work towards making the life of others better. It could be through small acts of kindness and generosity, but it is good to cultivate it as a habit, particularly during these difficult times. George Bernard Shaw said, “I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.”
Fourth, please try to find purpose and meaning in life. There will be many moments of grief and sorrow, just as there will be many moments of happiness and joy in our lives. We must develop a sense of equanimity. I cannot do better than share with you the poignant words of the great Russian novelist and philosopher, Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky, who said, “The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for”.
Fifth, let’s work towards pursuing our mission. We need to become stronger as we prepare for this year when we will have more trials and tribulations to face. All of us have come to JGU with goals, dreams and aspirations. While those are not the only reasons for us to remain hopeful about the future, they should help us, guide us, enable us, empower us, and engage us with the future. We need to seek purpose and meaning in our lives that will ultimately help us pursue our mission. We are indeed in the middle of this unfolding tragedy caused by the pandemic, and we need to accept this sad reality. Let us recall the words of Thomas Jefferson, “The most fortunate of us all in our journey through life frequently meet with calamities and misfortunes which greatly afflict us. To fortify our minds against the attacks of these calamities and misfortunes should be one of the principal studies and endeavors of our lives.”
While these difficult times often come as a test of resolve pushing the limits of human endurance and resilience, we must remind ourselves to be grateful for the privilege that life offers to many of us who are fortunate enough to be able to pursue our dreams amidst all the chaos and suffering. While remaining safe, I urge all of you to remain steadfast to your commitment to not only gathering knowledge, but also translating it to wisdom that will profoundly impact not just your life, but all else.
Amidst all the uncertainty that comes with life and the challenges that often embark upon our lives, our commitment to stay true to a greater cause while holding on to its meaning will often help to nudge you through troubled waters as I wish to remind all of you, “This too shall pass”. It is an incredible human trait to look for opportunity at the height of human adversity and it is with this hope that I wish to remind all of you that better times will come; and we will stand in unison while ensuring each of your dreams and aspirations are fulfilled.
Let me take this moment to share with you some reflections of my younger brother, Dr. Ravikumar Chockalingam, who is a Psychiatrist, and a Public Health expert in the USA.
How to be Mindful
“The certainty of death renders no comfort to the fear that it invokes on the living. Marcus Aurelius calls life a catalog of uncertainties, crowned by the sole certainty of death. His Lebanese counterpart Etel Adnan attunes the tremulousness of our future once we realize the ephemerality of life. Stoic philosophy alludes death to be a quintessential return of particles and atoms to the universe. Yet, our understanding of existence or realization of the world is muddled as we remain sundered by a world of the past and one of future.
We long for permanence in a world that is contrived to change. In death, all that seducing with pleasure or frightening with pain comes to a humble foreclosure. Our biases and prejudices make way for silent emptiness as we repay our debt to the universe by returning those borrowed atoms back to Stardust. The longest-lived and those leaving much sooner all lose the same thing, the perpetual present, also what the dying lose every single time. As far as all else, you cannot lose what you don’t have and that includes your past as well.
If death were to be an arbitrator of life, it would inspire mindful living to shield the power within each of us, to inspire our interests that sprout from an absence of pretence. It would forge a rhetoric that is less influenced by those around us and incite actions that make for a meaningful present, not just for us.”
India’s civilisational wisdom can be a source of solace in times like this.
जातस्य हि ध्रुवो मृत्युर्ध्रु
“All beings are unmanifest, or invisible to our physical eyes, before birth and after death. They manifest between birth and death only. So what is there to grieve about?”
Please take care of yourself. Please remain safe and healthy. I hope to see you on campus when things are better. In the meantime, we will stay in close contact. I want to assure you that we are standing in unison with you and will leave no stone unturned to help each of you overcome this tragedy and help you fulfill your dreams and aspirations. We will also help you allay your fears and concerns and address your difficulties in every possible manner. All faculty members and administrative staff, including the Deans of JGU Schools, are in solidarity with you to address your concerns. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us in these difficult times.
“While there’s life, there is hope.”
— Marcus Tullius Cicero
Take Care & Best wishes