Life and death are governed by factors and rules about which not enough is known with a multitude of mysteries surrounding death in particular. Take the cases of Lakhru and Leela Devi and many other similar intriguing instances which a surprisingly large number of people have requested me to recount time and again. Lakhru and Leela Devi lived miles apart. One was young and healthy, the other was old and ill. One was from a poor rural family, the other belonged to an affluent urban family. Yet both Lakhru and Leela Devi had one important thing in common. They both came face to face with death.

But here the similarity ended, because one survived the experience and lived to talk about it, while the other gave useful insights into death and dying but could not survive. It was Lakhru who died and lived again and is still a bit of a legend in his village near Rae Bareli in Uttar Pradesh. Lakhru was  a good tailor and a good human being as well. Which is one of the reasons why it came as a great shock to everybody to hear that thirty four year Lakhru had died suddenly.

Nobody could understand why he had died—he had been perfectly hale and hearty. The next day, Lakhru’s body was bathed and anointed  with sandal wood paste and ghee-clarified butter—and covered in a white shroud, ready for the final journey . But they still had to wait and it was early afternoon by the time the last “important” relative, his sister and her family, arrived. Distraught, they wanted one last glimpse of their beloved Lakhru and the soft white cloth covering his face was removed. There was pin drop silence, not so much out of respect for the dead, but because Lakhru’s eyes, which had been closed earlier were now wide open. Lakhru’s eyeballs moved, plunging everybody into a panic situation.

Somebody was rushed to fetch both the vaid-practitioner of Ayurvedic medicine—and the doctor from the Primary Health Centre who had declared Lakhru dead. But before the two “experts” could arrive, Lakhru had set all doubts at rest. “I was working”, recounted Lakhru, “ and when I looked up there were two thin persons standing before me. They were dressed in black and had a strange appearance.  When I asked them what they wanted, they didn’t reply but just lifted me and carried me up and away. I could see myself hunched over my sewing machine and then I could see the entire village lying below me and after that I knew nothing.

Though these  instances don’t always provide answers, they do offer insights and make it clear that even if we die “by mistake” and return to life, each of us has a fixed time span. 

“When I opened my eyes I found myself in a place so beautiful I don’t have words to describe it. I was engulfed by a great feeling of peace and happiness. But that was only for a brief while because then I heard loud wails and crying and my wife and children and others calling out for me in heartrending tones. The two figures dressed in black were still by my side and I realised that I had died but we were waiting for somebody or something. Once again the wailing and the crying became so very loud and the next thing I knew I was amidst you all again, but I wish I had stayed in that beautiful place….”

Had Lakhru got a taste of a glimpse of heaven, of paradise, or was it just a hallucination ? There were other questions too. Can somebody who remained dead for almost twenty hours and presumably in a state of “rigor mortis”, come to life again? Could it have been a stupor or coma and he was not really dead? But then how come not one but two qualified persons declared him dead?  For Lakhru, there were no doubts or questions. He saw what he saw and he experienced what he experienced. His whole view of life and death changed and death and suffering disturbed him no longer : he knew there is life after death.                 

Leela Devi’s case was very different.  Though she was in her early seventies, she was still very active. But she was struck by a severe  viral fever. Priests at the temple she had frquented advised the recitation of the powerful Maha Mrityunjaya mantra and her son lost no time in contacting the specialists recommended. But at the end of the second day of the mantra recitation, she called her son and daughter-in-law and told them not to raise their hopes. “Two men dressed in black, presumably the messengers of Yama, the god of death, have already come and are standing near that wall even now. They have told me, ‘Leela Devi, your time on earth is already up, but we cannot take you away as long as the Maha  Mrityunjaya mantra is being chanted. The moment the recitation is over, you will have to leave with us…’ ” And that is precisely what happened. Lakhru and Leela Devi both came face to face with death, with different results. How can one explain the fact that one returned to life after dying but the other could not be saved from dying and it was at best a brief postponement?

Though Lakhru-Leela Devi kind of instances don’t always provide answers, they do offer insights and make it clear that even if we die “by mistake” and return to life, each of us has a fixed time span on earth which cannot usually be altered. I was fortunate to meet the highly evolved custodian of Dargah Matka Pir in New Delhi, Sufi Pir Mohammad Naseem Sultani Haidar Kalandari, popularly known as Naseem Bhai, shortly before he died.  “We are all musafirs (travellers) passing through earth,” he told me even as he stoically grappled with the after effects of chemotherapy.

“Life and death, both have a purpose behind them, and so has the timing and the manner  of going. It is pointless to defy death but the important thing is to realise when your time has come…” But does it help to know the time of death in advance? Doesn’t it needlessly stress one out?  An average person cannot live forever, but within the general human life span of a hundred years, can you choose—“naturally”, not suicide. starvation etc.—the time of death?, I asked him, pointing out that these days it is sort of possible to choose the time of birth through Ceasarians.  Read about the fascinating prospect of choosing or knowing your time of death sometime in the future.

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