Pass the Parcel



The graveyard of 6 million at Najaf, south of Baghdad.

Professional journalists usually have to fill column inches to order,
which accounts for their flights of fancy or in many cases outright
lies. Bloggers, unless they are driven lunatics, tend to post stuff as
and when they feel inspired. Which is why reading blogs is often more
informative than most news sources, printed or electronic.

In the summer months I tend to put my feet up and take a blog holiday
as to tell the truth I think I stop thinking in the heat or I’m
otherwise occupied watering plants or just trying to stay cool. But I
can see the need soon for a special obituary page on my blog as
increasing numbers of my friends are entering the ante chamber of life
or should that be death. There has been a rush to old age for some
time with my generation and naturally it’s regularly a topic
of conversation. Where are you going to be buried? And so on…..and
why not? Nothing morbid about it. Just forward planning.

I’ve blogged two obituaries in the last six years of people close to
me which is not exactly a lot. But my late brother Kaye, himself a
journalist, wrote quite a few obituaries over the years for the
Guardian and other newspapers – mostly obituaries of other
journalists, writers or political figures who were connected to
Africa, his area of interest. Until of course he passed away himself
two years ago and some other journalist had to write his obit for the
Guardian. Like a macabre game of pass the parcel except the idea is to
keep the parcel as long as you can.

In fact when Kaye died I was in California so I missed his actual
funeral but was able to go to a memorial for him in Chatham House in
London a few months later. I say event because if you put a lot of
journalists and their coterie of politicians, diplomats and
businessmen together, especially if half are Africans or
Afro-Caribbean, it’s more of a party than a serious memorial for the
one who has passed on.

Mind you it was quite serious in places and at one point a giant
Nigerian who arrived halfway through the proceedings burst into tears
as he mentioned Kaye’s name. But the recollections were generally humorous with a well known Jamaican writer recalling the time when he met up with Kaye, newly
married back in 1963. Asked where she was, Kaye said that Marva, his
new wife, was tied up at home and was unable to come. Our Jamaican
writer pointed out wryly that where he comes from people had a kind of
literal understanding of the language and that tied up meant … tied
up! Much mirth.

In the room full of over 100 people I felt a warmth and mutual respect
amongst them but not in a politically correct fashionable multiracial
kind of way but quite real. I was moved. When I was introduced as
Kaye’s youngest brother to the large Nigerian journalist who had wept
on the podium, he clasped me in a giant bear hug.  But of course
waiting upstairs were the drinks and once the dedications were over
there was a stampede. I’m afraid alcohol is the lubricant of most
journalists’ lives, my brother included.

I recall visiting him once in his office, the HQ, of West Africa ,
somewhere in south London. West Africa was a political weekly he
edited for 20 years, mostly about Nigeria and its three storey
headquarters was inhabited entirely by Nigerians. But at the very top
in the Managing Editor’s office was the very white Mr Whiteman. A
symbolic and defining image of my brother’s life.

My own generation is ten years behind that of my brother so there is
less shuffling going on to get off this mortal coil but the shuffling
has definitely started and passing the obituary parcel has begun. I’ve
written two obits in total in 6 years which seems to indicate that
most of my friends are still alive and kicking. Who will do the next
obituary? Who will do mine? Do we actually need obituaries?

We bury these realities as we bury the dead or incinerate them as is
the fashion even here in Spain these days. It’s the not talked about
taboo subject in modern cultures or else it’s the headline item that
is guaranteed to sell newspapers or pull in tv advertising. More
deaths = more advertising. As the Australian arch lizard of the news
business correctly observed: news is entertainment, and horror and
death sells and always has. The tv channels are filled with whodunnits
always featuring the gruesome ritual pulling back of the green shroud
in the mortuary for us to see how well an actor can act being dead.

This culture is probably the only civilization in history with zero
knowledge of what happens next. It’s all about somehow extending life
at all costs by miraculous medical techniques putting huge profits
into the transplant industry and leaving simple cheap life preserving
measures un-financed. Also the arms manufacturers guarantee that for
some, extending life is not their plan but the serious curtailing of
it – for a lot of people.

As Abe Lincoln said “it’s not the years in your life that matters but
the life in your years.” Quality not quantity. Isn’t that a better
attitude? Or as Al Ghazali said 700 years ago “only the deceived fool
rejoices as his wealth increases as each day his life shortens.”

Best to look death in the face and smile … it will descend.

About Ian Whiteman

This entry was posted in Comment, miscellaneous, Poetry, Publishing, religion, sacred knowledge, tassawuf, typography / design, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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