Dear Chief Justice

I hope you are in good health. My name is Madhura Desai and I am an eighty-six-year-old retired schoolteacher. I have a petition that I would like to present to you. Being of sound mind and without any external pressure, I want to avail myself of a fundamental right, one overlooked in the Constitution – the right to die. I am seeking permission for active euthanasia, a hospital-assisted suicide.

I have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and I have recently suffered what, in layman’s terms, is called a ministroke. I am aware that this is not a terminal disease, but the road ahead is clear. Before it progresses to the point where I become a burden, it would be better to end this journey at a time of my choosing.

At my age, she added, and then, recalling that the chief justice was nearly eighty, amended it. At our age, how many years do we have left and what lies ahead aside from illness and suffering? In fact, my advice to you would also be to follow the same path. Not right away, of course, but perhaps when you reach eighty-five. It is a nice cut-off age.

She considered deleting the last paragraph. What if the chief justice was offended by this reminder of his own mortality? Well, she was merely laying down the facts.

If truly life must be preserved at all costs, then we would not have capital punishment or slaughter other living creatures with such detachment. Life has meaning, even among lesser creatures, only when they have utility.

I am writing to you with the hope that you will grant my plea. Please consider this an urgent matter. Time is not on either of our sides.

Warm regards,
Madhura Desai

The dogs of Tilak Road had learnt a new trick. They had started sleeping on top of the parked cars lining the street. A strategy that saved them from turning into roadkill. Under the full moon, as Madhura watched, one clambered onto the roof of a red Maruti. Neck extended, with ears upright, he surveyed the rest of his pack.

Her weak bladder and the recent requirement for a walker had changed her into a restless sleeper. Unaccustomed to the walker’s rolling, shuffling rhythm, she found herself wide awake after her bathroom visits. Or it could just be Parkinson’s giving her yet another gift. Insomnia, she had read, was a common occurrence.

She sat in the dark, sipping her tea, wondering how long she would have to continue this nightly vigil. In the five weeks since she had sent her plea, she had not received as much as an acknowledgement. She had written to a few NGOs, attaching the emails she had sent to various government leaders, but even they had not replied.

Two strays leapt off bonnets and began chasing a passing cyclist with a volley of barks. She watched them race down the lane till they disappeared around the corner. At least she had something to look out at unlike the flat below her’s that faced the compound wall.

It had been raining all July, but that afternoon the taps ran dry. This was a recurring event. Madhura was prepared with a half-filled bucket in the kitchen. She was using her stored water to wash a few slippery tomatoes when the doorbell rang. Tai must have forgotten her key again. And she was late. Madhura wiped her hands, gripped the walker securely and made her way to the door. She would have to talk to Tai about her irregular schedule. Hired as a temporary helper after Madhura’s fall, Tai – without either woman broaching the topic – had continued working for her.

Instead, on her doorstep, brandishing a mike, stood a reporter with a cameraman in tow. After verifying her name, the reporter stated that he had seen her plea posted by someone who worked at the Gita Kidney Foundation. He then turned to the camera and said, “This is Prakash Dwivedi and here is News Now’s exclusive report on the teacher who wants to kill herself! She has sent emails seeking permission from the prime minister’s office, the Supreme Court and, shockingly, has even advised the chief justice of India to commit suicide!”

Madhura tried telling the reporter that she had not permitted anyone to make her plea public. Still, the reporter, in a loud and excitable voice, continued, “This is the state of our grandparents today. This is how Western culture has influenced us! Children abandoning their old parents, leaving them with nothing to look forward to except death.”

He then began quoting parts of her emails, all out of context. Over the last few years, she had observed news anchors adopting a dramatised, almost parodic method of presentation, but this was ridiculous.

“Madhura ji, why have you written all these emails? Is it to get attention? Or do you really believe that the elderly don’t have a place in society?’ the reporter asked.

This boy was either dense or, more likely, deliberately misconstruing her words. “Of course, senior citizens have an important place in society, but just the way we have the right to live, should we not have the right to die? And, tell me, if I don’t write to our government heads, then what should I do? Should I put out a Facebook post requesting kind strangers to come and kill me?”

Excerpted with permission from “Nearly Departed” in Welcome to Paradise, Twinkle Khanna, Juggernaut.