A chance meeting with a neuro-psychiatrist in a bistro changed your columnist’s perspective on health and disease forever. Up until then, he had looked upon disease only as a bane. But what if it had also been a boon? That possibility was presented in Sharon Moalem’s Survival of the Sickest, a copy of which was gifted to your scribe by the shrink as he was leaving the restaurant.
The jacket printed in a sickly green showed an apple with a worm popping out. The blurb said “A medical maverick discovers why we need disease”. Ghost-written by President Clinton’s star speechwriter, the tome turned out to be a page-turner and a myth-buster: Dr Moalem revealed how many of the conditions that are diseases today actually gave our ancestors a leg up in the survival sweepstakes.
“When the option is a long life with a disease or a short one without it, evolution opts for disease almost every time,” he wrote while turning our current understanding of illness of its head. What about quality of life? Siva poses this question to Sage Markandeya’s infertile parents: what separates virtue and vice is the rider that the virtuous son would live for 16 years, while the flawed offspring wouldn’t be dead even after hundred years.
Their choice of virtue seems like a no-brainer in retrospect: Markandeya’s devotion to Siva proves to be so exemplary that when the time came for the boy to kick the bucket, Siva kicks Death instead!Only when Death withdrew completely did humanity come to cherish the value of honourable exits over that of mere entries in the drama called life.
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