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Journalism of Courage

Where people forget to die

In the blue zones, a life without regrets and endless gratitude

sunday eyeIn the blue zones of the world, people eke out the most of every day, packing in as much as their spirit wants, without guilt or shame, fearlessly, greedily, hungrily, and with wanton desire to live the best they can today (Source: Suvir Saran)

It is time that passes and yet it is we who behave like spent fuel. It is life that drives the engine of our lives and yet it is we who seem to think we are in control and in the driver’s seat. Seasons come and go, yet we think that we can live perennially, in one state. All but time is transient, and the sooner we accept that reality, the sooner we shall be at peace with ourselves, be able to live one with life, and be one with time.

I have just returned from the US, where I was in Napa Valley at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA), speaking and teaching at “Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives (HKHL)”, a joint conference hosted by the CIA and the Harvard School of Public Health. HKHL is a Continuing Medical Education (CME) course that has become very popular with physicians, surgeons, nutritionists, those involved even remotely with medicine, and those who simply want to help prevent disease rather than treat it, and about cure and palliative care.

At Napa, I realised that I have been teaching at this conference for all of the 18 years that it has been organised. This realisation left me thinking. I found myself proud as well as numb, lost to those questions that had been hounding me all these years, and in awe of and supplicant to answers that we had known for the last two decades or more. Facts and formulas, truths and findings, statistics and data — all of which heartily corroborated the messaging of the conference, the teachings we shared, the conversations we supported, and the recipes we provided both for mealtimes and for snacking.

You are what you eat, and similarly, you are what you think, and you are totally what you want to believe. Such is the power our minds have, on who we are, what we do, how we behave, what choices we make, how we conduct ourselves, what mood we choose to be in and be consumed by, and how we allow others to see us, accept us, define us, and celebrate or shun us.

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Food and diet, exercise and mindfulness, choices we make and how we allow those choices to define us, and discipline and habits — these are at play when we think of ourselves and our health, as a construct. It informs our thought processes and is responsible for the way we eat, exercise, meditate and reflect, or whether we live through our lives mindlessly, without purpose, ill-informed and thoughtless.

The blue zones of the world are where people forget to die, where life expectancy is higher by a lot compared to other parts of the planet. These places are not locations for prosperity benchmarks, which the supposedly developed and civilised part of the world might consider markers of development, having aspirational heft. These are locales where people are living and loving, thinking and sharing, being and breathing, accepting and caring, observing and watching, protecting and persevering — all most collegially, and with a mindset that cares for the collective and not just for the self.

These are islands and communities, people and groups, where satsangati (good fellowship) is at play. Where the like minded influence one another to live lives that are mindful in their entirety. These are societies where the success of one is influenced by the successes of another, and theirs by another further still, but all from within their collective as a whole. The successes these groups, islands and communities of people see are a measure of the influence each member within their fold has over the entire group. They police one another for good and bad outcomes, they share in one another’s joys and sorrows, they celebrate as one, they mourn together. What they lose in privacy is made up with the gains they have because of that loss.


Time is nothing they take for granted, yet it is also not a marker for measuring their joys and successes. Time is left in the background; it is life and living that these people invest in. They value the here and now, they embrace the connection that two people share, and then two more beyond those can make and work with, a connection that in its togetherness, is an unbeatable and unshakable union. In its complex makeup, in the power it wields as a collective, it becomes stronger than strong and more resilient than any nuclear make-up of a family unit. Together, they place time in its logical place and go by living life more wholly and holistically.

Life as these people live is a study in adventure and blessedness. Having taken away the preciousness attached to time from their living equation, these people and communities, islands and societies put an unmatched emphasis on living. A celebration of the human spirit, of human connections, of human camaraderie, of human emotions and humanity. They eke out the most of every day, packing in as much as their spirit wants, unabashedly so, without guilt or shame, fearlessly, greedily, hungrily, and with wanton desire to live the best they can today, since that is what they have in their grasp, in the here and now. Theirs are lives with no regrets, with much celebration and endless gratitude.

Arriving back in Delhi and rushing straight off to the Jaipur Literature Festival in Jaipur, I realised how important it is to live and love, to soak in goodness, and to live in celebration and gratitude. The key to a happy life, to a healthy life, to a life that is fulfilled, always lies in our own hands. Sadly, we have allowed that key to get rusty, we have locked the doors and windows of our hearts and thereby lost all sense of earnest and honest feeling, and then we wonder: Why are we living shorter, unhealthier and unhappier lives?

First published on: 20-03-2022 at 06:10 IST
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