Immortality

I was reading “The Selfish Gene” written by Richard Dawkins, recently. Chapter 11 from the book caught my fancy. He presents an idea about memes. For those unfamiliar with the term, a meme (pronounced to rhyme with ‘dream’) is “a cultural unit (an idea or value or pattern of behavior) that is passed from one person to another by non-genetic means (as by imitation)”. To put it simply, a meme is the cultural counterpart of a gene. An idea, a phrase, a figure of speech. It gets even better. A joke, a song, a poem, a painting.

I just realized that even though a person lives, ages, and eventually dies, our memories about her keeps her alive. (It is true for men as well!) My grandfather passed away in 1986. I was five years old and I can count the total number of times I have met him. While some of my luckier counterparts have spent years with their grandparents, I had the chance to meet my father’s father just 2-3 times. His passing did not evoke any emotion in me. I remember my upset father lying on the bed in deep thought. (Maybe he was sad that he was 3000 kms away from where his father was.) Last evening when I spoke to my father, we cracked an inside joke and laughed. When I hung up the phone, I realized that the joke was a generation older. It was something that my grandfather has passed on to my father, who now passed it on to my siblings and me. To me, my grandfather immortalized himself with that joke.

Immortality has always enticed us. All historical accounts tell us of ambitious alchemists, scientists, and explorers who went in search of the “Elixir of Life” and other items in the similar vein. And all that was required was to sing a new song or cook a new dish. So, go ahead, create a meme and become your own god. Be immortal.

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