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Back In The Future
Once Kumar Krishnamsetty breathes his last, whenever that happens, his family won’t have to fret about sombre funeral rites. For there will be no cremation, nor even an interment. Instead, what Krishnamsetty’s will will insist is an immediate and efficacious despatch of his body to a vault in Arizona in the US. That’s why, instead of a pandit, they will probably be speed-dialling an airline executive. It’s in Scottsdale that he has chosen to rest in peace. Actually freeze in peace, in liquid nitrogen at minus 120 degree Celsius. Not forever, though, only until the day science has progressed enough to bring him back from the dead.
To live forever is a common enough wish but this Hyderabad-based filmmaker has gone further, wagered his hard-earned money—around a lakh a year—on an idea that most would call fanciful. This makes him possibly the only Indian to have signed up for an ambitious cryogenics programme with the US-based Alcor Life Extension Foundation. (There are other firms in the US too that sell the same dream but none in India.) Critics will deride it as nothing but a graveyard with super-chilled vats that double as coffins but its proponents think of it as anything but that. For them, it’s a halfway house where the dead, preserved in as pristine a form as possible, are spoken of as “live-in customers” or “patients” and where they lie in wait to be revived if they ever get lucky.
A grand con, did you say? That’s clearly not how Krishnamsetty sees it. “It’s actually mostly a research institute where they are doing major work in neuroscience, neurobiology and on stem cells,” he says on the phone from Hyderabad. All these are technologies that Alcor, founded in 1972, hopes one day will bust malignant tumours or repair damaged organs in 117 frozen “patients”, some of them just heads with their brains intact, that they have stacked up in their vault. Another 982, including Krishnamsetty who has chosen to have his entire body cryopreserved, are in a ghostly queue, hopeful that bizarre science fiction will one day finally become mundane reality.
Even if that were possible, there’d be many among us who would consider 70 to be a ripe enough age to head for our final resting places. But not Krishnamsetty. For him, 200 sounds like a better number. Or why not even 500? “A lot of people ask me if I won’t be bored living that long. I don’t see any possibility of that. I love life too much, there is so much beauty and so much to embrace in this world that I do not want to see an end,” he adds. “Beauty lies in everything, doing yoga peacefully, watching the unending sea, holding the hand of someone you love....”
This shot at an afterlife is an expensive proposition—a full body cryopreservation costs upwards of Rs 1.2 crore.
As someone who’s always been interested in “life-extension”, he’s been working at living as healthily as he can in this life. Which involves eating organic food whenever possible, daily workouts combined with yoga and a dose of fish oil pills. But when the inevitable end (or a “legal death”, in Alcor’s jargon) comes for Krishnamsetty, a team from the Arizona firm will hopefully be on standby. They will place his body in ice-cold water and sustain his blood circulation and breathing with a heart-lung resuscitator. Gradually, his blood will then be drained to make way for an “organ preservation solution” that will support life at low temperature. It’s at this stage that his body will be packed in ice and air-dashed to Scottsdale.
Some of Alcor’s ‘members’ have made a conscious decision to even stay as close as they can to the Scottsdale facility. This is so they can reduce any delays in getting their bodies to the nitrogen- cooled vats, increasing whatever little odds they may have of walking around ever again. Krishnamsetty, who divides his time between Hyderabad and Portland and also travels widely in AP to make his films, hasn’t made that drastic choice, yet. “There are some members who don’t even travel. So there’s always a risk in what I am doing but I can’t tie myself down to one place.” It’d be a terrible waste, after all, to be tied down in the only life you have. And that too for another life that may never happen.
Getting this shot at afterlife is an expensive proposition and not for mere men—a full body cryopreservation costs over Rs 1.2 crore. But Krishnamsetty, who wouldn’t have thought twice to put in that kind of money if he had enough, figured out a better deal with his life insurance firm that will help him meet those charges for a monthly premium of around Rs 7,800. But would it really be worth living if your family or friends were no longer alive to give you company? Krishnamsetty tried to change that too. When his father passed away, he tried to convince his family members to have him cryopreserved at Alcor but they didn’t budge. “Given a chance, I’d prefer my family members opt for it too but they have different views and I have to respect that,” he says. Just as they respect his decision to try and defy the karmic cycle of life and death. “It’s something that is entirely personal, like one’s religion. My family is not against it but they are not really for it either.” Still single, Krishnamsetty understandably would want his partner to be someone who respects his decision and can, if possible, even join him at Alcor.
But his decision to live for as long as possible, as he explains, is not really a self-indulgent exercise. Like most people, he has a long list of things he feels he needs to complete. “I have lots of things I’d like to do, not just personal but for the world. If you love humanity, it’s not just about your immediate family. It’s about the others in need, the other relationships you make,” he says. To begin with, making all the films he has planned will take another 40-odd years. What next? “I love teaching and would want to give back to humanity what I have learnt in filmmaking, music and dance.” A few short films in his kitty, this former software engineer is now awaiting his first big commercial release, Minurugulu (Fireflies), a Telugu film with character actors Ashish Vidyarthi and Raghubir Yadav in the lead. And if he makes enough money, he’d also want to start something like Alcor in India. “It may no longer be that radical an idea here.”