Verity is uncomfortable with prospect of a virtual future for the end-of-life years.

This last month has been exciting. Out of the blue, I was invited to give a keynote at a major conference in Delhi.  I discovered later the invitation was down to one of my old pupils, Tariq Choudhury, who was always very attentive and polite if not dazzling like dear Crispin Mcdonal, who, since his disgrace, is now persona non grata.

It was all part of a push to rebalance the world economy by beefing up India as a counterbalance to China and avoid the successes of globalisation ending up in the dustbin of history as conflict replaces trade, as I told them to rapturous applause.  I think I looked pretty impressive garlanded with chrysanthemums.  I do like to try to fit in.

It was lovely to spend time with Tariq and his family on their estate. The helicopter tours brought out the vastness and beauty of Bangalor in the limited time I had. I had thought that Indian cities were all crowded, noisy and dirty.  And indeed they are but not a bit of it when you’re at 1,000 feet.

Which all goes to show how things can seem so much better depending on how you look at them.

After the helicopter ride I was brought down to earth both physically and metaphorically. Tariq revealed that he’s bought Crispin’s residential care empire… which includes Ash Court – where Thomas and I reside.

Tariq said he had been inspired by the Succession TV serial to put some serious investment into the “eternal life” business. He thinks the combination of Indian spiritual culture, IT skills and cheap labour will give him a competitive edge.

He confided also that the fire sale caused by Crispin’s disgrace meant he got the entire operation for a song. I didn’t tell him that I lived in one of the same undervalued properties.

He wants to take the current craze for health and wellbeing in this sector to a higher level with a focus on the spiritual.  This wasn’t to be a religious or transcendental experience – more click and play. He envisaged hooking up with Meta’s virtual reality and AI advances to plug the residents of Ash Court and other corners of Crispin’s former empire into a virtual spirituality. 

AI could learn from their initial responses to virtual worlds, constructed from their wishes and dreams so they would evolve to become more and more pleasurable for the residents. Over time, as technology evolved, the elderly brains could become increasingly dependent on digital stimulation. So, as our bodies crumbled, we would drift into an eternal virtual world; a personalised heaven. He thought he could make a mint out of wiring up the elderly. 

For the second time in a week I came back down to earth with an abrupt landing on my return to our residential complex. There, the only wiring was the barbed variety. That had been hurriedly installed to keep out ex-resident clairvoyant, Robena Fitzwell and her rag tag followers. She was now camped outside with a sign reading “prepare for the world at the end”.  Out of politeness, I went up and said hello.

She was actually quite chipper. She had just returned from Glastonbury where she had avoided the eye-watering ticket prices by entering through a tunnel. Apparently the tunnellers were on their way to help her break into our complex. She was determined to bring her message of salvation – whatever that was – direct to all our residents. I made my excuses and quickly left her to avoid a sermon.

When I told Thomas about Tariq, he remarked that he hoped they would start lessons in Bollywood dancing to liven up his final years. My immediate imagining of those pelvic movements and Thomas made me feel a little queasy. But it would certainly make the tea dance a tad more exciting. And heaven knows what fantastical ambitions lie dormant in the elderly brain. My cringing attempts a couple of years ago at flirtation with Crispin still makes me shudder.

As to transitioning to an eternal virtual heaven, Thomas, ever practical, was worried that someone might just pull the plug.

Verity Bastion

Verity is an emeritus professor of economics now living in a retirement apartment with her husband, Thomas, after a distinguished career. She writes a regular column for The Mint on …

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