Old and the Asymptote

At the moment I’m haunted by the word Asymptote. The image of a curve approaching an asymptote, being persistently hanging over my head, I have selected the topic of `Old and the asymptote’. The asymptote is a line parallel to x-axis (horizontal) or y-axis (vertical) or it could be slant but in all cases the graph approaches the asymptote but cannot touch.

Sudoku and Scramble Riddles in Times of India are my favourite pastimes, to keep at bay the monotony. I came across one Scramble- riddle recently which struck me as controversial. The same1 is given below:

`Never knock on Death’s door; ring the bell and run away! Death really hates that.’

Now to get at the link between the first and second paragraphs, let us turn to Demographics of the old that  keeps on increasing proportionately, enough to need further classification as `young –old’, `middle-old’ and `old-old’. Gulping down daily about half a dozen of medicines and receiving modern health care, at least a part of the Indian urban population has not to worry about the usual life expectancy at birth say, 68 years.  Situation analysis of the elderly2 discloses that at 60 years, a person has 18 more years and at 70 years, 12 more years to be expected to live based on the age-specific death rates.

The asymptote or the threshold has thus to be revised upwards and that is what is called the upper asymptote3. For a person who is 82 years or more, he has knocked at Death’s door thrice and there is sufficient reason for Death’s rage.

`Ring the bell and run away!’ would mean either surviving the shock received from the knock or boldly surpassing the asymptote, set by span of life. But the caution set by `Never knock on Death’s door’ has virtually no meaning as all human beings are mortal and knocking is inevitable. It could be a caution for the accident prone persons, well below the threshold imposed by the span of life. But why should Death hate the accident prone persons or the survivors? Is it because Death has an allergy towards asymptotes and wants its hungry jaws to take lives even before the thresholds?

Or else, there is no controversy and Death has no feelings like love or hate, acrimony or goodwill. That is, it is a non-issue; the lines quoted carry no sense.

Comments are solicited from the learned readers.


  1. Since the author’s name was not given, further searches later on revealed that these lines were said by the actor and singer Matt Frewer in `Doctor, Doctor’).
  2. Situation Analysis of the elderly in India, C.S.O., Min of Statistics & Prog. Implementation, G.O.I, June 2011
  3. As the level of expectation of life becomes greater, the annual change in expectation of life increases at a diminishing pace.

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