I wrote a large part of this en route to Delhi on board UK 970 on a Sunday morning. The other part I wrote over the last few days, as and when I could get time.
When your phone rings at 5 AM on Sunday, you know that something has happened. And that something can’t be good. While this knowledge primes you to hear what the person on the other end has to say, it never prepares you well. It helps that you are typically in a slumber at that hour and you process things slower. Plus you are on the bed. So you are in a stage to accept things.
So today when I got one of these 5 AM calls, I figured something was wrong. No, I was not ready. I did try to make all the scenarios that may have warranted a call at this hour – I do this for a living – make scenarios and strategies. I couldn’t guess what was the call going to be about.
I wasn’t left guessing for long.
My mom told me that my uncle had passed away.
No, I wasn’t close.
Yes, he was an important man.
No, I don’t know how old he was. I found out that he was 81 or 82. Back then they did not keep records as meticulously as we do now.
But I know that he lived a fairly full life – he saw ups and downs and fortunes and ruins and happiness and sadness. He has 5 kids, 10+ grandkids (most married) and a great-grandkid. I don’t think he was a man of knowledge or if he travelled far and wide; but I do know that like most people in my family, he operated from his heart and emotions and not from his brain and maths.
I can’t recall when I was the last time I saw him. I am not particularly close to my family except a cousin or two. Plus I don’t do goodbyes well at all even if it was with someone I care for. I don’t like the finality of these goodbyes.
And I definitely don’t take death well. At least of the ones I
care for am related to. Strangers and celebrities – I am indifferent. I get filled with dread and existential one at that when I hear of someone close passing away. To a point, I start questioning the meaning of life and all. I recall last time someone important passed away, I had to go to Faridabad. I distinctly remember me trying to think how would I greet the ones that are mourning. I somehow managed. The days after that were tough.
This time, I knew I’d manage well. And as I write this from the familiar safe space of a Starbucks, I think I managed well.
Life goes on. You know, Pale Blue Dot.
When I go, I swear to go, I want to go without anyone ever knowing. I would walk into the jungle when I know my time has come – if I can walk. Or I will ask someone to put me to sleep – with no one around me. I don’t want anyone to see the frail me. I have lived my life with a straight spine and I would not bow down to anyone, even when I’ve aged. Like I said, most folks in my family operate from emotions and not from logic. I am no different. Just that my will needs to be executed.
Ok, I have made this about me and not about him. Lemme come back.
To be honest, I don’t know him enough to be able to write a proper eulogy. As a kid, I would’ve met him a lot – summer holidays, festivities, festivals and all that. At least in the last 5 years, I haven’t met him. Three lost to COVID-19. I didn’t take any holidays, I haven’t travelled back to my home town and I’ve been missing from most of the festivities in my family. I think my decision to live in Mumbai has a large role to play.
Plus from what I know, he’s not been in great shape for some time now – nothing major, just old age. I recall that he smoked bidis like a chimney – as many as he could, as fast as he could. I remember him liking stale rotis with mirchi ka achaar. We’d make extra so that there was enough for him to eat the next day. I’ve seen him watch cricket with the fervent passion of a teenager and having opinions like you expect a die-hard fan to have. From the simple deewan-bed placed in his tiny hall, he ruled his kingdom like you’d expect a patriarch of a family to. And from what I recall, he had a temper and yet he was kind and loving. Despite him growing up deep in the villages in Haryana, he’s as modern as they came. He ensured his daughters and granddaughters got due respect and he was always supportive of any decision that the family took.
Knowing what I know of him, I think he’s in a better place.
Heart goes to my aunt. I don’t know where she came from or what she really wanted in life. May be she didn’t really want anything? I don’t know. Maybe she did, as a child. She would’ve probably loved something – music, art, fairs, something! I don’t know. I won’t ever know. I can only hazard a guess that as a woman in the patriarchial India of the 60s and 70s, she probably didn’t even know the concept of free will or ambition beyond a kind family to get married into. All I know of her, all she did post her marriage (at a young age, mind you), she was a pillar to my uncle. I may argue that she was reduced (I use this word with a lot of deliberation) to a supporting act for my uncle as he went about with his life. No, I don’t know what that life amounted to in the large scheme of things. I know that they are well-to-do as a family. I know they have great values and each member of their family is humble, honest, caring and has all the virtues that you expect a human being to have. My uncle and aunt raised a great family. And this wouldn’t have happened without my aunt’s unwavering support. She is exactly the kind that I wish I had. I know I am making this about me again but this is what someone’s passing away does to me – makes me reflect on my life.
Coming back to my uncle and his passing away. So the best thing that came out of this was that I could see my entire family together in one room. I had my cousins and their spouses and their offsprings under one roof and I realised that I’d never known the concept of a family. Whatever I knew before I moved out of my house to go to MDI and beyond, I have forgotten. I have chased billions of dollars and an impact on a billion lives and yet I have not built anything for myself. I wondered yesterday that when it was my time to go, I wouldn’t probably have another person next to me. No, I don’t want anyone next to me to be honest when I go but if I wanted to, I wouldn’t have. No, this doesn’t make me sad. Today it doesn’t. Maybe it will, in the next few years as I grow older.
So, while I was there, as a son, I participated in the last rites for my uncle. In a full-blown, Hindu tradition, I got to see from my eyes that the process of going away is as messy as the process of coming in is. In both instances, you are on your own and you are aided by others. When you come in, you are a lump of pink flesh and water. When you go, you are a stack of half-burnt bones, ashes and dust. And the time you spend from being a pink gobble to a pile of black pebbles, you create things – memories, objects, things and we get attached to those. And worse, others get attached to those as well. And you then are ready to die or kill to preserve those.
Sigh. I am rambling at this time now. I think I will close the note and hit publish.
I did click this picture at one of the places I visited and I want to leave it here as I end this post.
I will try and bring a change in the way I live from here on. I will try and build a family of sorts. I will be more mindful with people. Let’s see where I end up.
Thank you for reading. Thank you for indulging.
PS: This if probably for the first time that I have written about my immediate family on a blog in a serious note. I like the idea that I am so open about things with the world that I can do this.