I lost my father two days ago. He had a cardiac arrest early morning, and my mother was beside him when he took his last breath at home.
The reality is yet to sink in. I’ve written several different things throughout my life. A lot of the writer in me comes from him. But all the training in the world had not prepared me for the obituary writer I would have to become to let the more extensive world know that he is no more.
My father read the obituary columns in The Hindu and the Malayalam Manorama every morning very carefully. He would announce to us if someone he knew passed on. As was his style, he would find ways to reach out to the family to offer his condolences.
It was now our turn, as a family, to offer information about my father, so anyone who knew him could say their peace. I didn’t know where to begin, so I picked up the morning newspaper and saw an ‘advertisement’ number which I could call. What ensued was the most remarkable experience.
Mr. Gurunatha Reddy, who answered the call from The Hindu was kind and gentle. He offered many suggestions to ensure that I could say what I wanted to and yet not take up space that could be used for someone else. I had written out an essay, and he very gently let me know that it was perhaps best to use that as eulogy during his memorial service. He sent me different samples of similar expressions written very beautifully. I found one particular family obituary of a late Prof. Vasudevamurthy (63) to be deeply profound. I called the number listed for condolences to offer mine and let the family know that Prof. Murthy was of service to us even in his death. The son, who answered the call, sounded listless and heartbroken. He said,
“How old was your father?”
“71”, I said.
“My father held my sister in his arms when she was dying. A week later, he passed away because he couldn’t bear the pain.”
No names were exchanged between us. We were both strangers connecting over two departed souls. Fascinatingly, my father and Prof. Murthy seemed so alike in the lives they lived, touching hundreds of people by helping transform lives for the better. You see, obituary columns never tell you ‘who’ the ‘real’ person was, but the ones who remain do. So if you know someone who passed away these past few months, and even if they are strangers, and you see some way to connect with them, please do.
When I was ten years old, one summer afternoon, as I sat under the mango tree in my house playing with some toy, my father walked up to me and gave me a red coloured, hardbound book with gold letters on it. I was so excited because I thought it was a book of fairytales. I read the title out loud to him, “The Communist Manifesto” by “appah, how do you pronounce the author’s name?” He said, “Karl Marx, mole. Very good that you were able to read the title. Just like your mother has given you the Bible and asked you to read a page every day, you make sure you read one page every day from here. Religion is not on your knees in front of a dead God. It resides in the service of all human beings.”
And so he lived his entire life in the service of others. His soul is in eternal peace.