Lal Salam, sakhave!

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.

Little Jumps We Can Never Forget

This post is an outcome of a conversation I had with my little neighbour, who is all of 2! I’ll call him A to protect his privacy. He and I meet every evening during our walks. He’s usually with his wonderful caretaker, S who never leaves his side and entertains and gives into all his little requests. 

His vocabulary is simply stunning! As are his semantic associative abilities, at least that’s the term we use in language-based research. I won’t get into the details of terminologies because this post isn’t about that.

As I was finishing off my last round of walking, I saw him attempting to climb up and down a stone bench. The bench was taller than what he could attempt, but as the song goes, with a little help from my friends, his trusted caretaker helped him get up on the bench, and by holding her fingers, he jumped and managed to land firmly on the ground. Each time he repeated this trick, he would announce emphatically, “I did it. I jumped,” and then climbed back up to repeat. 

I decided to stop and chat him up. Somedays, he’s reticent and won’t yield to a conversation, but on other days, he could chew the rag. So this was my lucky day. When I waived my usual hello, in his classic gentlemanly style, he stopped what he was doing and paused to return the greeting, “hello” he said. He looked at me for a few seconds when I asked him what he was up to; “jumping”, he replied.

I asked him to show me how he did that. So very dutifully, he tried to climb on to the bench with Ss help, stood tall on the bench and explained in great detail how he was going to attempt his grand feat. When he was done climbing, I counted to three to help him take off, and the moment I said three, he attempted his jump. 

The granite slab that sat atop the pillars had a small gap, which interrupted his jump with a false start, but he landed on the ground. It clearly wasn’t to his satisfaction, and he felt the need to clarify, so he immediately said, “it was a little jump.”

Photo Source: Robert Collins on Unsplash

He returned to do it again, and this time, more neighbours were watching his grand feat of jumping. This totally messed with his tai chi like calm, and no matter how much he tried, he just couldn’t jump off the bench. So all of us cheered him regardless, but he was such an honest sportsman, he said, “no jumping.” I assume he meant you don’t need to cheer when I didn’t really earn it.

But after the crowd dispersed, he returned to his jumping act again with the affirmation that he was making ‘little jumps.”

Watching master A, I learned a lot from his attempts at “little jumps.”

In the end, that’s what life is all about–making little jumps. In two weeks, we’ll reach the global lockdown anniversary–one long year of having gone into lockdown together. Through this time, every single human being on this planet experienced the pandemic in many different ways. I don’t believe any corner of this planet was spared. 

There were losses and gains. Many people lost loved ones, lost jobs, lost relationships, lost themselves. 

Yet through these devastating loses, we gained a renewal incomparable to any other time in the history of humanity. I recall the number of positive affirmations that floated around the world. Millions of people came together to support people in need.

Volunteers who mobilised help when the government fell drastically short.

Families were reunited in ways unimaginable.

Stories of relentless courage in the face of adversity.

The fall of a lunatic-president and the fight towards saving the sovereignty of a democratic nation.

The cooperation between world leaders and the race to ensure scientific inquiry led to fast-paced vaccine discovery.

None of these great deeds would have been possible if we didn’t attempt to make those ‘little jumps”. So master A, yes, you are 100% right when you say we need to make little jumps to eventually take the giant leap.