TRIBUTE TO A MAN WHO LOVED LIFE - MY COUSIN
I do not like writing an obituary for it is a final send-off nor do I desire to write an eulogy for it is a tribute to someone who has just died and that is not acceptable because as far as I am concerned he still lives on. That is why I wanted to pay tribute to a man who still lives on in the hearts of every person he has touched because he loved people, was loved in return and above all loved life and living.
My cousin passed away in the US few days ago consumed by the ravages of cancer. It may have ultimately consumed his body but not his spirit which I know still lives on. Though he was seventy six years old, he died young
My earliest remembrances of him date back to my childhood (he was elder to me by 12 years). He was always that mischievous young lad with eyes behind those thick lenses ever teasing, ever laughing, at the same time without malice. Even in later years he remained that lad at heart ever teasing, ever laughing at young and old alike whether they were his friends, uncles, his nieces or nephews.
Though he had migrated to the United States a long time ago 45 years to be exact, he was very much rooted to all things Indian. He used to come down nearly every year to spend a few weeks here in India mainly to meet his friends, cousins and others. He loved good natured gossip and he used to say that kept him young and energetic. He once told me “You are a bore, you can’t gossip so what’s the point meeting and talking to you”, it was his way of teasing me. But he knew what I was interested in and our conversations continued. Once he came to Ahmedabad when I was there and asked me who my favourite painter was and when I told him “Van Gogh” he went to the computer and ordered for ‘The Complete Paintings of Van Gogh’ online and said that was his present to me. Later he sent me ‘Degas’ and ‘Matisse’. These books adorn my bookshelf and when I see them I remember him. We did not gossip but we talked about art. He talked about all the art galleries he had visited and seen the original paintings of the masters. His interest in art was phenomenal for while he idolised the Italian masters he told me that as he stood gazing at Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ when in Madrid there were tears in his eyes as it portrayed the tragedies of the Spanish Civil war. He told me about his visit to Tahiti and talked about the paintings of Gauguin.
To me he was a man who had seen it all. At the last count he had visited over 105 countries in the world, you name it and he had seen them all. I once told him that as he had seen so much and experienced so much of this world he should write it down for posterity to read and cherish, he only said that he had not finished seeing things.
There was a perceptible slowing down over the last few years but he still made it back home here every year. The last time he was here we did not meet, but I understood because he was recovering from the loss of a close friend in Mumbai.
Though I knew he was not keeping well, I came to know the nature of his ailment when he visited me nearly two years ago. He had a prolonged conversation with my daughter who was doing her doctorate in Cancer Biology at the end of which he asked her whether she had read the ‘Emperor of Maladies’ a biography of cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee and when she replied in the negative he told her that it was a must read for her. He then left. The next day promptly a package arrived for her and before she opened it I said ‘That’s periappa’s gift to you – Emperor of Maladies’
I knew him that well.
But there is still one poignant moment that keeps coming back. It was after my father’s death; he came over to my mother and said ‘Don’t ever forget that I am also a son to you’. Those words my mother kept repeating often whenever she talked about him.
So what do I say about a man who was a rebel, an adventurer, an unfailing friend, a reservoir of knowledge, a lover of gossip or connoisseur of the arts. He was all that and much more – A man who loved life.