14th June ’01: It was a hot and humid morning on the outskirts of Mumbai city, as me and my Mom were trying to get to Mumbai University – Kalina Campus by autorickshaw, fighting dense morning traffic. The monsoons had not yet descended, making the trip a little less than pleasant especially since we were both used to air conditioned cabs in Abu Dhabi. “Something I will have to put up with for the next three years” I thought. Mom had come to India for a week to get me admitted to college (something all Indian parents get actively involved in someday if their kid joins an Indian University), and this was the first time she left my younger sister and Dad back home. At the campus we were hello’d by Rajan Uncle, shading his head with his zipper bag from the harsh sun. He probably came thirty minutes prior to us, and queued up on our behalf in the snake like unending admission line. He half-smiled and half-frowned, slightly irritated by our lack of punctuality and the heat. But this was Rajan Uncle – always went out of his way for any of us.
15th June ’13: I woke up from my afternoon weekend siesta, and still in my hangover state, saw the clock and was wondering if me and my sister could make it for a movie show. In the living room, my sister told me that Rajan Uncle had passed away a day before; he was alone at his apartment at the time. His brother went to the scene to check on him when he suspiciously did not answer any calls.
“No way!!” The news did seem strange to me.
A while later, as the news seeped in, I began to ask all sorts of questions.
“He wasn’t sick, was he? Did he say he was suffering from something?” My sister nodded her head.
“Not that I know of”, she too was in a state of utmost surprise.
I wasn’t particularly close to Rajan Uncle, but I had an unexplainable fondness. We were more attached to his wife – Margaret or Maggie Aunty as she was known, and her wonderful Easter eggs.
“Its good we went to Terence’s wedding, and met him…that was our last meeting with him.” I said, feeling somber and thinking what would have happened if I missed that trip. Terence, our eldest cousin from our Mom’s side got married just six months ago, for which the entire clan of relatives hailed to Goa for the big traditional event. Rajan Uncle was also there, and me and my sister crashed the Reception at the last minute (as we hadn’t planned on attending, but I had a change of heart a day before, and decided to take the flight). We met and greeted everyone that day, amidst the sea of amused and confused faces, some of them even snarling at us like we did something illegal! Many, including Rajan Uncle thought my parents had masterminded the whole surprise, so I went around clearing the misunderstanding. He was his usual self, well dressed, with a plate of appetizers in front of him, and sharing the table with relatives.
“When is the funeral?”
“I think it has been arranged for tomorrow”, my sister replied. After an usually silent drive through the city, we got off at a local cafe and went in. Through the whole meal though, we could not stop the flashbacks that kept coming up, and reminiscing over them.
I didn’t know Rajan Uncle was a Hindu till I was old enough to understand. I grew up always thinking he was one with us, as I have often seen him in Church, for our trips and weddings. It was only when I spent time with my grandmother in the three years of my college life did I ask details about him and his relationship.
“They were very much in love” my grandmother would say. Margaret was my Grandfather’s sister, so their love story belonged to an era when such relationships were highly taboo even to talk about. To make things difficult, Rajan Uncle hailed from a high caste brahmin family, known for their piety and authority to conduct sacred Hindu weddings. Maggie Aunty too came from a staunch Catholic family. They were together for 21 years until Margaret’s demise on 17 August, 1999.
That night I meditated upon death and its fascination. I’ve known to expect death in disease, prolonged illness, travel accidents and old age, but Rajan Uncle had none of these. And thankfully, he never knew or encountered these. Its like a book that forgot its concluding chapter, or hanging up without saying bye. I thought about the awkwardness of not having to call him the next time we go to India. I thought about his distinct voice that was loud – loud enough to hear even if you were in another room. I will miss the way the English to Hindi to Marathi conversations he would have with my Dad. I summed up a few interesting memories I have, and will cherish about him:
The Devoted Son
They say that one of the ways to know how a man will be with his wife, is through how he is with his mother. Rajan Uncle never turned away from his mother, or felt offended even when she could not understand his relationship with Aunty Maggie. He tried his best to carry out his duties as a son wherever possible.
The Loving Husband
He was committed to Maggie Aunty always – whether accompanying her to Church, traveling all the way by train due to her ‘flying phobia’, feeding her duck after her death, carrying out her funeral rites and even keeping the respect and relationship with all of us, truly showed his devotion and love.
The Honest Brother-in Law
When I was in Mumbai during my college years (two years after Maggie Aunty’s death), I remember receiving a call from Uncle saying that he would be visiting the coming weekend, and to tell Granma that he needed to talk, and that it was important. When I passed the message to Gran, a sudden anxiousness gripped both our faces. “Was he planning to remarry?” was the first thought. Even though we both knew that he morally and legally could, we had to practice putting up a ‘pleasantly’ surprised face to avoid any awkwardness. When the day came, he arrived with a large briefcase, and after a light snack (and our ever-increasing suspense) he opened to show its contents. It was Maggie Aunty’s financial savings that he wanted to distribute fairly among all of her relatives. Breathing a sigh of relief of having to put away our act for the day, Granma still asked him softly and with a smile, “Rajan….not planning to get married?” Uncle only smiled, and said a very assuring “No,” and after a brief reflective silence he said, “companionship is the most important thing to a man especially at this age, not the physical needs”. How true, I thought.
The Serious Uncle
Rajan Uncle was a nightmare to my brother Terence. Being close to his residence, he would ‘haunt’ him often especially post examination results. Rajan Uncle took matters like education, ambition, banking and accounting very seriously and frowned badly upon those who showed lack of responsibility. One was sure to get a long lecture from the old man. He would nag him about tutions, repeatedly question him where he would keep his marksheets, and checked his spending habits. Not just him, but all of us nieces and nephews would be the center of his concern.
The Financial Advisor
All financial matters of the family – from fixed deposits, insurance, to property planning were inadvertently discussed with him. His advise was unbiased and final. He even assured us that the Gold prices will go up soon! *sigh*
These are just a handful of the many beautiful memories I seem to remember. Several small snippets include his love of cooked duck, pulav, ‘cheek‘ (fresh cheese made from the first milk of the goat). When he and Maggie Aunty brought us Easter eggs, the many trips and holidays we had together.
Once very long ago, when my sister was just a toddler and learning her first few sentences, we had visited Uncle and Auntie at their house in Kurla. After a hearty dinner and a trip around town, we finally prepared to depart. I remember we were all seated in the taxi and continued to say our ‘byes and thank yous’ from the taxi window, while Rajan Uncle cautiously instructed the Taxi driver in Marathi, how to reach our place at Mulund, and which roads to avoid. The cab slowly started on its way, when my sister suddenly yelled at the window “RAJAN!!”. The cab driver braked, while we all looked stunned at her sudden shrill. It was almost commanding. And Uncle obediently rushed to the taxi window, where she was held on my mother’s lap.
“Ah, what happened? Bolo?”
“You forgot to say me Good Bye!”