Celebrating life

While paying my last respects to the remarkable man, I bid a quiet adieu to my father too.

“Happy birthday, periappa (uncle ),” I cooed into the receiver. “Nice you called. Thanks for remembering the day,” he answered, his voice loaded with emotion. I choked. He need not have said thanks, he was like a father figure to me. He was my father’s first cousin and was celebrating his 82nd birthday, his last to be on this planet. He passed away two months after that.

He was, quite literally, a man of steel.  After graduating in electrical engineering from then Madras, he joined the Electrical Maintenance Department at Tata Steel, Jamshedpur. He went on to head the department, a challenging set-up replete with ominous looking blast furnaces, coke ovens, steel melting shops and the like. He could, literally, make the motors hum to his tunes!

Having lost his wife early on, he was both father and mother rolled into one to his children. From mending school uniforms, to covering books, to getting the tiffin dabba ready, he did it all with a little help from his aged mother.

A karmayogi to the core, he had shoulders broad enough to take on the responsibilities of the extended family as well. Helping arrange the marriages of not just his three daughters but many others in the family is no mean task indeed. I happened to be one among them. 

Having lost our father while we were teenagers, he was there whenever we needed him. He held my brother’s hand when the 17-year-old boy performed our father’s last rites, took our father’s place when we got married, blessed my son like a doting grandpa at his upanayanam. His mere presence at these milestones and many others, both joyous and sad, meant so much to us.

From Ohm’s law at work, he retired to a life in om’s law. In spite of being afflicted with Parkinson’s disease, he would never miss his elaborate shiv pooja and would meticulously do his sandhya vandanam thrice a day.   

Being a stickler for protocol, he would call back if he would miss my phone calls. “Just tell him I rang to inquire after his health, he need not call back,” I would tell his daughter-in-law. But sure, by evening the phone would tinkle and his authoritative voice would light up my face.

His passing away came as a double whammy to us. It felt as if we had lost our father all over again. I always felt that we didn’t properly mourn our father’s loss. While paying my last respects to the remarkable man, I also bid a quiet adieu to my father. With it came a sense of closure over pa’s untimely demise. Even in death, my uncle helped me be at peace. Adios to both of them. So long.

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