Sunday, January 3, 2016

Day 3

He was an unassuming man with a wry, understated sense of humour that was brilliant. For me, I'd say, he even had glamour, although I suspect that I might be a loner in having this opinion. I say glamour, because I always wondered if I could know him a little more. I always thought that he was definitely so much more than what meets the eye, but I had no way of knowing what that more consisted of.

He ran a shop of bags and suitcases in a busy market, and was known to never miss a day even if it meant taking 3 AM buses from Delhi after an extended-family function to return to his house and shop in Ambala. His shop was a favourite jaunt of so many other shopkeepers of this market, who would stop by to share a smoke and banter with him whenever business would be slow at their own shops, and he would generously give them his time and wit.

Three years ago he was diagnosed with cancer, and had been growing thinner and losing hair in the midst of numerous chemos and hospital visits.

Last March, when I went to Ambala during my holiday in India, he asked me if he could go to the US with me. He said he could help out with my brother's retail businesses in the States, after all he'd been selling stuff for decades! He'd said this while watching a cricket match on the same old small black & white TV in his shop that has been there for as long as I can recall life. At first I thought he was kidding, but when I realised he wasn't, it made me sad in a peculiar way, a kind of sad that didn't tear me up, but still one that I hadn't been before. If he wanted to leave this place, the very air of which, to me, breathed synonymous with him, I couldn't imagine what he must be going through, despite the ever cheerful front. That broke my heart. All of this maudlin business was happening inwardly, in him and in me, because on the outside, this conversation continued in a matter-of-fact and light-hearted way, and was soon broken by a nondescript call for a trivial chore.

He was a particular favourite of my brother for the longest time. A decade ago it used to be one of my brother's big thrills to oversee his shop for little bits of time in his brief absences, and imagine himself a businessman! And since a decade prior to that both me and my brother have always relished his characteristically crisp one liners as he went about his business of selling suitcases. Of course, we also enjoyed the other perks of hanging around there, which was hot dogs, chow mein, paneer pakodas and aloo poori from all the cool places close by. That he would ever say he'd like to leave that and work for my brother was unimaginable to me, until he said it.

A month ago I was told he was seriously ill. I asked my parents about him on our phone-calls every other day, but I didn't call him myself. What would I say, what will we talk about, I thought.

He passed away today. I wish I'd called him and told him that I loved him.

Bye Mausa ji. Hope you keep smiling. Hope maasi and your kids find strength to deal with the loss of you not being around. You were awesome.

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