SO LONG, BALDY…….
It wasn’t just another face staring at me from Page 10 of the Times of India. That’s where the dear departed are often featured. The Obit (Obituary) page of the newspaper.
For some reason, day after day year on year, irrespective of how much of the remaining sections of the paper that I consume, this is one page I spend a lot of time on.
Faces of the not-so-young. Or sometimes, young. Occasionally, even younger, obvious from the year and date of birth.
There would be some faces I had grown familiar to, possibly because they would appear with such unfailing regularity. The displayed picture would more or less remain unchanged. The brief prose, or sometimes poetry accompanying the picture betraying the deep pain and anguish of those left behind.
For instance, it has been 13 years last month, (September 19, 2002), but, every year, conspicuous is a small stamp size picture and a few touching words of remembrance to a lady called Priya Tendulkar. My generation would recall the fire-brand television actor who became a household name through her character Rajani, which took on the corrupt.
On Monday, October 6, 2014, my eyes remained transfixed to a pair of eyes staring at me from the obit page. It wasn’t only because the picture was much larger in size compared to the other departed names.
A Gentle face, not so young and surely not so old. Cropped hair. But oozing warmth and an unusual calm in the eyes.
It was, but obviously, an untimely demise. I tried to make some meaning of the possible reason of death or the antecedents. Or what the person’s occupation or family background was. The names, a large mourning family left behind going by the printed list, too, did not reveal much.
Felt sad at this early departure.
The same morning, another newspaper, in one of it’s inside news pages spoke about a young business tycoon and heir to a family empire having died after a massive heart attack while jogging, during a business trip to Maldives. It was the same name.
This helped me join a few dots this time. Kind face. Large family. Young children. Untimely death. Business tycoon, I thought to myself.
A single paragraph news piece in another broadsheet newspaper the same morning caught my eye. Sports page. ‘Cricketer of yester-years and Sachin Tendulkar’s first captain in first class cricket passes away.’ A few cricketers had mourned the untimely demise. It was the same name.
Later that day, on facebook, I saw common friends, with different professional interests and age groups, commenting on the untimely end of this person. Each ‘friend’ contributing a new and fascinating aspect to the departed one. Donor, Helper, Good Samaritan, friend. Ever smiling.
I was amazed at the multi-dimensional persona of such a young face. And to add to it, was the aura. And yet, he was gone. Just like that.
Two evenings later, stepping out of my office, my ears caught a soothing strain of music and vocals. It did not seem far away. Trying to trace the source, it carried my feet to the auditorium adjacent to my office. The otherwise desolate entrance had a queue almost half a kilometre long. From the entrance, inside, I could see another hundred odd people making their way up, to the first floor auditorium even as a parallel line inched its way down. They all seemed in shock. But for the gentle music, all the people around seemed bound by a common thread of sadness and voluntary silence.
It is a prayer meeting, said the security guard.
I wondered what made me do so, but I silently merged into the queue and about 45 minutes later, managed to make my way into the auditorium. The place was packed. Overflowing. People from different age brackets, some seemed businessmen, corporate types, young and old. Men, women. Youngsters. Some having come straight from work.
What could have brought so many people together? Who could have? It takes generations of hard work for someone to have such a following. For people to come across and admire you for whatever you may have done. Especially in a city like Mumbai, where you have no time for the living. Pray, what could have led so many to assemble for someone who was no more?
My eyes gradually traced the queue, all slowly making their way to the front of the stage, where the family of the bereaved, stood. Folded hands and fingers held tight together, almost as if, as if, the clasped fingers holding the spirit from crumbling.
Behind them, was the portrait. Of the same young face. Smiling eyes. As if watching his friends, well-wishers, asking them to continue showering his family with the love that had brought them here. Overwhelming was the moment.
Here, I quote a portion of the Obituary written by my friend Shishir Hattangadi, for Rajesh Sanghi. The young man who was no more and for whom, so many had chosen to change their routine.
“He played golf, ran the marathon, did all the right things to stay afloat in a world that can easily distract you with temptations. He liked a laugh and was always around for a chuckle, for old-time’s sake.
One is shocked and confused, can’t even imagine what his close friends and family are going through.
Time, I am told heals, I’m yet to find a balm that can give us the answers we spend a life time searching.
Rajesh Sanghi be happy wherever you are, and Mr. Destiny you owe his family and friends an explanation, and it better be a bloody good one.”
It is rare to find good Samaritans. Rare to find ideals. A species extinct as we look around us. People for whom life is so much more than just living. And in death they leave behind such a rich legacy. (https://shishirjoshi.wordpress.com/2010/09/23/the-man-with-the-umbrella/)
I didn’t know Rajesh. Baldy, as I am told he was popularly known across circles.
I first met him in the Obituary pages of the Times of India. I so wished I had the privilege to met him outside of that.
Yet, he left me with a deep sense of void and a lump in my throat.
What a way to have gone…What a way to have lived…