Somebody I once knew used to say that no one has a choice in picking relatives. We are born into our respective families and there is little, if not nothing, that one can do to change that.
And there is no doubt that we all have our fair share of relatives we wish would suddenly disappear into thin air. *poof* Just like that.
I personally would go to the extent of saying that a large majority of my relatives fall into this category. Do these people ever oblige? *shakes head* Never.
Then there are those relatives one looks up to. Idolizes, even. Could be a smile that appeals to us, or their warmth, or the love they share, or even their laugh. It’s that uncharacteristic smile that appears on our lips and a peculiar kind of joy one feels in their presence. Now, such relatives are rare. Mighty rare.
Unfortunately, I lost one such relative of mine late last night.
My mom’s uncle, the youngest amongst his brothers, my ‘cousin’ (for lack of a better word) nanaji left us last night: Avtar Nanaji.
I remember the times when we were kids and used to visit India over summer break. And summer breaks in India meant one thing and one thing only: relative-hopping. It was the norm.
My brother and I used to always look forward to meeting Avtar Nanaji and Naniji. I remember his laugh – from the pit of his stomach, from the bottom of his soul. It would resound through the room and invariable make everyone around him smile in response. I remember the long drives he used to take us on and I remember the Campa Cola and Gold Spot stash in a cooler in the trunk of his car. I remember a gorgeous, magnanimous house and even bigger hearts that used to welcome us.
And I remember my Dadaji (grandfather). I remember how fond he was of Avtar Nanaji. I remember their friendship and their smiles together. I remember my Dadaji saying to my mom, “Avtaar neeche tak chorrne aaya tha aur tumne oopar nahin bulaya? You know how much I like that man!”. And my mom would just smile and say that she had tried. But he had to rush, he had to be on his way. He had to meet other people. He had to share his life, his joy with them too.
We were packing, getting ready to head to Jaipur for a friend’s wedding when we got Avtar Nanaji’s news. As my mom disconnected the call, she looked at me.
“What do we-,” she started.
“Cancel all plans. We need to cancel all plans,” I said to her. And that was that. Our bags were left as they were – half packed.
As the four of us sat together sipping tea, we couldn’t help but smile. Even thinking about him made us smile. Such fondness…such joy…such a fantastic life.
But the smiles tend to fade just a little when you see what a void he has left behind. Listening to his elder brother, now over 90 years old, well up and make an unsuccessful attempt at stifling a sniffle and hiding his tears does bring a lump in my throat too. Overhearing him say, “Baari toh meri thi, phir yeh kyun chala gaya?”, and trying to figure out how to console a man who has lost his younger brother is…yeah. Add to that his inconsolable younger sister. Not to mention his daughter, grandchildren and relatives from across the world.
And despite the tears and agony and pain, one thing seems to be repeated over and over again by people in that gathering: What a man! What a life!
You, Avtar Nanaji, will truly be missed.
Of tears and pain. Of agony and fond memories.
Rest in peace.