When you live thousands of miles away from your family, one of the worst nightmares is that dreaded phone call bearing news of a loved one’s passing. Being away for nearly eleven of the twelve months of the year, it’s an inevitability, no matter how desperately you hope to never receive it. We had received that first call a few years ago when Munish’s grandma passed away. This week was the other one.
My sister was the bearer of the news. My heart skipped a beat when I heard her cry on the phone. I immediately knew it was THAT call. In the micro-second before she gave away the news, my mind was racing in different directions thinking about who it was going to be.
Turned out, my 96 year-old granddad was gone! While getting a closure is difficult when you’re so far away, here’s my attempt at processing the sudden death of the man whose life has been truly inspirational.
He was a man of few words whose dignified silence taught us some of the most valuable lessons in life. He led life with sheer grace and discipline – and more importantly, fearlessly and on his own terms. He got married at a young age of 20 but lived nearly 46 years of his life as a widower. That didn’t stop him from living life to the fullest. He loved watching movies, was a big cricket fan, was always up for going out, wore the crispest of shirts, relished a well-done pasta, was an avid reader and enjoyed a mean game of 21-card rummy. He never depended on anyone. Whether it was frequenting the mall to buy clothes for himself or the weekly visit to the dry cleaners, he did it all on his own. Until his early 90’s, he even drove himself everywhere. He hated relying on anyone for his needs – something that often aggravated us because he would often even go to the doctor’s all by himself without letting anyone know that he was unwell.
His life was a lesson in aging gracefully. He was a great observer but never dished out any unsolicited advice or enforced his opinions on how one should live life. The rare times when he did offer his advice, it reflected his progressive and practical thinking. He was never bogged down by conventional ways of doing things and never expected anyone of us to do so either. He believed in being practical and never cared about what others would say. A lot of that came from his fearless attitude towards life. The first half of his life was full of adversities. From losing his wife at a young age to living hand to mouth in terms of finances, he had seen plenty dark days. However, his fearlessness never ghosted him. In spite of a lean bank balance, he would frivolously leave jobs when there was a conflict of principles or ethics. Like I said, he lived life on his own terms. He taught us that bad times, failure and loss were all transient, just as good times. He didn’t let either bother him. He wasn’t overtly religious but had imbibed the core fundamental of Jainism – detachment – in his way of life.
For me, he was a presence in the house that was difficult to miss. We may not have exchanged as many words but his presence was always felt. Whenever I left for the US, he would always make it a point to be around when I left from home to go to my in-law’s before flying out. He was extremely fond of Munish and would always have a fun banter with him – not something he was comfortable doing with everyone. My best memories with him were from when he visited me in LA. He was 90 back then. After a long 24-hour plane journey, I was expecting him to take it easy but instead he was ready to go to the beach to see the sunset. Every night, we played rummy and he would tell us stories from the past. On a whale watching cruise, when I was terribly seasick, he easily stood by the front ledge of the boat and enjoyed the dolphins. He even escorted me out of the boat when the ride was over! During the week that he spent with us, he was always up for exploring new places and never complained about anything. One evening he sat me down and asked me why I decided to make a career in communication and not dance. He always encouraged me to pursue my love for dance and make a career out of it. Only if I had taken his advice!
He stayed true to his personality right till the end – graceful and dignified! A peaceful end, without any suffering or noise. He left us while sleeping at night, just a few days after his 96th birthday.
Here’s celebrating a life well lived. Farewell, dada! Only if I could have seen you one last time and said my goodbyes. Going home to that empty swing where you read your newspaper everyday is going to be really hard.