My father passed away on May 2nd, aged 94. The tribute I paid at his memorial service:
Through the soft feathers of sleep, I would feel his presence near me. The presence of my father, sitting quietly by my pillow, waiting for me to wake. Not a word, not even a touch, just the gentleness of his being.
With no urgency, though we had a golf game to play, and he had an office to get to. He would wait till I sensed him, rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, and followed him out of the still-dark house.
It was as if even time, that most unrelenting taskmaster, responded to his calm, and expanded to allow him the grace of accomplishment, without the indignity of hurry or impatience.
My father had always accomplished a great deal. In college, first in the Punjab mill-town of Lyallpur, then in its capital, Lahore, he led the college hockey team, played tennis for the University, won debating medals and topped his bachelor’s exams.
And then here was his son, who floated through school without working too hard, spent his evenings buried in an unending series of story-books, and was about as athletic as Billy Bunter, by which name my Maasi rightfully called me. He would have been justified in feeling that I needed to do more, or better, or both. But he never once let me feel that I was letting the side down.
I was a dreamy kid, lost in a world of reverie and absent mindedness, always tripping over things; instead of admonishing me, he lovingly called me “Johnny Head in the Air”. When I was 5 or 6, one of the records he would play for me, a scratchy old 78, went something like this:
“Hey Diddle Dumpling, My Son John.
Went to Bed with his stockings on
One shoe off and the other shoe on
Diddle Diddle Dumpling, My son John”.
This English nursery song from the 18th century - he played with so much joy and relish that you would have thought it was a love song he wrote for his son.
This was love as described in the new Testament - (Corinthians)“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”
My father loved music, from KL Saigal to Brahms, laying the foundation for my life-long seduction by it, and my sister, Kanika’s virtuosity; he sang in a sweet, tuneful voice, and when we went on long journeys, by road or rail, we were always woken to his rendition of the Kabir song -
“Utth Jaag Musafir, Bhor bhayee
Ab rain kahaan, jo sovat Hai
Jo jaagat Hai, So paavat hai
Jo sovat Hai, So khovat Hai…
Jo kal kare so aaj kar le
Jo aaj kare so ab kar le
Jo aaj kare so ab kar le
He never, ever, put off till tomorrow what could be done today. Everything was done on time; he had, as he said, “A place for everything, and everything in its place”.
But when the time for doing was gone, he transitioned into non-doing with equal ease. I don’t know what the trigger was - because his mind was then still sharp, his perception acute - but one day, he handed his financial affairs over to me. Shortly after, I remember calling our share broker’s office to make some large sales on his account. Rahul called me back - “Are you sure? I know Uncle doesn’t like to sell his core holdings.” I was a little shaken, but went ahead with the sale. A few weeks later, in some other context, my mother asked him about committing to a major expenditure. He pointed to me - “Ask Mohit - he’s in charge”. That was simply that - no fuss, no ceremony - a relinquishment in full trust - unquestioning, and final.
In his last years, he became more and more quiet. He reserved vocal energy for two circumstances - when we had house-guests, he would ask the family and staff whether their beds were made, soap and towels in place. The other was this long and tender good-night to his grandchildren - most often my son Kedar, who lived under the same roof. “I hope you sleep well. And when you get up in the morning, may you be fully refreshed for the day ahead.”
This long benediction contained about as many words as all of the other words he got through in an average day.
In the end, he saved his breath for the things that really mattered - concern for others, and love of the children.
These are the blessings of our lineage, which we must pledge to carry through the generations...