There was a memorable funeral mass last weekend for a dear friend, Austin Lobo, at the Holy Name Cathedral on Wodehouse Road in Colaba. I had worked with Austin decades ago, when we were all young whelps out of college — I think it was with Bombay magazine or The Independent, or both, and I remember him as a gentle, affectionate soul, who was seen, but rarely heard.
The cathedral was chock-a-block with his family, friends, the church community and well-wishers who had known Austin at various stages of his life — including from the Holy Name Cathedral, the Cathedral Choir, of which he was a member, St Xavier's College, and from a career in advertising and journalism. Poor Austin, he died too early of multiple myeloma, cancer of the bone marrow; he had suffered a great deal, been lovingly cared for by friends, and was now at peace with his Maker, the priest said.
The Cathedral Choir sang so exquisitely at the mass, and the acoustics of the 130-foot-high cathedral were so remarkable, that its notes seemed to rise to the very top of the high vaulted ceiling and apse, and float down through the morning sunlight filtering through the stained glass windows, to shower benedictions on all who loved Austin. I thought it such an exceedingly beautiful place, generous of spirit and song, from which we could bid farewell to Austin, and one that was so dear to him as well.
Austin's brother Bento made a moving speech; a heartfelt, eloquent tribute that left us in tears. Both Bento and the priest praised Austin as a kind soul, who lived life with zest and passion, wit and wisdom. I trust Austin was there with us in spirit, but I couldn't help thinking how delighted he would have been to witness his own funeral, to hear all that was said of him, in a cathedral crowded with those who loved him, some of whom hadn't met him in years.
I think it's a good idea for everyone to have mock-funerals, say, every five years, so that each one, especially those who leave before their time, publicly knows that he/she is loved and cherished during his/her lifetime — otherwise these sentiments are usually expressed only when it is too late, like a love letter that never reaches. My suggestion for mock-funerals, made on Facebook, got a number of enthusiastic responses: "Love the mock funeral idea, please bring chocolates, good filter coffee and your favourite piece of music for mine!" said one, while another suggested that this be done annually at birthday parties.
So, apart from khana-peena and much merriment, birthdays should also be carpe diemmed as a precious opportunity to acknowledge all the wonderful things about the birthday person, that he/she would love to hear. If you love them, miss them; if they stood by you in times of difficulty, if they are generous or funny, go on, just say it! It would make them glow, even if they seem to brush it off, half-embarrassed.
In the lovely song from Fiddler on the Roof, when Tevye asks his wife Golde, "Do you love me?" she replies, "For 25 years I've washed your clothes, cooked your meals, cleaned your house, given you children, milked the cow, why talk about love right now?" Finally, they both admit, "After 25 years, it's nice to know." So, it's not only ghosts who have unfinished business, it's we the living. Get on with it, then, pick up the phone.
Meenakshi Shedde is South Asia Consultant to the Berlin Film Festival, award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org