In loving memory

Aug 26, 2018, 06:48 IST | Meenakshi Shedde

My own dad, S Rammohan, was a gentle sweetie. He was incredibly compassionate, and spent his last years among cancer patients, who had been sent home to die, as medicine could not help them any more

In loving memory
Illustration/Uday Mohite

Meenakshi SheddePeople process grief, death, the loss of a loved one, in different ways, and seek personal ways to keep his or her memory alive. Among certain Dalit communities in Tamil Nadu, when someone dies, there is lively music, dancing, drinking and crackers, to celebrate his/her passing to a better life. Others in India organise a farewell with a community feast.

I recently returned from Korea, where people visit the grave of a departed one, with their favourite foods, including rice, fish, Coke or sweets. In the film Unser Ausland (Germany Outside In) by Dorothee Wenner, filmmaker and my senior colleague for the Berlin Film Festival, a Korean lady visits the grave of a loved one and they seem to practically 'picnic' together over a feast; she eats and seems to chat amiably with the soul of the departed one.

Many of us struggle to live up to the reputations of our departed loved ones. This week I've been in Nagaon, a small town in Assam. I was visiting with a close friend, Nandini Sensharma, to commemorate the 25th death anniversary of her father, Jiten Sharma. Jiten Sharma was a man of integrity, who was passionate about the performing arts: he had been a theatre and film director, and writer, and many remember his generosity of spirit.

On his death anniversary, the family — his wife Aroti Sharma, and daughters Nandini and Indranee, organised a memorial at the Nagaon Natya Mandir, a beloved theatre that was his second home. A number of plays were performed, there was a musical performance; Nandini herself, who has been an actress on stage and film for 18 years, performed an understated, autobiographical mono-act play on her father, that moved everyone to tears.

A publication commemorating Jiten Sharma's life and work was released. The family also established the Jiten Sharma Foundation to promote art and culture, especially among the youth. Well-known people travelled from other cities to attend, including former chief minister Prafulla Mahanta, a current MLA Rupak Sharma, and many leading artists from the film, theatre, music and art worlds. How beautiful to remember a loved one through the arts that they cherished.

Nandini remembers her father telling her, when she was still a teenager, "Be brave. Stand for what is right, even if you have had to die for it. Cowards die many deaths." Nandini, who is already known for her courage, integrity and kindness, aims to continue their theatre legacy as well.

My own dad, S Rammohan, was a gentle sweetie. He was incredibly compassionate, and spent his last years among cancer patients, who had been sent home to die, as medicine could not help them any more. Many of these lived in slums: he would chat and joke with them, pray for them and cheer them up. Some of them died with my dad's name on their lips. One day, I hope I can live up to my dad's effortless compassion.

Meenakshi Shedde is South Asia Consultant to the Berlin Film Festival, award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at meenakshishedde@gmail.com

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