Papa's legacy of love
When I returned, there was no body, no crematorium, no rituals, nothing. We had a prayer meeting at the Arya Samaj
It was very weird when Papa—S Rammohan—passed away in 2012. We just celebrated his 95th birth anniversary last week. I was then attending the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). My sister, Akku, gently broke the news that Papa had passed away. One moment he was having tea in the evening, and the next moment, he was gone. As soon as I was able to absorb the shock, I wanted to take the next flight home. Akku called back to say no need to rush: Papa had wanted his body donated to medical science, and when they called JJ Hospital, they said they needed to remove the body as soon as possible, and Amma had agreed, so he would not be there when I returned home.
The next day I was scheduled to moderate a discussion on "Bollywood and the Independents" at TIFF's Asian Film Summit, with Mira Nair, Guneet Monga, Dibakar Banerjee, Nina Lath Gupta (ex-NFDC) and Shailja Gupta. I was deeply troubled. There was only one way to decide: what would Papa have wanted me to do? So, I went ahead with the discussion. When I see Getty photos of the event on Google, brightly engaging with the panelists, I'm astonished I could switch off one part of my brain and heart, and function normally like a professional moderator. When I got on the plane that night, I collapsed from the pent-up grief.
When I returned, there was no body, no crematorium, no rituals, nothing. We had a prayer meeting at the Arya Samaj. I was most grateful that Papa did not suffer when he went. Luckily, my last memory of him was of us sitting side by side on the sofa, rubbing arms gently and smiling, like affectionate cats. I've inherited my independent character and creative genes from Amma, Indu Shedde, and hope I've inherited compassion and humanity from Papa.
A workaholic, Papa retired as a senior finance and audit officer at Indian Airlines, and drifted in his retirement, until he found his calling, volunteering with cancer patients. For many years, until he passed away, Papa comforted and cheered up terminally ill cancer patients at Shanti Avedna and the Dr Ernest Borges Memorial Home, both sterling institutions in Bandra. Each month, the Tata Memorial Centre would email me a list of "palliative cases"—patients "sent home to die," as medicine could not cure them. Most of them lived in jhopad pattis. As Papa's own vision was fading, I insisted on accompanying him on his home visits; landmarks and directions would include—dukkar (pigs), doosra gutter ke baad right (turn right after the second gutter) or teesrya pimp-chya zawal (near the third water drum). Undeterred, he would wait impatiently for the home visits, hair combed, specs and sandals on, and ready. He would chat with them, stroke their heads and hands kindly, comfort them, play cards, joke, and say that God was missing them, so he sent a little trouble their way, so that they would remember him, and pray with them.
Patients would die every now and then: Papa learnt to let go. Once, a patient he visited regularly, had died, and the family was furious with Papa. They said that as he lay dying, the patient kept asking for Papa, whom he had known only since a few months, whereas the family had looked after him for decades. But you can't measure love, can you?
Meenakshi Shedde is India and South Asia Delegate to the Berlin International Film Festival, National Award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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