We lost him. We tried, but we lost.
In 2012, when my grandmother passed away, I made my peace with it thinking she was aged. But on this April 24th when I lost my Uncle (Phuphaji), I felt cheated. He was only 64, active to the extent that he would put teens to shame; an ex defense officer who had fitness in his blood. He was discovered with ILD (Interstitial Lung Disease) and the disease took over him much sooner than we could act and cure.
My paternal side has a small, close-knit family, where everyone is very fond of each other. My father, the eldest, has a younger sister and a brother. All three siblings get scared off easily. Stressing and panicking are their production defects. The three strong pillars of our family came from other families’ homes, i.e. Phuphaji, Mummy and Chachi. These people made our family much stronger with their bold-at-heart behavior. If Mummy and Chachi are iron-rods, then Phuphaji was the central pillar who held it all, much like this picture.
Coming from a middle class family based in Lucknow, he excelled in Air Force as Wing Commander and later as a CTO for multinationals like Airtel and Nokia, till he retired four years back. He was a self-made man, who pushed his children to excel in life and also shaped my Bua’s teaching career. Bua got married at a young age of 19, and her groom was the best gift her parents had presented her till date. To quote Bua, she was delirious to get married, as marriage meant permit to movie halls, something her own parents didn’t allow. Theatre was just the beginning, as in 38 years of wedlock, they travelled almost the entire world.
Phuphaji’s benevolent nature made him gel with each family member very well. I did not know how much I loved him till the time he was gone. When I left Kanpur to pursue higher education in Delhi, my Bua and Phuphaji(settled in Noida) acted as my local guardians. I used to visit them on alternate weekends. Two years later, after completing my MBA, I earned my first job in Noida and started putting up with them. It was comfortable for me, and my parents were at peace. As Bua’s own kids had left their Noida nest to shape their careers in other cities and I had left my ghosla back in Kanpur, we three (Bua, Phuphaji and myself) offered each other company and family time. This got me much closer to them. In my five years stay I learnt how different he is from other uncles who join a family (Jijaji, Mausaji).
Unlike the arrogant damaad in our Indian society, Phuphaji was a doting son-in-law. Bua is bound to love Saumya, Sonam, Vansh and Vani, as we are her own brothers’ children, but it was unreal to see Phuphaji shower so much affection on us. Damaad is our country gathers respect as they take care (moronic notion) of one’s girl, but to garner love, one does not take away their girl, but becomes a SON. He said that beautifully via his actions.
He treated me like his own daughter, portrayed beautifully in the following anecdote. In the year 2009, when things were much heated between me and my parents, due to my messy love life, Phuphaji had a one-to-one chat with me. He took me by my hand to the balcony of J-140, Sector 25 (his house). We sat there for 40 minutes where he shared his personal, known and dealt experiences of inter-religion marriages. Not once did the man urge me not to marry my (to-be) better half, but he wanted me to make an informed decision. Like my parents, he too felt that I was too naive to handle the traits of a Muslim house, and I can’t blame him for that. Every parent wants his child to be guarded, and I was biggest baby with invisible crib (read guarded) of my parents, you can imagine.
By the end of the year, when he understood the intensity of my relationship with Shahzeel, and our persistence to be together, he was the first adult to give us a green signal from my family. He trusted my faith in my marriage.
In December 2009 I got married and relocated to Hyderabad. Two months later, Phuphaji came to Hyderabad on an official trip. In his tedious travel schedule, he squeezed time to visit us. At that time, Shahzeel and I were putting up in a basic apartment having minimal amenities. Located on the fourth floor, that building had no lift. In the years that I spent at Phuphaji’s home, my Bua and he treated me with exquisite food, made rich with love. That day I, an amateur cook, requested my Hyderabadi help to prepare biryani. As expected, the food was a mess, home decor was basic, and above all, I was nervous. When someone marries by their own will, and have a family member come over for the very first time, one is anxious, nervous, even dehydrated. Everything comes under the radar, and one wants to put their best foot forward.
As he ate soggy biryani served in simple steel plates, he looked at us and said whilst smiling, “You guys have done a good job with the house. I am so happy to be here.” All my stress melted, as if someone had poured an ice cold water on that itchy heartburn. That’s the thing about him – he made people love themselves with his uplifting statements. Since then, many have visited us and we have fashioned ourselves, a little bigger and better, but he was the first to appreciate us, when things were less and just getting started. The start is always the toughest, especially in relationships.
The lasts are horrid if you know it’s the last. When I visited Noida in March this year, I knew that this might be the last time I was seeing him. He was getting sicker and thinner and medical science has no cure for this disease. When I hugged him before leaving, I bid him good-bye with a line – “I’ll see you soon”. I knew I was lying but now it was my turn to say an uplifting statement. He had tears in his eyes, maybe, he also knew like me, that I was lying. Who knew better that his body was falling apart?
Now he’s at peace. He battled his illness well and like a fauji is expected to deliver. Stamina that intense is hard to deliver when you are fighting for each breath.
My family picture is getting smaller. I am blessed to be a mother of two beautiful children, but people whose children I am, are getting lesser in number. Dadi went ceasing the heart of this house and Phuphaji took the soul with him. Earlier, every year, we all used to catch up at my ancestral home in Allahabad for summer vacations. I still remember the time, we all used to sit together on chattai (as bed would fall short), and eat khichdi and achaar happily. Two drops of khus blended well with water in air cooler, an aroma that built my childhood. Those small rooms with people everywhere is what family was made of. Money was limited, but happiness knew no bounds. Over time, God has blessed us with everything. We have bigger homes, air-conditioning everywhere, but gradually the people to enjoy with are reducing. If only I could rewind, relive, replay it. Unlike life and time, running at their full speed, I want to slow down and live today, with family, like God intended it to be!