Monday, June 14, 2010

My Hero!

My cousin passed away recently, succumbing to colon cancer after a futile fight for almost a year. He was my hero, some one who I looked up to and cared dearly. I wrote a letter to my nephew, summarizing my life and how he influenced it. I have somewhat come to terms with him not being around, getting emails from him and talking to him almost every week. Not a moment passes by without his thoughts flashing through my mind. Even when my dear mom passed away, it did not affect me to this extent.
(For privacy, I am changing real names to made up ones)

Dear Roger,

The earliest memory I have of chettan is him lying down on his bed in his room with ammayi( your grandma) sitting next to him and having a heart to heart conversation. I may have been 4 years old then. that would make him about 17. his dad- my Ammavan(uncle) was a good man at heart but very short tempered, most of the time I believe chettan got "caned" silly as he was the only one ammavan could take out his frustration. So, your dad inherited his dad's anger and in your house the poor remote controller and the little dog ended up being on the wrong end of the stick or rolled up paper.

He took care of me as a baby. I was born in your grandpa's house( the big house which you may have not seen). That house had a lot of character. Your Aunt inherited that and eventually sold it. I lived for the first 5 years of my life in Kerala shuttling between Mulakulam, Cheruvally( you must have heard of your dad referring to Kamala chitta), and Ponkunnam ( Biju koch's house).

He studied in Bhopal and Ujjain and I happened to travel to Kerala with chettan for Mallika chechi's wedding. I ate some grapes and my face turned all red. he panicked, thinking that I got some kind of illness and eventually realized it was just grape juice color that would just wash off. on the same trip I pooped in my pants and guess what he did the honors of cleaning me up. This was in 1968.

After he moved to Ujjain, I lost touch with him except for the occasional letter that I would receive from him. I knew he was in Bombay, working as an exporter and travelling abroad. he would send me post cards from exotic places like Hong Kong, Kenya, Mauritius etc. We would finally reunite after 10+ years in 1980 when as a skinny, shy, awkward, timid teenager I would land up in Bombay to study hotel management at Dadar catering college. I still remember clearly, he was wearing a light brown short sleeved shirt, dark pants and his stylish ray ban sunglasses. he gave me a big hug and a kiss- my chettan, he made me feel comfortable right away. I stayed with him in PG dig in Bandra Perry road for a week or so before I moved to the hostel.

Live life like a king, that was his motto, when he had money in his pocket, he had no problems spending it or helping out anyone. When he was broke he would take the bus, else it was always a taxi. Many people took advantage of his kindness.

I would visit him at least once or twice a month, sometimes more to borrow a few rupees, I was always broke ( I use the term borrow loosely because, I never paid him back :-)). In 1981 or 82 he introduced me to a lovely young lady at Andheri Station. She was pleasant but a little aloof, but I liked her right away. She warmed up to me in no time, maybe because of the positive vibes I sent out. No prize for guessing who that young lady was- "your mom". I think I gave her a diary to write notes once as a new year gift. Once she gave me a Gold cross pen which I still have to date, although I don’t use it. I hardly ever write, I am too used to typing and my handwriting is like a 3 year olds.

I was there at their wedding, your Dad was late as there was a taxi strike and he had to walk all the way from church gate to fort where the wedding took place. Your mom had an uneasy feeling, thinking that he might not show up. but he did, all drenched in sweat, I think it was October 8th, if memory serves me right. We went to "Dilli Darbar" in Colaba for lunch after the wedding.

After I finished college, it took me a while to find a job and again stayed with chettan for a couple of months. Guess what, he had to provide for me again as I had no income. Those were tough days for me and tougher for him.

I was a frequent visitor at your Grandpa's house in Nagpada, your grandpa and grandma were gracious hosts. We played cards on occasions and generally just hung around. Mind you I am still the insecure, shy and timid one. I only went because I felt comfortable among everyone there- your mom, grandma, grandpa, uncle and his family.

They bought their first flat and moved to Malad. You were born and were doted upon by your parents. Chettan had a special name for you " Kunjandan" I am not sure what it means but it must have been very endearing to him. He would make up songs like- "Tu soja bituva, tenu ninni aa gayi" ( go to sleep precious, you are sleepy) and others that I cannot remember. There was an elderly lady who took care of you. She was very loving and caring. From 1986 to 1992 I watched you grow from a baby to a toddler to a little boy. We used to play catch, bat ball in your living room. You would pretend to be Sunil Gavaskar walking back to the pavilion after getting out with the bat tucked under your arm and head down muttering :-). I would give you rides on my motorcycle around the block, with chettan watching and instructing you to hold on tight to my torso.

After I moved to US and Canada, I drifted around aimlessly and constantly looked towards chettan for guidance. he visited and you all visited as a family couple of times, you remember the trip to Connecticut in my beat up BMW. I fondly remember him buying all kinds of stuff for you and your room. My first 5 years in North America were hell, made some real bad decisions, lost thousands of is endless saga. I kept my sanity with the hope that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and my conversations with chettan. He said never to lose hope.

When I cam to India and got married in 1998, you mom helped me pick out the ring which I gave to my wife, it was a nice small diamond ring on which I spent practically all the money I had. But as luck would have it, Air-India ( my previous employer) owed me some money and I got a decent amount as back pay that they owed me. Lata loves that ring even though it is a small diamond, but there is some thing about that ring that is very special. So when you find that special lady :-)who you want to propose to, take your mom with you to pick out that perfect ring. It may not be the most expensive but it will be classiest.

He was a jovial person, also could be annoying at times :-), he would talk non-stop and some times it made no sense. but that was him. You had to LOVE him for what he was, and ignore the rest. He would write all kids of nasty letters to newspapers and I would tell him -"please chetta stop, some one will beat the crap out of you". You don't make enemies in your own back yard. But he spoke his mind and did not fear the consequences.

The picture frame that hangs in your living room is symbolic( chettan, you and me). I don't need to elaborate. That picture speaks a thousand words.

I am writing this to you to refresh your memory. some of this you may already know, some may be buried deep in the sub- conscious part of your brain and just needs a little nudge. When I was growing up, I did not have anyone to look up to except chettan. You may ask- why not my own father- that is another long story, I will have to tell you another time. Your mom might know. she may be able to tell you. If not, I will share my story with you when we meet in person.

Love and hugs

Your Koch (short for Kochachan- Uncle).

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