“We must write to Narang uncle…it’s been ages since we heard from him,” Sushil said to me this morning over a cup of tea.
“Yeah I know. The last mail I received from him was months ago. I’ll drop him a line soon,” I replied.
That was our conversation in the morning.
Sometimes, life has an eerie way of handing you coincidences, which seem more pre-ordained than usual. Many people believe that there are no such things as coincidences. Whatever may be the case, some incidents seem finely orchestrated and that’s exactly what happened that evening. On our evening stroll around the block with Kishmish, we met aunty – Narang uncle’s wife.
Sushil was the first to make Narang uncle’s acquaintance. Kishu and Sushil were heading out for their morning walk one sunny day in April, when Sushil saw an elderly gentleman strolling towards him. In his characteristic good humour, my husband flashed his 1,000 watt smile and greeted the gentleman with a bright namaste. The gentleman returned his greeting with an equally bright countenance and a strange yet beautiful friendship was born.
“Kindred spirits meet unsought
Like an alchemy of thought”
It turned out that uncle, along with his wife, was visiting his son, daughter-in-law and grandson, all three of whom lived in the very same condominium as Sushil and I. Weird. We had never had the chance to befriend these contemporaries of ours, who had made a home next to ours, but Narang uncle-a visitor who belonged to a generation completely alien to our own- had quickly become a friend. In fact, uncle often mentioned how it was a breath of fresh air to meet (Sushil) in a place where such spontaneous meetings are few and far between.
As it was, Sushil used to meet uncle on his morning walks with Kishu, every other day and have a lot of informal chats with him. In fact, uncle even came over a couple of times, but I unfortunately, used to have to rush to office in the early mornings, which is why, I was never there when he came home. However, Sushil urged him to come home on a weekend morning for breakfast and that’s when I first met uncle.
Kishu barked his characteristic barks when the doorbell rang at 8:30 am sharp. That was when Narang uncle had said he would be here and his punctuality was testament to the same virtue I have witnessed in so many people belonging to his generation.
Sushil opened the door and there he was! The tiny elderly man standing before me, was generally well dressed in a t-shirt and a pair of trousers, with eyes that sparkled with enthusiasm. The bright red cap on his head couldn’t overshadow his even more striking smile, which was also missing a front tooth.
As he took off his trainers and entered my house with a warm greeting, I noticed an air of sweetness and genuinity surrounding my guest. There was definitely something very different about him, although I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time.
“Towards each other they are led
Guided by an unseen thread
Of accident or passing chance
Caught in webs of circumstance”
As we enjoyed a relaxed morning with poha and tea, we spoke of many things. Uncle told us stories about the India Pakistan partition and the human trauma it entailed. He spoke of memories of Lahore, where he spent his childhood with his parents and brother. During the days of the partitiion, his brother, who wa sin the Indian military service at the time, was posted in Delhi.
He recounted the terrible days that followed the partition – how his father was separated from them, finding himself in Amrtisar, while his wife and young son were left behind in Lahore. Hard times were what uncle remembered the most. Memories of his mother hiding her jewellery beneath the floor of their home in Lahore in the hope of a sure shot return, were embellished in his mind.
“Most families had to do that during those days,” he said. Even though it was a long time ago and he had lived a cheerful life since then, there was a hint of sadness in his voice when he spoke to us of those days. “Hindus who came to India from Pakistan, also found similar pots of buried jewellery in the houses of the Muslims who had to leave everything and go to Pakistan. There was tremendous sorrow on both sides and religion had little to do with those sorrows.”
This was coming from a person who had witnessed these sorrows firsthand. He had lived a peaceful life in a beautiful place, seen his home uprooted, his family dispersed, his family’s money lost to a strange time and events.
But life goes on. By a stroke of luck, his mother found his father in Mumbai (then Bombay) and the family was reunited. They rebuilt their lives brick by brick and life became livable soon after.
Uncle also told us of his marriage to aunty and his first job as a trainee at Mahindra & Mahindra in Mumbai. “I earned a small amount in those days, but I worked my way up bit by bit,” the jolly man went on. “And I just retired as one of the Chief Accountants at the company.”
He went home after chai and breakfast, but we kept meeting every now and then during the course of the month. And slowly, I began to realize what it was that made him different. He was happy. And genuinely so. He brimmed with the joy that his heart felt and it was visible in his very countenance. What made him so happy, I still don’t know. But I think he made it a point to be happy no matter what.
I heard him say on more than one occasion, “My wife and I have a lovely home in Kandivili, with a small garden. I have had a lovely marriage and have three beautiful children all grown up and settled in their own lives, with children of their own. What more can a man want? I am content.”
Honesty was also a virtue clearly inbuilt into his system. He told us about his early days as an accountant and how he had never failed to tally his balance sheets in his entire career. “Except for that one time I remember, when the figures were just not matching and I was falling short by a couple of hundred Rupees,” he narrated. “I worked all day trying to figure it out and late into the night. But it still didn’t tally. So I finally paid for it myself. They later found the evasive money in a drawer. Somebody had left it there by mistake.”
Apart from the visible joy, he was also brimming with an energy that was also hard to define. Over chai, one evening, he told us of his daily routine, which was pretty amazing to us, but apparently no big deal to him. “I rise at six in the mornings and have a cup of tea, after which I take a walk. I then teach Hindi at a neighboring coaching class, come back have lunch, rest for a bit, have another cup of tea and then leave in the early evening for another bout of teaching before returning home in the late evening for another walk, dinner, prayers and sleep,” he narrated. “I have been doing this for years now.”
Even in Singapore, he was not the kind to sit around at home in his kurta watching tv. He would set out on his own, visiting different places in the city and enhancing his knowledge of the place in itself. He was especially interested in the places of worship that dot the garden city – various Hindu temples, churches and Sikh Gurudwaras. That was what first gave us a hint of his inherent spiritual nature. And that was when I realized that spirituality was what had drawn us close to each other in the first place. We were kindred spirits, children of the same God.
“Kindred spirits souls in tune
Come together late or soon
Like notes that harmonize when played
And thus affinities are made”
Sushil had realized this further back, when uncle had first come home, talked to him about God and prayed at the altar that graces our house. The same spirituality struck a chord somewhere deep inside both of them.
He often spoke to us about God, his relationship with God and how he loved to visit temples and pray there. This was different from his wife’s form of worship, but he was content in knowing that she had her own ways with God and he his. What struck us most, was his willingness to learn and his humility to ask for learning. We told him about the path that we follow, our guru and paramgurus, our relationship with God and the Raja Yoga path to God realization. He showed keen interest in what we had to say and we passed him some of the books that helped guide us on our spiritual journey. Narang uncle accepted them respectfully. He prayed at our altar again.
And then he left.
We didn’t hear from him in a while. He got involved with his own family obligations, as we did with work. One morning we were sitting on our verandah, when we saw Narang uncle walk by-cap, t-shirt and toothless grin intact. He waved to us and said that he would like to come by one evening before he went back to India. He wanted to return our books and meet us once before he left.
He did come by as promised on the evening before the day of his departure. We had our evening tea, as we spoke about so many things, that I cannot even recall today. But what I do recall is uncle’s face lighting up as we spoke of God and the many paths to God, including the path Sushil and I have set out on. I also remember the winds howling away and beating against our windows as a storm raged outside the house.
The heavy downpour had come suddenly in its characteristic Singaporean fashion and it was not the kind to stop in a few minutes. Narang uncle had already stayed beyond his ‘allotted’ time and told us that it was time for him to go. Sushil left accompanied him home with an umbrella and just as he was leaving, Narang uncle said, “I’m so sorry to have troubled you. You didn’t need to come so far just for me.” Sushil smiled in spite of himself, since uncle’s son’s house was only a block away. “That’s perfectly fine uncle. It was an absolute pleasure meeting you,” he said.
“I want to thank you so much for the books and everything you told me about your path and your Guru,” Narang uncle said. He was so very grateful to Sushil for having had the chance to learn about the path. The genuine humility being shown by this 70 year old experienced man towards a 37 year old, was graceful. It was sheer joy to witness. “I will definitely go back to Mumbai and check out the centre in Wadala,” he went on referring to the Mumbai chapter of the organization that we belong to.
“Please do that uncle. I have your mail address and you have Shreyasi’s. Please do keep in touch. I hope we see you in Singapore soon,” Sushil said.
“Who knows what fate decides? One never knows what’s going to happen tomorrow. If destiny wishes it, then we will definitely meet again,” uncle responded.
They said their goodbyes and Narang uncle left for Mumbai the next day.
“And lifelong friendships come about
Time alone can work it out
Two in tune in time will meet
And life will edge towards being complete”
“Aunty, how have you been? It’s been a long time since we saw you’ll. How is Narang uncle?” we asked aunty all at once.
The stout lady’s face clouded. “You didn’t hear? Your uncle passed away. Suddenly. In fact it was so sudden, that I still cannot believe it. Nobody in the family can.”
We stood there in stunned silence for what seemed like hours. Then I finally spoke. “When did this happen?”
“15th of October in the morning,” aunty said with a faraway look in her eyes. The pain and the grief of her lost companion were evident.
I felt like somebody had socked me in the stomach with a heavy object. I celebrated my 27th birthday on that very day. And while I was celebrating here with friends and having a jolly time overall, Narang uncle had already peacefully departed from this mortal encasing.
“How did it happen?” Sushil and I asked almost at once. “Uncle seemed to be in such good health. He was so energetic and so active….”
“It’s very strange. I still don’t understand it. Your uncle woke up as usual in the morning and prepared tea for us. He gave me my tea and was ready to go for his morning walk, when he suddenly started feeling unwell and asked me to take him to the doctor. I grabbed my purse and rushed to get an auto rickshaw. The nursing home is just a few feet away from our house. He even directed the rickshaw driver to the clinic and then just collapsed on my shoulder.”
We listened in shocked silence as she went on.
“He was gone before we could even enter the clinic gate. They wheeled him in and conducted some tests, but within minutes they told me that my husband was no more. It was unreal. I still can’t believe it.”
After speaking to her a while about all these happenings, we told her that it was a wise decision on her part to come and live with her son for a while.
“Yes, and now my daughter wants me to come to Dubai to live with her too. But you know what? I don’t feel like going anywhere. I just want to go back to the house where your uncle used to live. I want to be with his memories. I still feel like he will come walking back into the house any minute for his tea or tell me he is going to teach. You know what the funny thing is? We were both supposed to come to Singapore in November. He often spoke about you both and he would have met you if he would have made it here. But this was a dark Diwali for all of us. I still cannot believe it.”
Aunty was obviously distraught, so we left her to deal with her grief. But Narang uncle’s words kept ringing in my head. “If destiny wills it, we will definitely meet again.”
Maybe we, being the mortal humans that we are, tend to view life in a very finite, linear fashion. But every fibre of my being tells me that life is not just the bridge between birth and death. Life to me is spirit itself-an individual soul’s journey-not through time and space, but through the vastness that goes far beyond the finite limitations of time and space.
Friends do not meet ‘just like that’. Remember what I said about coincidences? Many people believe that there are no such things as coincidences. I’m one of them. I don’t believe in luck or in ‘accidents’. The journey of the spirit encompasses much much more. And two souls – kindred spirits, who meet unsought on this plane, have very possibly met before and will very possibly meet again. Who knows? We do not drive this journey. But we can certainly enjoy it and thrill in the experiences that the divine hand throws our way.
All the same I am glad we met you, Narang uncle. Your honesty, openness, humility, love of life, and inner joy touched our hearts. And there was more. THAT left a lasting impression-an indelible mark on our lives, for which we are grateful.
May 17 2010
From: Chandramohan Narang <firstname.lastname@example.org >
Hi Shreyasi & Sushil,
with the blessings of God & your wishes myself and my wife have
reached Mumbai safely. I remember u very much. May God bless both of u. bye.
Love to kismis.