We drive off Commercial street (Bangalore, Peninsula India), 3 pm, mid a month’s Lockdown- the streets are clutter free, we are armed with ID and saying ‘Nice!’ through the pain of losing our precious brother Sam.
Yes, he would’ve approved. “No big church service, just like he’d want it. No suit…” quiet words from his sister Dr.Prema Dhanraj, her eyes misty with love. No sad song & masses of tears. No hyper-parade of bouquets. Just a clutch of family members, though masked, distanced….
He was a Minimalist with blazing intellect & humor. He lived to love but his love was quiet, no frills. If you looked for a compliment he’d say, “Nice!” Or “Good” complete with dimpled chuckle that I cannot get out of my system and shouldn’t.
My eldest sis Thel (Sam’s wife) had a Bible that we all wrote in; she snuck this in his casket: its lid standing on Stone nearby had “I am with Jesus” on it, it stilled me. Still does.
With him, I was my unselfconscious self: was it only a few years ago, he and I mimicked a local street drunks’ brawl lasting not a few minutes? Recently his health got fragile, his shoulders had that tiny tremor, you wanted to hug him just a little longer but didn’t dare make him think you were worrying. He could read your head, know your ‘unnecessary‘ thoughts!
Sam wasn’t big on ceremonious religion but had this Respect for God, a thing you didn’t mess with. It was the way he lived, careful, caring, sensitive to detail. You didn’t hide things from God, if you needed an occasional peg you had it in His presence. I remember asking him for a taste of his cigarette, I was 21. He choked laughing then gave me one: “Try exhaling that, k?” That was fun. I’m rambling. Running from memories I want to chase away, but they’re larger than life now.
The last time we spoke (10 days ago?) was an accidental Group-Call my second sis Li made via our sisters’ WhatsApp ‘Mermaid’ Group, yes mermaids 😅, don’t forget we girls grew up on beaches, (once on a sand dune we’d daydreamed of being mermaids, hehe! The name stuck).
So Li called and Sam picks up phone instead of Thel. Li : “Now who’s this low voiced man on Mermaids saying, ‘Hellooooh!?’”
He chatted generally and about how good he’d been eating the past week; Thel walks in,” Uh ohhhh? Sam’s on Group call with …who?”
T ‘s her bubbly self, “This is a first group call of this, Haha!”;
she & he had become one Entity with shared polarities; how good they were together with their 2 fabulous sons Anudh & Akash: a treat to watch the four of them – each maddeningly independent, ferociously loyal to the other…… oh brilliant even to detail of when to add chillie to sizzling roast, steak!
The last thing he said in individual byes to Li and me….. “Bye Rayla!” His voice strong and cheerful. “Bye Merman, Sam.” I replied.
Offstage while we waited for the next Event at a local Fund raiser…how can I forget his guitar doing the Beatle’s Crybabycry:
with no Lyrics, I worked my own non-word- stylized-gibberish. He called it Russian. We did this very seriously, Thel streaming tears down her cheeks hurting from laughter…
Thel & Sam’s gorgeous sisters: I could write reams about his three illustrious sibling, each serving Humanity like only they can: Bravehearts – brave now, as the Pastor wraps our small service in a Silence that somehow feels right. I cannot find a word good enough for it. Silence can be reverent gold. The sky rumbles for a second, gentle winds settle in the family tree under which the few of us huddle, forgetting Covid.
Death is where your sting, oh grave where your victory? Here we are immortal for the Love that binds us together across continents via Videocalls coming in and familial Love thicker than blood or the sadness of Now.
Next to him, in engraved marble- lies the Stone of his first son, the most beautiful baby boy I had ever seen. He lived 5 days. 36 years have gone by.
Now as they lower his daddy’s mortality into the same earth, there is this silence of a family held by things best described as Peace that surpasses human understanding.
Marriage turns strangers into family. Sisters in law become a beautiful kind of sister: we admire their eyelashe and feature not just exterior but deep within. It turns our lives around to learn from each other through the years. I write this realizing how much we’ve been blessed by Sam’s presence, nah entire families, cousins, nephews, nieces….wish this post could cover also friends that became family because of Sam.
What can one say but go back and forth.
I could never count well enough even at our Scrabble board fights. He a Chartered Accountant / Sultan of Sudoku non par would cheerfully shudder. “If you try to, y’know? Maths is basic. Idiots.” His grin included all non-mathy people with me + tolerant brotherly kindness lending a generous taste of what it was to ever have a brother.
“He’s not here, no Thel?” I whisper. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
“No Ray.” Her voice is level.
I draw strength from her, admiring her straight firm back and calm doe eyes. Sitting down somewhere among family Stones, I am unable to tear my eyes from the candles and flower petals all around, the air softening with dusk and with the Presence of Comfort; with the presence of each other softening from sorrow. Tomorrow we’d be able to take this. Maybe not. Tomorrow would have its share of challenges. New ones? I don’t know.
As we walk back past more names and dates and symbols of Love and Departure, we walk close. Life was/ is short. I want to love without barriers and protocol.
We move past high ornate stone gates; the Caretaker and wife watch their children play with a plastic bat and ball, all safe- distanced from each other.
Somewhere a koyal calls.
It will rain tonight. You loved it cool Sam, but you’re not here.
You’re with Jesus.
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