When I reached home, the family- my kids and wife- were waiting anxiously. We pushed the bags that were packed in hurry into the car. When we started moving to Nagpur, the road was familiar, feelings were painful. We were going to see Kaka, who was counting his last breaths on deathbed. Kaka, as we lovingly called him, was a distant cousin of my father. Kaka’s father was my grandmother’s third cousin. He was our neighbour at my ancestral home in Nagpur.
He was a very joyful and helpful person. Today, while driving the car, his words were ringing in my ears. I kept praying God not to lift him up until we reached Nagpur. He was ten, when his father died. No one remembered how his father died. Kaka had a younger sister, who also died some days after his father’s demise. Those days, life was very difficult for a young widow. Poverty and societal restrictions made it even worse. One day in the morning she went out for collecting the cow dung, and never returned. It came to the knowledge of people much later that a tout in a nearby market, who happened to be her cousin, had lured her to marry a Gujarati Widower trader from Surat who used to frequent the town for his work. Surprisingly, my grandmother, an orthodox lady with unshakable religious belief and follower of rituals, never cursed Kaka’s mother. “What she did is out of poverty, how we can blame her?” she said whenever the topic erupted in the ladies gossip in the backyards. Left alone, Kaka was admitted to an Ashram (a religious residential school) run by local community in Karanja, the town where he lived. Though he was not highly intelligent, he managed to do odd jobs while learning, and got a graduate degree in arts, followed by a secondary school teacher’s degree.
He arrived in Nagpur as a school teacher. From his first day, he was very optimistic about his job. He was a very good artist. One day, a colleague watched him writing on the board, and suggested he work as a sign board painter after his duty hours. Kaka grabbed the opportunity and became a most sought after painter in our locality. His skilful work got him many good clients. He used to start the painting early morning. One of his client, a movie theatre owner, asked him whether he can work as the manager after his school. Kaka accepted the offer. Despite being a busy man, he was always ready to meet people. He used to frequent all the relatives who lived nearby. Nobody believed that he was a distant cousin, when he worked in the marriage function of my younger uncle. People felt better after meeting him. He was a man of principles. My grandmother arranged for his marriage and forced him to buy a small house nearby by offering him some hand loan.
A year ago, I got call from my father, saying that Kaka was not feeling well for several days. He was suffering from prostate cancer. Kaka’s wife had passed away a year before, and his only son- a Major in Indian Army, was martyred in a scathing attack at Kashmir border. He was living alone in his seventies. “He went cycling to the government medical college and got it diagnosed,” my father told me, and murmured, “he will not mend his ways even at this age.” He was always a self-reliant man. Coming days, however, were not good for him. His ailment worsened, which demanded a surgery. He insisted that he will do it in the government hospital, which went really well. Unfortunately, he was recovering from the surgery, when he got a severe attack of paralysis, which caused his lower body totally numb.
I was thinking what I would need to do when we arrived at home. Immediately, I went to see Kaka, who was sleeping on the cot in the drawing room. My father had arranged two caretakers to look after him, and they changed shifts every twelve hours. He was failing, and his consciousness was totally fogged out in the wake of the paralysis. The caretaker was about to wake him up for his medicines.
I observed him as the day progressed. He was a most friendly and industrious man our neighbourhood has ever seen. He loved his family and cherished even the small happiness in his life. Such a jolly good fellow was now lying depilated in the bed with no sign of the happy existence. He was no more the Kaka that we were used to. I went back to home for a tea.
In the early weeks following his surgery, each one of our relatives used to visit him. He always felt better when he saw any acquaintance. Over the years, everyone was accustomed to being helped and befriended by him. A proud and self-made man, he was always ready to shell advice that everybody accepted. Even now, he was the same. I was his nephew and a doctor, too. Now in every visit, I used to ask him questions about his ailment and how he was feeling. He was happy answering my questions, and also told me what it means to be a good friend, father, and human being. A few weeks later, situation changed. He was on continuous therapy, and the combined effect of the spreading cancer and paralysis pushed him in a state of malaise. He confided to me that he wanted to live as a happy and self-reliant man. He was very clear he wished to die.
At seven in the evening I entered his house. The caretaker was giving him medicine drop by drop as we, his Doctor and me, told him. His breathing was turning shallower, but his face did not show any discomfort. He asked me to call everyone and started reciting “Om”. I checked his pulse, it was getting faint and weaker. When people arrived, he asked the caretaker to stop feeding him, took a sharp breath, and there was total silence. He was no more.
Kaka loved life. In his life, he always grabbed every opportunity to travel to interesting places and learned new things. He was very industrious, but always balanced work and family. He donated a heavy sum from his retirement corpus to the Ashram where he studied. He never believed in rituals, but always fasted once a week. After his marriage, he investigated and found the whereabouts of his mother, and went to Surat to meet her at her new home. A widow again, she was barely able to walk when he saw her for the last time in his life. Later, he told us that he wanted to make her feel that she did not do any bad to him. She died a content woman. He had no bitterness for what life offered to him. Despite losing his young son, he never mentioned his sorrows to anybody. Rather, he was very happy when our children used to play with him. He shared a mutual adoration and silliness with every child of the neighbourhood.
When Kaka died, we felt a sense of peace, because it was his wish to die. But our grieving hearts wished more. As we grow in age, we create more problems in our lives. He was a guy who had solution to all our problems. We wished for some more time with him, when he could tell more about his life, what made him an optimum optimist, despite what life offered to him. Even on his deathbed, he was able to convince me that we are all vulnerable. But we should always face the situation, come what may. We should always act, so that we retain our happiness. I was grieving, but I was happy that I fulfilled his wish.