Not a month ago I was warned that my maternal uncle’s days were numbered however, as the family had decided to hide the information from him to ensure his happiness till he breathed his last I curtailed myself from calling him as any unexpected phone calls from me could have roused his suspicion. The following week I was informed by family about his demise. Being abroad, relatives hardly expected me to fly down for my uncle’s funeral. They did not insist as they thought that situations might not have been conducive at my end to travel owing to my nature of employment, availability of leave, making alternate arrangements for my son etc., etc. The least I could do, under the circumstances, is to pray for the salvation of his soul fervently and I am including a verse or two in my daily prayers before I go to repose.
To relive the memories of my uncle, I went through some printed photographs I had in my custody. The first black and white photo which shows me as a child in my blouse and long skirt was a gift from Uncle Davis. Although memory of the day is not clearly etched on my mind, my mum had briefed me on the missing details. The colour of the blouse and the long skirt was red with white lines running through it besides the multicoloured embroidered floral patterns on it, which was hard to tell by just looking at the photograph. As my uncle felt that the occasion was worth capturing, he took me for a photo shoot later, on that special day.
As I gazed at a few photographs which had my uncle, my unconscious rustling through memory’s pages stopped at a recurring event that I had conveniently pushed into little compartments in my head, which could be pulled out conveniently if the situation warranted. During every long summer vacation, my uncle planned his sales trip to Coimbatore from Chennai, on behalf of Almonard Fans, to take us (mum, my brother and I) with him to Chennai to spend our vacation with our grandparents, uncles, aunties and other first cousins. Even though he had misgivings about my choices and really did not approve of those, Uncle Davis always stood by me and had a positive outlook towards events or occurrences. When he came for my engagement, he took a look at my “boyfriend-till-then” and said, “He is not bad looking and is a good choice.” He fulfilled his responsibilities as an uncle during the engagement, marriage and thereafter by inviting us for every important family celebration (until our migration to Australia), even though mine was both an inter-caste marriage and not at the same time as my boyfriend became a christian convert for a christian betrothal and wedding.
A stubborn streak characterised my personality even as a child and I did not like any obstacle in my pathway. I entertained an instant dislike for authoritarians and control freaks and chucked tantrums until I had my way. The only way any parental figure could make me oblige was by appealing to my better nature and not through orders, commands or Hitler’s approach. I was the oldest girl on my mother’s side and all my wishes were not granted when my ten first cousins gathered for school holidays in my uncle’s or grandparents’ home. When my requests for anything fell on deaf ears, the reaction was usually a torrent of words and when I stopped the listeners felt like they had been hit by a cyclone, which became one of my nicknames. I also had the tendency to sulk and wore a long face when I was chastised almost like the child actress (Meena) in the film ‘Anbulla Rajnikanth’.
As the expression became a regular one during the summer holidays, my uncle, on returning from work, used to ask “Where is ‘Anbulla Rajnikanth’? My second maternal uncle used the nickname to mock me whenever the opportunity came by and I was stuck with the name for a few years, until I finished my schooling. Once, when I had a heated argument with my father about a specific choice of words I had used to address him, my uncle supported me indirectly by maintaining silence, which to onlookers would have appeared like he had adopted a neutral stand. Circumstances had forced us apart and the gap of estrangement grew with the passage of time and my cherished memories became blurred. Despite the fact that he kicked his bucket at 74, he would continue to live in my heart forever.