How would you react if an astrologer predicted you have less time left to live?
30 years ago, on September 2, 1992, my cousin Funny drowned while immersing Lord Ganesha’s idol in a lake. He was 16 years young.
Two of his closest friends drowned too in a bid to save each other. None of them knew how to swim.
Three months before that date, I was due to travel to Mumbai to spend my summer holidays. My sister Babita lived there with my brother-in-law. Mumbai was also home to Jayant Mamu (my eldest maternal uncle), who lived with his family.
Srikant Mamu (my youngest Mamu) and I were scheduled to board the Konark Express from Bhubaneswar to Mumbai. My parents came to drop me at the station. Before that, they broke their journey at Prashant Mamu’s home. Funny is the eldest son of Prashant Mamu.
Both Funny and I were very close. He was two years younger than me.
I persuaded him to travel with us to Mumbai. He was keen. But it was up to his parents to decide, he said. I convinced my aunt (Funny’s mother) to let him go. But the final decision was Prashant Mamu’s. My aunt called Mamu to check if he could go. Funny & I stood close by the phone instrument to know the outcome. Prashant Mamu, who was out of town, agreed.
We knew Funny would not get a reserved seat. But we already had two seats. We would adjust and try our luck just in case there were last-moment cancellations. The Travelling Ticket Examiner (TTE) could assign vacant seats if any passenger did not show up. Befriending the TTE helped to secure such seats. In India, there are well-established practices that enabled such friendship. Srikant Mamu was confident he could make it happen.
I was excited. I looked forward to our train journey and our stay in Mumbai. My excitement was short-lived. When we boarded the train, Srikant Mamu persuaded my parents to leave. My dad didn’t want to, till he was sure we were comfortable.
When we reached our seats, other passengers were already seated. Dad questioned them about why they were seated in our seats. They produced their tickets to show the seats assigned to them. My dad looked at Srikant Mamu, who said there must be some confusion and that he would sort it with the TTE. The train blew its horn to announce its departure. Mamu requested Dad to leave, assuring him he would fix it.
After the train left the station, Mamu confided that we did not have any reserved seats. Not a single. I took my time to process what he said. Funny handled this unpleasant news much better than I did.
My father had asked Srikant Mamu to book tickets two months in advance. Mamu was busy, and he had missed doing so.
That was the only occasion I slept on the floor of the train compartment. Only a sheet separated the floor and my body. Srikant Mamu managed to get us a couple of berths in the second half of the next day.
Notwithstanding the initial hiccups, the train journey went okay, thanks to Funny’s wisecracks. He had a remarkable sense of humour (inherited from his parents) and could regale you all day. And night if you allowed him.
He lived up to his name, literally.
Funny was large-hearted. He carried very little money in his pocket. His travel was planned at the last minute, and my aunt didn’t have much to give him. Prashant Mamu was shooting out of town for a film. Each time we consumed food or bought any item, Funny would look for money in his pocket. I never allowed him to pay. I was his big brother. But he’d find some way to spend, in my absence. I think he ran out of money soon. But he never showed it.
Such was Funny. Always cheerful. Always congenial.
He was incredibly caring too. When we returned to Bhubaneswar, we had confirmed seats. I woke up in the middle of the first night of the return journey to find Funny sharing his berth with an elderly gentleman who had no place to sit. He requested Funny, who immediately obliged. I found the gentleman snoring while Funny couldn’t sleep. But that didn’t bother him. He smiled when I spotted him.
Such was Funny. He could never say no. Even if it discomforted him.
The next day, we reached our destination and went to our respective homes.
I replayed our last conversation the day we lost him. Did he know he didn’t have much time? Or was he referring to the last few hours of our train journey? There was no way to find out now that he was gone.
A few weeks later, Funny’s parents visited the families of his other two friends who had met the same fate. The father of one of them recounted a story that was revealing.
Funny’s friend noted the details of the meeting with the astrologer in his diary. His father found and read it after he departed.
When I got to know this, I felt miserable that I did not spend more time with Funny. He had not mentioned to me his conversation with the astrologer. I had no way to know.
I miss him. I wish he were here. If you knew him, you would too.
Such was Funny.
Those whom the Gods love die young. Because Gods seek their company as much as you and I do. Funny was the most amazing company you could hope to get. Being with him was like signing up for a 24X7 entertainment service. Knowing him, the inhabitants of the other world where Funny resides would be rolling on the floor laughing.
After losing him early, I realised that we must spend as much time as possible with our dear ones. No one can say what will happen the next moment.
You should too. Make the most of your time with people you care about. Tell them what you feel for them while you are around. While they are around.
Why regret it later? Why wish in hindsight? Do it now. And every moment hereafter.
There may never be an opportunity again. Make it count.