I last met him 23 years ago.
He was my dads cousin. Sudhir.
Tall, moustached, dapper, chain smoker, artist extraordinaire, loud raspy voice, witty, well spoken.
He had a flair about him, an aura.
As a child he had tuberculosis on one of his knee joints. They probably didn’t have good treatment then, so his infected bones were removed and the joint fused. Which gave him this very unique, distinct walk. Which, again, added to that aura.
I think I was a little intimidated by him. Mostly because he spoke to me like an adult. There were no wishy-washy conversations with him.
I remember this one sunny afternoon during the winter of ’89 when everyone decided to come to ours for lunch. It was one of those perfect days. My dad was making his famous Bloody Mary’s and everyone was hanging out in the garden. The sun was the right amount of brilliant, there was a light breeze, a lot of voices, a lot of laughter. Sudhir was there as well. Entertaining everyone.
At some point I saw him pick up this stuffed pink panther I used to have. Now, I wasn’t a stuffed toy kinda kid, but I liked that pink panther. So I started to watch him, closely.
He picked it up….. tossed it around….held it by it’s limb… by it’s face…. fiddle fiddle … toss toss…… and then casually, absentmindedly, took his cigarette and burned one of its whiskers……then another. …. then another.
I don’t think he realised what he was doing because he was either in animated conversation or deep thought throughout this whisker burning process. It was so effortless that it felt like he’d been burning pink jungle cat facial hair for years.
And all this while, I watched him, but now with a slight frown.
I didn’t say anything. Because …. I just didn’t.
That day is etched in my mind forever.
Maybe a little more because of that incident.
I remember him clearly. Sitting under that big tree we had…
His voice, with a hint of rasp.
His tweed jacket.
I remember thinking he towered over me.
I remember his pepper coloured long hair.
Him sharing an inside joke with my dad.
I remember him leaning forward to talk to Dhruv because he was so fond of him.
I remember the way he laughed.
How he argued.
I remember his hands….
Sudhir, you’ve been swimming in my head ever since I got the news yesterday.
And I’m so glad for that winter afternoon many, many years ago because I watched you with such rapt attention and noticed every detail about you.
You should know that there is a 9 year old girl somewhere in space-time watching you, hawk-eyed, forever. Willing to set all her toys on fire.
Stay happy wherever you are.