Thursday, December 25, 2014

Of Friends, Funerals and the Social Media

In the rag tag yearbook we made for the MBA class of 1991 Osmania University, one that we titled 'Memories', we described the large-hearted, intense and ever-smiling Sharath thus (tongue in cheek):

"A cross-country enthusiast who never uses the main road and prefers life's obstacles through the Law College shortcut. The tough man with a soft heart, he has firm convictions and is prepared to argue it out with anyone who differs in view. His culinary skills outclass his other talents which include occasional wailing (oops singing), fitness, TT. His emotional involvement with things inanimate and metaphysical (like TT) lost him much of his fine black hair. Shoes, skirts, trousers, belts, bikes and sports fascinate him. An expert on expert commentary." 

Sharath Babu was not someone you would miss easily. Burly, bespectacled, intense and intelligent, he was always at the world and seemed to possess a kind of an innate unrest. Sharath could always be relied on for a laugh, an opinion and an argument anytime. He'd arrive on his Ind Suzuki, choosing the hilly terrain of the path less travelled to college for some reason, the one behind law college to reach the newly built College of Commerce and Management on the Osmania University campus. Why he never liked the smooth main road is something we never understood. The years were 1989 to 1991, which we spent in a relative paradise, away from the world (the college was away from the main road) and away from the competitive madness that most MBA colleges become (read as naive).

Typical days at the MBA college would be to get to college by 8 am for a morning lecture though I wonder why they had these early morning lectures, either take or skip the class, drink tea at the infamous Liaquat canteen, saunter in and out of classes through the day until lunch, go to Arts college for lunch, return to college and engage in discussions about how to change the world (by watching movies, planning where to drink and talking irrelevant stuff). Much of this activity was centred around the sports room where we played table tennis, caroms and bonded or on the steps where Liaquat's deadly concoctions were gulped down which steadily affected our mental prowess, negatively in most cases.

Sharath was not from our section - we had two - A and B. But we (he and I) had a decent working relationship. I had a healthy respect for him as a person for the simple fact that he had a point of view on everything. I was never sure if he liked me, in fact I got the feeling that he didn't early on, but then most people do find me rather stuck up and all (a defense for my own insecurities). But we did discuss sports, he'd tell me stuff he had experienced as a sportsman, he once even wrote a long piece on how to develop the sports facilities in our country in our newsletter (and did not want any bit edited - he really enjoyed writing that). He'd talk of his life candidly, his strained relationships at home, and typically, laugh it all off in a manner of - I can handle it - you guys can't. And that was his attitude to all of us always, big or small. I have seen a bit more of life than you guys - which was a fact.

Sharath's greatest attribute was that he had the greatest respect for life. Never have I seen this intense, big man angry or disrespectful to any form of life in all the time I knew him. He had this immense capacity to want to help, to want to make the world a better place for those around him. He would engage with all kinds of people with genuine, heartfelt interest, smiling, making the moment bearable, soaking in whatever sadness or fear or doubt the moment carried - he could handle it better than us you see. I can picture him standing so respectfully, not out of any thing else, but sheer desire to enhance the space for the people around him - smaller, fearful souls that he wished to help. And through all this, he'd continue his self-deprecating humor, a sense of humor that never had a malicious edge. Always soothing, always smiling.

Sharath had immense patience, an eye for detail and enormous love. He questioned things and did not accept them as they were. After we passed out we met a few times - once at his home. He recounted to me in great detail the drama in which he got married and more than the story I remember the joy with which he told the story. It was a narration that I can never forget for its sheer intensity. In subsequent meetings I knew more about his family, his young children. He got a job at the Central Excise and the one time that I called him to ask about some procedure because a friend of mine was returning from the US, he spoke in such a strict tone that I did not call him ever again on official matters. He seemed to be one strict officer who did not even want to talk business. But that would be Sharath typically - straight shooting from the hip.

Sharath faded away from my life after we passed out but we knew what he was up to. He had a special relationship with Shobha, one full of good humour and sharp repartee, trust and respect (something that the A section chaps seemed to share) and he would help her with selling her insurance policies etc. He'd come home on a few occassions, being Shobha's client, and we would catch up and make plans about the big meeting. Then one day, some six or seven years ago perhaps, we heard that he was hospitalised in Apollo for some rare illness which was life threatening. Shobha and I went to meet him. He laughed as usual, about doctors, procedures, his body (I have been seeing all this and more since my childhood, was his favorite line). He was in bad shape and barely alive. He was in hospital for an inordinately long time - six months if I remember right. We plied him with books - Shobha with a copy of Heal Your Life and me with a copy of The Men Within. We met him again when he started to get better. Again he laughed about himself and his condition (I don't think they saw any patient like me here, he said). Young family. Scary. But he made it through.

But the illness took its toll. His kidneys gave up. They said he had trouble going to work because of his eyesight. He started doing dialysis at home himself. He'd go to work as much as possible. He came home for a few sessions with Shobha on hypnotherapy and said he was feeling better. Then he stopped coming. I bumped into him at home a year ago. He came to visit my friend, Dr. Satyanath Patnaik, whom he rated very highly. He is a very good doctor, said Sharath in a tone of such respect that I cannot forget the way he said it. He said he could hardly see but he came home driving around in his Swift, that mischievous, devil-may-care smile on his face. Then he backed his car off and went away. But not before giving me tons of advise on which doctor to consult for my health issue, an offer to take me personally to his doctor - in his condition.

Someone with so many illnesses, so many troubles. I wondered how long he would go on. It was sheer grit to pull on as long as he could. He did it for his children perhaps, for the world perhaps. but I don't think anyone would have lasted as long as Sharath did, given the same issues. A few weeks ago my friend Ramaraju was telling me of the school reunion of Raja Jitendra Public School and how one of his friends was not in good health. They had to help him walk - but he did come. That spirit somehow matched that of Sharath's and I asked if he was the same Sharath. So it was. We called him immediately. He joked about it as usual saying that we always promise but we never visited him. He in fact challenged Ram and said that he was sure he'd never visit him. Ram said that he would, just to prove him wrong. We made plans - one a very concrete one - which we did not honor. We'll go now we thought, or tomorrow, or...
Sharath was proved right.

I got a call a couple of weeks ago from his number. Sharath never called me normally. I picked up and started off - 'Sharath bhai how are you....'. But it was his son speaking. He'd got my name mixed up on the phone with some other Hari and called me instead of the other Hari that Sharath wanted to speak to. His eye sight being what it was he must have told his son to call. I was glad that the young boy made that mistake. Sharath came on the line. He said his son made a mistake. I told him there were no mistakes and that he was destined to speak to me. He laughed as usual, his voice had not lost an iota of its vigour - from the days in college - this despite the fact that he was practically blind, could not even walk a few steps. His words were as usual strong, precise and intended to give strength and laughter. He told me of his condition in detail. As usual he laughed, made me laugh and forget about his condition, and we disconnected. That was the last time I spoke to him.

A couple of days ago Sharath moved on to a world that was long awaiting him. His battle with his illnesses was his own - his brother Vijay told me at the funeral that his doctors often said that he seemed to know as much or more about his condition. He had a fantastic relationship with life - strong, fun - and life, his partner - let him have his way. I thought he challenged life as a dear friend would. 'Come on let's see what you got.' I have not yet seen anyone carry that sort of a spirit in the face of such trouble - he seemed to enjoy it almost. In fact I told Ram that Sharath could well outlast us all, the way he handles his troubles.

I went to his funeral. His two children are young - his son is thirteen and the daughter is ten perhaps. His wife, whom he loved so much, was composed. I was surprised to find that most of Sharath's countless friends were busy and did not turn up. The social media buzzed with some RIPs for a while and then it moved on to more happier forwards. I met two school friends, Subhash and Sandeep, who were deeply touched by his being a part of his life. I also met Vishwa Prasad, another classmate from MBA who was inconsolable in a quiet way - he was Sharath's roommate for a year after college. He could not think of any reason why he did not meet Sharath all this while. He would not come away even after the funeral was over - he just wanted to stay.

One of his schoolmates said he was concerned at how people stopped going to funerals. He went to one where there were only three people he said. (I saw one where there were two people.) He wondered for a moment how we do not attend the funeral of a friend, the one last thing that our friend may demand of us. I did not know what to say, but there was some truth there.

As a community and society, we are so blissfully superficial in our engagement with our world, our perfect world, where everything becomes as simple as having participated with an RIP on the social media. I wonder what Sharath would have thought if he knew there were only two people to attend his funeral from his class despite many of us being in the same town. Knowing him he would not have cared and would have laughed it off I am sure, but I am a little concerned for the world he has left behind. I am concerned at how we all seem so connected and so caring about one another on social media with our 'likes' and 'smileys' and 'RIPs.' but like the media does with certain uncomfortable issues, we sweep the uncomfortable parts under the carpet at the earliest moment. I also do wonder how far it will get stretched now - perhaps two people at the funeral will become the norm. I wish some more friends had made the time and effort to turn up at the funeral too. This guy was special and we all knew it.

The irony of it stares you in the face - on one hand we see the extent to which the Aussies went to mourn their mate Phil Hughes and on another, this casual moving on after a brief pause. Just an observation. It's a bit sad I think.

Anyway I am glad I could see him off. I still don't know if Sharath liked me (he surely would not have hated me because he just could not hate anyone). But I always had and continue to have a tremendous respect for his fighting capacities, his attitude of taking it on and his ability to laugh at death in the face. He is truly inspirational in that way and his resilient spirit is one we could all do with a bit of. Have a good after life Sharath, you, more than anyone else, deserve a rest my friend.

1 comment:

Vinod Ekbote said...

Hari,I was overwhelmed by your fine tribute to your friend, Sharath. May he rest in peace. I hope his family finds the strength to move on with life without him.