I've known Ranjan for about forty years now, which, to put it in perspective, is longer than I knew my father or mother. College, jobs, ups and downs, fights, friends, parties, cricket, chai, pubs, travel, weddings, children, gains, losses, fears, fun, music, books, movies, life, death...we shared it all. That he stayed close to where I live for most part, when all our other friends had moved away, perhaps made us meet more often than most. Whenever I set out from home I would call him if I had an extra fifteen minutes for a chai, ditto when I was returning home. A call when I needed to get out and breathe and we'd drive along for a late night paan.
|Me and Ranjan, Dhanaulti - 2011|
God made Ranjan Kumar Pant perfectly for such moments. Non-intrusive, non-judgmental, saying just the right thing, listening to whatever we said without imposing his thoughts and comfortable staying silent when no words were needed. Also it would be easy to call him up because he rarely refused (or moody like most are), so we all found it easy to thrust ourselves on his time. For someone who needed solace, quiet - he was the man. Ranjan was that for all of us - that reassuring 'presence'. Some kind of a therapist to whom we could go and tell what we wanted, unburden ourselves and move on.
That his house was central made us all converge there.
So, when his health took a downturn a few weeks ago, I woke up in panic one night with this thought - after all these years now, who will be there that I can call for chai, to share that moment. I could not sleep that night. It was the first time that the thought entered my mind - mainly because Ranjan had always had this ability of finding a way out, of rising like the Phoenix from the brink when everyone wrote him off.
Not this time though. There was too much stacked against him
|Circa early 1980s on his Yamaha|
A couple of days later on the night of the 31st July (the same day that my father passed away 39 years ago) Ranjan was gone after an intense eight year relationship with cancer and left a void so huge, so sudden, that even now, as I write, I find my eyes brimming. I have seen my parents die, friends die - but have never had this reaction where in the middle of something my eyes well up, my voice chokes and I have to spend a moment to compose myself. In a meeting, a conversation, while driving the car, any random place. Perhaps it is because I cannot explain his loss, cannot find actions and images to ascribe to the importance of his silent presence in our lives. I have now come to the conclusion that the real heroes are not the blustering, larger than life people who occupy centre stage - but the quiet ones, the ones who give us the space to reach out, those who are there when we need them, who smile and crack a subtle joke, listen to us venting without judging and holding our space. Ranjan was one such and if people find it difficult to remember those 'big' moments, its because he chose to take the tougher route of being in the background, absorbing quietly. At times, too much in the background.
|At OU Engineering College - Deepak Wasnik, Ram, Chandu, Ranjan, Madhav, Sanjay and me|
Not because he was not capable of being on stage. But because he seems to have chosen his role, let others take the stage while he held the backstage together. Just being there.
Let me try to show what it is rather than tell. It's a long story.
1980s - College Days
It starts in the late 70s and early 80s. Me and my brother Ram would walk to the ESI Hospital bus stop to catch a bus to our school - All Saints High School. Ranjan and his brother Kanchan would be heading to the same bus stop to catch a bus to the Hyderabad Public School, two smart looking boys in their smart uniforms.
|Kanchan, Varsha, Uncle, Ranjan and Aunty (courtesy Ananya from the family album)|
We felt a bit like their country cousins - a 'Jo Jeeta Woh Sikandar' type of a scene of a rich school vs poor school. Anyway, in typical Hyderabadi fashion we looked at one another and then off we walked into our respective worlds. It's a memory that's etched in my mind forever. Theirs, an elite public school, and ours, a mixed bag of rowdy boys with a sporting culture.
|Hockey (family album - he ever showed us these pics)|
(I heard later that he had been a Prefect at school. And that he liked sports and played hockey for his school team. His father enjoyed his cricket and led Hyderabad Industries Ltd too, so one could say there was sports in his blood.)
|Old partner in crime - Vardha|
We (Ram and me) lived in Sundar Nagar which was ensconced between ESI Hospital and St Theresa's Hospital. Choudary lived in our colony. Vardha and Madhav lived in the ESI hospital premises. Ranjan lived on the other side of St Theresa's in the picturesque Czech Coloy, the official quarters for the Hyderabad Industries officials where his father Mr Dayadhar Pant worked. His Mom, older brother Kanchan, younger sister Varsha, made up the rest of the family (and Feedo their dog). We all lived within a 500 metres radius.
Our first meeting was perhaps at Vardha's house, some link that Choudary had found into elite circles.
|Another one - Kiran|
Circa 1984 onward was when we started meeting more often at Vardha's house in his smoke filled room, where we would talk a lot of nonsense, go to Sitara cafe or Heera Moti cafe of Jugnu cafe, drink chai, smoke cigarettes, talk more nonsense etc. It was amazing how much nonsense we spoke (and continue to speak). We had just entered college life - Ranjan went to Nizam College, Madhav to CBIT, me, Choudary, Sanjay Reddy to Osmania Engineering (where we met Sanjay, Sunil Jyoti, Subbu, Ali, Chandu etc who also became good friends with Ranjan), and that loosely became the group those years. Kiran had gone to Manipal to study those years so he missed out on that time.
|And another - Sanjay|
We all played sports. Ranjan played football for Nizam College which is no mean feat because it was one of the top college teams (he loved his football). Me and Subbu played varsity and state cricket, Sunil played shuttle for India, Madhav was a state level boxer, Ali played handball for the varsity, Sanjay was a national and varsity level athlete, Mama was a varsity level boxer. Sports - and a good laugh, a good time.
|Fooling around with his mom|
Sometime then, Madhav, Choudary, Ranjan, Vardha etc went to Nizam College to the legendary Boxing Coach Chiranjeevi. Choudary and Ranjan had a thing going on between them - Choudary usually comparing his muscles with Ranjan and both getting competitive about it. They were pretty serious about body building then. They would call themselves 'Tango' and 'Cash' after the popular movie with Stallone and Kurt Russell in the lead. Ranjan loved the Rocky series of course. In a few pics he does look like a sweeter and smarter version of Stallone and in most he looks like Fardeen Khan.
|Partners - Ranjan and Ram|
By now it was quite clear that Ranjan had a good taste in movies and he would pick some really nice English ones - he always had a good taste in movies and TV shows, and enjoyed watching them a lot. We would catch up at his house when no one was around and watch films on his VCR. He slowly became part of the engineering college gang and we started doing more things together - like going to the dhabas at Medchal, or going to some seedy bar, or hanging out at Irani cafes for long hours, or listening to music at my place. After my Ranji Trophy days were over he would come over home more often on his own.
Chal, chai peeyenge.
|Always the competitor - arm wrestling in an Inter collegiate tournament, Vivek umpiring|
Sometime then he had his first serious accident, his tryst with death - he and Madhav went somewhere on Ranjan's scooter (he had a Bajaj cub if I remember right) and at Nagarjuna circle they had a fall. They say that Ranjan blanked out for a while and somehow came back. Madhav seemed to think he died. But he opened his eyes, got to his feet and was back.
Cat with nine lives. Ranjan did that at least five or six times as I remember.
|With Ram at Nagarjuna Sagar|
The second incident happened as our engineering college days were coming to an end, 1988 . There were parties galore and our extended college members like Ranjan, Venkatpathi and others were always invited. We planned a dhaba party and Ranjan borrowed his father's office car for the outing. So there was the car and a few bikes, on a dark, lonely stretch of the road near Medchal when Choudary provoked Ranjan to a race. Never one to back off from a challenge (true Yudhisthir quality) Ranjan stepped on the gas. Choudary racing on his bike and Ranjan speeding in the car - both zooming dangerously. God knows what happened but Chandu and me, who were on Chandu's bike behind the car suddenly saw the car swerve.
Ranjan says he saw Choudary brake - the red lights of the bike flashed for a moment - and he braked instinctively. The car swerved violently and hit a milestone. The front wheel sheared off at the impact and rolled off into the fields with Sanjay racing after it to retrieve it before it disappeared into some dark corner of the universe. The car miraculously stayed put on the road like Karna's chariot, one wheel missing. Imagine what would have happened if he had not hit the milestone because the car would have careened off the road and tumbled along merrily sending a few souls heavenward. The shaken girls went back to the hostel immediately, glad to see another day. We sat up all night in that godforsaken place guarding the car and waiting for some mechanics to arrive. That was probably the second close shave. God's grace was well and truly on him. He had some explaining to do at home I guess.
|1995, Pune - Ranjan, me and Don|
Shy with the Ladies
For all his looks and humour Ranjan was a reserved chap with the ladies, preferring to put on a serious front with them. So there weren't any flings as far as we knew. He started doing his MBA in an evening college and was working during the day - some company in Abids that made stencils or something - he was in sales. He bought his Yamaha then - 3610. There was a lady who was in love with him, some older lady called Farzana or someone and we would tease him about it. I am sure if he had figured out his moves he would have had all the girls eating out of his hands. Of course none of us had figured out our moves so nothing happened. But given his looks, he had the best chance.
|1995 - Gunjan and he after marriage - the love of his life|
Soon after everyone left Hyderabad for their higher studies. Ram went to IIM Ahmedabad, Choudary to Australia, Madhav. Mama, Kiri to the USA. Sanjay and me stayed to do our MBA here. Vardha was doing his medicine and was not available most times.
Those days Ranjan would come home almost everyday and we would play cricket one on one. We devised a tennis ball game where we would bat and bowl left handed and played intense games for hours. Or played chess. Or sometimes went to the Ameerpet play ground where he played football and I jogged or played cricket.
And then - off for chai.
He was a tough, tough competitor. Never wanted to lose a game. What I admired about him was that he would use limited skill and find ways to out think or compete with way higher skill. Like he would make me stretch every ounce in cricket or table tennis where I was way better skilled than he was - with him you can always expect a tough game. Our cricket games continued - with new partners - Rakesh Bahal would walk miles to play every Saturday, Kiri, Choudary, Don and others for a few years in the late 1990s.
Those years were some of the best. Every Saturday we would meet, play, party.
It was easy to ask Ranjan for help - he rarely refused or acted moody. So his car was the one that we used for all big jobs. When my sister Mythily was having her delivery Mom wanted Peddakka to come late at night. I called Ranjan for help and he came in his car and we went to BHEL at 12 in the night. We both stayed up all night until Shrinjay was born in the morning. He was there for all the weddings at home (mine certainly), for Mom's illness when we had to frequently visit the doctors. Of course he was also the one I felt comfortable enough to ask for money - I remember being badly stuck once and needed 500 bucks (in those days it was a fortune) and he just gave it off quietly.
Mischief, Amazing Sense of Humour
Nothing would come straight with him - always some gamesmanship with him. If he laid his hand on a letter he would read it out, or would get into your phone or something which would give him a leverage to bug you. Here's a sample of his humour - a gift he gave me mid 80s I think. Still have it.
|His birthday gift to me - 1980s|
Ranjan would pick the perfect cards for birthdays - subtlest and the most appropriate (and also would do the most irritating thing like signing on a birthday card you bought for someone else). In fact his sense of humour was one of the best I have ever experienced.
|Signed by the maestro on the backside!|
When I read what he wrote on the back of the gift I am amazed - we were like that. What happened and why did we become stiff? I also realise that he gave me quite a few gifts. Head phones for my birthday a couple of years ago. I asked for that shamelessly. For Shobha's 50th he sponsored a Kerala ayurveda treatment. Again head phones for Anjali, just last month.
The odd pub visit surely. Shirts.T shirts.
Then he joined Concise Technologies, a company promoted by Kanchan's friends with an office in Marredpally. Soon as business increased he hired a bunch of our talent - Sanjay, Naresh, Chandu? We'd tease him about the office assistant, a lady who was sweet on him. Anyway that ended soon as Concise closed down after a few years. But Sanjay and Naresh swear by those years there.
I joined BPCL in Kolkata and returned in a year. Choudary returned from Australia, and Kiran returned and Ram returned and we started meeting more often. Now everyone was earning so there were more parties at home or visits to the dhaba. Or a trip to Nagajuna Sagar they took off on impromptu!
Pune, Mumbai Trip
In the early 1990s I worked in Pune for a few years. Ranjan had joined a Telecom company then, came to Pune on work, and stayed for a week with me. It was a great time - we would listen to music over a drink in the evenings, go out to eat, see some places. We went to Mumbai for a couple of days - I remember we stayed in some seedy hotel near Dadar and then went to Cafe Mondegar.
|After a couple - in Pune 1992|
|Me, Aditya, Ranjan and Gunjan|
Jobs, Transfers, Weddings
I got a job in Bombay in 1994. I postponed my joining only because me and Ranjan were watching the Soccer World Cup. He would give me tips on the great names and the techniques involved, always a keen eye for the defence guys - Baresi was one of his favorites.
In April 1995, the boys made it to Bombay for my bachelor's party and picked me up at Churchgate and we visited several joints in Colaba through the night before crashing at my flat in Nerul and heading to Pune next day. More revelry the next day and the boys finally left after a nice steak at The Place in Pune.
|Brooke Shields, Ranjan and Ram|
Ranjan was finally caught in pictures in my wedding event - otherwise he is never seen in any pictures in events. He just vanishes into thin air. He got married in December 1995, later that year. The guys went to Haldwani for the wedding - Vardha, Bhushan, Choudary (the card gang), Anu, Shobha, Bindu and Sribala. I surprised him (I think) by showing up for the reception at Hyderabad. He was awkward as usual - not keen to hug or do anything that showed unnecessary intimacy.
Goa with the Guys - DYOT
I got a transfer to Hyderabad and started to write my novel which I finished in 1998. In celebration we headed off to Goa in Choudary's Ambassador (me with my manuscript). The general idea was to pick up booze and drive through the night - never heard a more suicidal plan ever. Ranjan drove the first leg and drove like a maverick which he does so well, scaring the daylights out of Vidyuth who was with us on that journey. After getting lost near Almatti we realised we had headed the wrong way and finally made it to Goa the next evening. We checked into Sukh Sagar and headed off the beach - a place where we fine tuned the concept of DYOT or rather Do Your Own Thing.
My idea of DYOT was to walk off on long walks on the Colva beach. Whenever I looked back I would find Ranjan trudging behind me, half a km away, lost in his own thoughts. Long walks, stops for beer, snacks and meals and continue again.
|Gunjan, Aditya, Ranjan and Ananya|
Cheat Death - Episode 3
Ranjan's famous cheat death act happened there one afternoon. We were walking along the beach when I threw the Frisbee into the water expecting it to come back with the waves. But it did not (and we should have been suspicious). Since it was not very far out we nominated Ranjan to fetch it (I didn't know how to swim, Choudary was doubtful) and so Ranjan reluctantly waded in. Where the Frisbee was, was some kind of a sink hole and Ranjan unsuspectingly stepped into the hole. We saw him go down and surface, then go down and surface again and then go down a third time for a longish time. We urged the only remaining swimmer who was with us, Vardha, to jump in (he told us that he swam only in swimming pools and not the ocean) but by the time we concluded our discussions Ranjan's somehow managed to come up, gasp for air, grab the Frisbee and his cap and somehow made his way back. The locals said those pools were very dangerous and many people had drowned in them - two people had drowned the day before!
|Ranjan, Gunjan and Aditya and his first car|
'Ek Frisbee ke liye apna jaan kyo dere saab,' said one idiot kid and walked off before we strangled him.
That evening was a blast as we walked the beaches singing songs - I remember singing Lucky Ali's 'Tum hi ho'. Those days Lucky Ali was my brother and so were these souls beside me. We had this stupid idea of jumping across a puddle and we all did but Ranjan somehow managed to walk through it! Complete nonsense.
Just happy to be - high, with friends, free. Unadulterated fun.
|The MCC Reunion - Sai, Raj, Venkatapathi, Ranjan, Babu, Ram, Pavan, me, Suri, Chandra, Subbu, Sreenu|
Tango and Cash
Next day we headed to Bangalore for some work Choudary had and stopped at Amrut Restaurant in Karwar for a meal. After two fun filled days Vardha and me took the bus back home - we were both working. Choudary and Ranjan stayed back and had another unique experience.
On their way back to Hyderabad the car stalled in the dark on the highway and a drunk guy came and occupied the car. Armed with a stick, a claim that he was an ex-Naxalite and a threat of having a gun under his belt, he held them both hostage all night. Somehow they came out unscathed - next afternoon. I remember trying to pacify Gunjan who was worried about Ranjan's whereabouts. What do I tell her? I had no clue myself.
With Tango and Cash there was always action. They invited trouble when they teamed up.
|Tango, Kiri and Cash|
Like the time when Choudary, Ranjan, me and Shobha went to a dhaba near Kukatpally for a quiet dinner. Suddenly there were cops all over, turning the tables upside down. The SI spoke rudely (he was drunk) and we left as they shut the dhaba and took the manager with them. We were heading back quietly when on the way back we bumped into the same cop in his jeep. Choudary, as he normally does, threw all sense to the winds and gave the drunk SI an earful from the car. The cop surprisingly did not react and listened. Not content, Choudary stopped the car at the Police station which ws on the way, to file a complaint against the SI.
As we waited in the car I told Ranjan to check on him and get him back if he can. Ranjan reached the PS gate when the same jeep came and dramatically the cop pulled out his revolver and aimed it Choudary. Tango and Cash were both herded in. I took off, called Choudarys brother, Don, and came back. The cop would not release them - kept them in the station all night in the cell, minus their shirts. Tango and Cash joked that they finally got a chance to show off their bodies - holding the cell bars. Like the movie Salaakhein. They were let out next noon!
Tango and Cash.
(The other day Choudary came for a chole bhatura party. In typical fashion he looks at Ranjan's picture and says -Ranjan, main 2047 mein aarun. Sab taiyyar rakh.' Nuts. But that's the way these two were.)
Love for Sports
When MCC had a spot vacant I asked him if he would like to play. He played a few seasons and made his mark with his lower order batting and slow medium pace. His hand eye coordination helped him pick some real sharp chances in slips and his batting was good enough to score a couple of fifties, once when we were 10 for 6 he and Vijay pulled us out with a fifty each. I remember a five wicket haul he once got and several timely breaks. And one game we were losing because we had no breakthroughs and he held a sharp slip catch off my bowling - after which we packed them off. But mostly it was the fun of all three of us - me, Ram and Ranjan traveling to the ground and back in those years, the beers after the games. The one time when he Ram, and Babu went to have (what else) chai and came too late - our batting had collapsed and we conceded - he and Ram did not bat because they were out at chai! I was livid then. But we still laugh about it now. So many such memories.
'Hari looks casual,' I remember Ranjan telling the others. 'But inside he is very competitive.' It was good to hear that. Whoever said that the praise most dearest to us is the one that we get from our peers is absolutely right.
He loved playing billiards/snooker and they would have marathon sessions at Fateh Maidan Club. All night card gambling sessions. He'd love those.
|Ranjan fielding for MCC in the foreground|
An Era of Challenges
1997. Aditya was born. There was the mix up about the twins, something the doctor's had missed - Aditya's twin sister passed away the next morning at Niloufer Hospital. I went to pick Shobha who stayed all night at Niloufer and can never forget the sight of her coming out of that room crying - the baby had died. Ranjan buried her at ESI that evening. It was unreal being there - what was happening to our happy go lucky lives? Why are we here at this stage in our lives? Ranjan was stoic, though it must have been quite sad and hurtful - the entire process was botched up. I don't know how they coped, Ranjan and Gunjan. Very easy to say - why me? He never did. Not to me at least.
|Tango and Cash and me -Auli, 2012|
All their love was then showered on Aditya who was a chubby, fine little kid. And it was at Aditya's first birthday party I think that Vardha said, he was not holding his head up. It was another huge challenge. Aditya was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. He would not walk, talk, live a normal life. Again, I don't know how Ranjan coped with it. Not just coped - he was a loving, hands on Dad.
|Me and Tango and Cash - Rishikesh, 2012|
Was it then that he entered into a business with his cousin? Pharma. He worked very hard, travelling, meeting doctors all over. I remember him asking me for my contacts and I put him on to Mani and Madhuri Pai. Then the business went into a loss and the 'partner' suddenly turned into a 'lender'. Stressful. Choudary settled the issue. Would anything ever go right? But no, he would not complain. Just stoic.
I think that was when Ram told him to take up a job and he joined PES Engineers, an infrastructure company owned by Vasu and Suresh, wonderful guys both. And there he worked till the end. One of the best decisions taken by Ram, him, Suresh and Vasu. Life became a little more settled now.
|Tango and Cash|
Ashes to Ashes
My mom had cancer and in 2002 she died. Ranjan was a huge help throughout that difficult period coming in his car whenever I needed to take Mom to the doctor. He came with Ram and me to Rajamundry where we did the final rites with the ashes in the Godavari.
They moved from Czech Colony to Ameerpet.
|Ranjan, me and Vasu - Auli|
Ananya - Breath of Fresh Air
Amid all this tumult, Ananya was born and brought a lot of peace and sanity into their lives. He doted on her. Runu. A huge blessing. Ananya would grow up to be a wonderful daughter - caring, thoughtful, loving, strict.
In 2005, Ranjan's mom passed away -cancer. The years before had been difficult and he handled it all stoically. I met him in the hospital after she passed away, he was all alone. I asked him as he put a brave face - did you have a good cry? He said yes. Life went on. He took up positions in PES which led him to site work - Sitarganj, Birahi, Dehradun. I didn't know his state of mind but it must have been quite disturbed to stay away from the family. He would come once in a while to Hyderabad in that phase. I did not see him in the pics in my book launch for 'The Men Within' and I assume he was not in town. In January 2011 we did a book launch for 'If You Love Someone' and he was in Dehradun then and planned to come but some work came up and he could not attend. Not even the Hyderabad launch.
|With his beloved PES team - after a cricket team building session|
In February 2011, I travelled to Dehradun to spend a week with him in the hills. We spent a week, driving around Chakratha, visited the Tehri dam, went around Dehradun. That trip I met Ruskin Bond at Mussoorie. We both went to Haridwar to see the Ganga aarti, to Rishikesh for a chai.
|Ranjan (and me behind the camera) at Haridwar|
It was a lovely trip and I am glad I did it. During that trip is when my favorite picture with him was taken - a professional photographer at Dhanaulti told us he would click our picture - it was a popular picture taking place with the snow capped Himalayas behind. I laughed at the photographer idea but Ranjan insisted - and got him to take that picture. We paid 100 bucks for it (he did)!
|Sanjay Reddy (Mama), Ranjan, Kiri|
Auli - With the Boys
Next year we did one better - Vasu and his son Aditya, Kiran, Choudary, me and Ranjan - caught up at Dehradun and drove up to Auli where there is a skiing resort. We stayed in scenic places including one evening in tents on the banks of the Ganga near Rishikesh. And some white water rafting too! One memorable trip for sure. Ranjan organised and handled the entire trip.
But when we see those pictures I can see how much weight he had put on then. A lot was going on in his mind surely.
I think now of the characters in movies that would remind me of him - apart from the chocolate faced boys of course. It would be a bit of Nino Valenti from The Godfather, a bit of Raza Murda from Namak Haram and a bit of Johnny Walker as Murarilal and Rajesh Khanna as Jaichand from Anand (Johnny Walker's lines but Rajesh Khanna's life). Unforgettable characters.
In 2015 when we launched my third book '50 Not Out' in Hyderabad, he must have been around but as usual he is missing in the pictures. He gave me a compliment about '50 Not Out' - said it was nice and very useful for young readers. That was huge - he will never give you a straight compliment. He was instrumental in buying and getting 150 copies signed and personally gifted to PES employees - with Vasu's ashirvaad of course.
And then I was in Bangalore to launch 50 Not Out when I got a call from Ram. He said Ranjan had got cancer. I could not process it that night. I finished the launch and came to Hyderabad.
We all met at Choudary's place. I took Ranjan aside told him that the doctors word was not final, to not fight the cancer like an enemy, but to accept it and to surrender to it. I told him about how I dealt with my kidney scare. He normally would not listen to such talk but he did then. There was surgery, a painful process because they botched it up the first time and cut him up again the next day - leaving a massive scar across his abdomen he would show off every and then. Everyone pitched in with help - Ram, Don, Kiri, Arjun, Vasu, Sanjay - and he came home and we felt he would be fine (though one doctor gave her honest opinion - you have six months to live - Ranjan did eight years!)
|Ananya, Gunjan and Ranjan - on his birthday in recent years|
What stood out for me right from that surgery was the way he would bear the pain - theek hai - would be the stock answer. At best, a wince. There was chemotherapy and he would not take that very well but as usual he handled it like a stoic that he was. In all this our trips to the hospital (and its canteen) became more and more frequent. Ranjan's office colleagues would pitch in wholeheartedly - Arjun leading the pack, Varma, Haribabu, Narsimha (who would get him all sorts of breakfast items every week), Babu who would drive him. The unstinting support from Vasu and Suresh who were more his friends than his employers. Vasu would sense Ranjan's discomfort and show up at his place after work - he would call me at 4 and we would fix up a meeting at Ranjan's place. And stayed up many nights at hospital or nearby.
|Vasu and Ranjan|
Tibetan Medicine - Bangalore
We discussed alternate therapies to treat his cancer and found several - someone in Shimoga, Tibetan medicine in Bangalore. Ram found a contact of Chandra who got an appointment with Dr Rapten Dorjee in Bangalore and we drove with him in Ram's car - Vasu, Ram, Ranjan - stayed at Suresh Babu's guest house, went to the Tibetan clinic and since it was cheap all of us got examined and got medicines.
Ranjan was given medicines which he started and for some reason stopped- which we did not know of. He would use a lot of his own discretion, do his own research on Google (which upset some doctors). But catch Ranjan going in without doing his own research and figuring out things. In small ways he became a bit of a control freak. He won't let things happen - he will have some improvement.
So when sometime in 2017 it was discovered that the cancer had affected a part of the liver and he needed surgery again we were flummoxed. Mom had colon cancer too and when it had spread to the liver - she lasted only six months. A surgery and the good Dr Cherian took the trouble to explain what went wrong by placing in front of us - Gunjan, me and Vasu perhaps - a large part of Ranjan's liver which he had cut up (I know Ranjan inside out, see), and explained what went wrong and where he cancer was. Another major surgery and for some reason Cherian and Ranjan did not get along - and Ranjan said - no chemo. I'll take my chances. Cherian said he would not treat him if he did not take chemo. Ranjan said he would not.
|Tango, Cash and Vasu at a Mandi place|
This choice of no chemo looked a little dicey because he would need something to help his body. So we looked at Tibetan medicine again (we even met Dr Krishnan who had taken Tibetan medicine with good results). Another therapy in Singapore (Ram financed that). Shall we try Tibetan medicine?
|Ranja, Tenzin, Ram and me at Dharamshala|
I got in touch with Gowri and Raju and they somehow got us an appointment with the great Dr Yeshi Dondhen who had been the Dalai Lama's personal physician (and met young Tenzin who is now a good friend). Ram, Ranjan and I flew to Dharamshala (financed by Mama this time - Mama who is in the USA but always concerned about his old friend, always willing to step in and help).
The good Dr gave him medicine and with a twinkle in his eye said, no more drinking and smoking and no sugar, white stuff etc etc. Ranjan took that seriously and took the medicine for a long while if I remember. Slowly and surely he seemed to be getting better.
|Ranjan in his ancestral Almora house|
Periodic scans showed he was doing fine.
Then Aditya passed away - in 2017. I cannot imagine how they processed it but not a whimper from Ranjan. He so loved his son - 'the smell' he told me once ' the way Aditya smells, is most divine, like nothing else in the world.' We wanted to write an article about Aditya, his 20 years on this earth, with parents, sibling and family who took such loving care of him. Aditya chose well and lived his life, listening to music, his one great solace, suffused in unconditional love from his family. Ranjan, Gunjan, young Ananya, Uncle. After twenty years, suddenly Aditya was no more. I don't know what we spoke to Ranjan then and he certainly did not speak much. But this I can say, Aditya's funeral had more people than I have seen in recent times. Everyone was touched by the grief, by something beyond our comprehension. We went to Pebbair with the ashes - Gunjan came as well.
|In his favorite chair - celebrating his birthday|
Now looking back, I cannot imagine what he went through when Aditya left. But once again, Ranjan bore what life served him without a murmur.
One of my frequent cribs about Ranjan was his attitude to things - he would always begin with a 'nahi re' and look at what could go wrong. So much so that I would say he would make the perfect banker or auditor, looking for what could go wrong. But then you have a life like this where God presents you a pile of stuff to deal with, I guess you have to look at the fine print. For what he bore, that was very minor.
|My birthday - Ranjan, Ram, Sanjay and Vasu|
Back to life and then there was the pandemic. On my morning runs I would go to his house, stop for a chai and run back again. There was a period when Ram and Ranjan and me would meet often at Ranjan's house and go for a drive to get a paan. It went on for quite a while - the paan was an excuse to meet of course. But we'd do it quite regularly then.
|That smile - And a piece of cake, he enjoyed feeding people|
In February 2021 we went to Nainital - he, me and Vardha and it was a memorable trip. We stopped at his ancestral house in Almora, saw his favorite site Sitarganj, Kausani. We planned to come back with the gang. He always spoke about Binsar and wanting to go there. He wanted to stay in that cottage in Ranikhet which he did. We went to the Neem Karoli baba ashram and who Jitendra (another of Ranjan's avid followers) was convinced would work a miracle. I called Jitendra after Ranjan passed away - the fact that he did not complain of pain ever in all these years was the miracle for me I told him. The miracle did happen.
|Ranjan, me and Naidu garu at Sitarganj|
Let's Meet at Ranjan's
Drives to Beauty Green. Paan at night at Paradise or at Srinagar Colony with Ram. Lunches at Blue Diamond or the club. Drinks at home. Slowly the hub shifted to his house simply because he was central and also because he was welcoming of guests and would take care of them and feed them. 'He always liked to see people happy,' said Vasu, normally unemotional but who also broke down like all of us. 'I can never forget that about him.'
True, he never said no in all the times I would call and say 'I will drop in,' at odd hours. There would be fatigue in his voice, but 'aa ja' was what he would say. Omelette, palli, water melon juice, chai, coffee- something on offer always.
There were some signs of the body giving way I guess. In the 2018's he would still play a little cricket, some table tennis etc, go for walks. But slowly he said he was not able to - a frozen shoulder, new pains in the body. Things slowed down, and in the last two years he would find a lot of solace in going to Ram's house where he spent a major part of his last couple of years playing a card game with Ram, Chimu and Lalith. Cards was his first love. He made a huge impact on Chimu - a deep connect - the uncle he always wanted.
Ranjan enjoyed beating the system, mentally outplaying the opponent however strong. Many times I felt he did not need to outplay the opponent mentally and simply play the game which he would have won on skill alone. But he could never do that -it gave him a different thrill to beat you that way. He was an inveterate gambler - was drawn to a challenge like a moth to a flame. So cards, stocks etc were his game which he would discuss with Ram.
How we Cry
The way we cry is also determined by the person we cry for I am thinking. With Dad I broke down like a dam when in my first private moment, with Mom it was just tears when I saw her placed on the earth. With Ranjan its tears every now and then, my voice chokes at a faint whiff of his memory. Out of nowhere. And it passes and it comes back. Its been more than ten days and I still do that.
'Meri bheegi bheegi si' was his old favorite, he would ask me to sing in those singing days. 'Father Figure' by George Michael was another - he would love the way the cigarette light glows in a black and white video. Then I remember him being taken in by 'Tanha Dil' by Shaan - get the drift - 'or 'So gaya yeh jahaan' - he'd love such songs (so did I), maybe 'Aaj jaane ki zid na karo' by Arijit Singh recently. Loved his Kishore Kumar of course 'Diye jalte hain', 'Main shayar badnaam'. Neil Diamond, Paul Anka, Kenny Rogers from his HPS days.
Trips were planned - so many that did not materialise. One trip he wanted to make was to Amritsar and once he, me and Ram were one day away from going - and it fell off. I wish we had gone. Never postpone again. Of course Goa, and so many other plans. Why do we not do these things.
Funnily we never discussed my books except '50 Not Out'. I would try to explain my concepts to him (he would listen and sometimes say 'nahi re, it does not work like that'). He felt I was too optimistic or idealistic or plain unrealistic in my approach to the world.
He never borrowed books or music. Which was funny. But he would give the music and books he would have. He was more of a giver that way, never asked for anything. Small things perhaps and that too for others - help my nieces or nephew's with jobs, Vasu's niece needs some advice that kind of stuff. Only once when uncle disappeared for two days he asked me to check with police friends on how to trace him through CCTV.
|Two old pals -Vardha was with him unconditionally till the end from their primary school|
And he loved kids. Spoke to them in a special tone, fun and mischievous, loving and gentle, treating them like whole people, never like kids. The way he would go out of his way to make his nieces, nephews feel good was something - Anjali, he taught her to fly a kite, gifted her a head phones just last month - out of the blue. Very gentle with them. Chimu's heartfelt post a day after he passed away, Chimu staying all night at the hospital until he passed away. The way he would treat his nieces and nephews to food, outings, good times. They loved him to bits.
|Teaching Anjali how to fly a kite|
He loved animals of course. The cats in his house, the care he would take for them - his old dog Feedo! He had so much love but he could not express himself - adults are complex creatures- he could do that with kids who were simpler I guess. Somehow he felt inadequate to express with adults or perhaps adults could not tune into him. This man who rarely said no, who rarely complained, who went through life working at it in his own way and laughing at it when it went wrong. I wonder why I had not just dragged him and taken him along on a trip, just sat silently listening to music.
But we did enough - cannot complain. Coffee at the Tamilian place at Ameerpet ground, chai at the shop on the road. a million chais at Sitara, rides, drives, trips. I feel its different when we make a trip alone with someone - I am glad I did that with Ranjan - a week at Dehradun. In Pune.
He shared a different and probably more deeper relationship with Ram, who would be most affected with Ranjan's going simply because of his non-judgmental presence. Ranjan shared a distinct line with everyone in an understated way.
|Kiri and he|
With Ram, it was stocks, cards, stuff he could not share with us. Practical stuff too. Kiran, a deep, feeling bond where they understood one another, felt deeply for each, but covered in a lot of leg pulling. Vardha with a whole load of fun and leg pulling, but would rely on him for all his medical advice and help. And Vardha was there day and night for him. Sanjay, ghazals, drink, deep emotional stuff, philosophical stuff. Vasu, about work, life, people. Mama, deep connect, practical. Respectful. He took his liberties most with the HPS boys - Vardha, Kiri, Mama, Vivek. Choudary and he did crazy stuff as Tango and Cash- Choudary made him invest in some real estate which he did - and got him a decent return too! With everyone, a deep part he left invested in them - (and I hope they all write about their relationship with him too here so I can read about it too). And which is why we feel a Ranjan-shaped hole in our universe as Arundhati Roy said in her God of Small Things.
'I almost called Ranjan,' said Choudary yesterday. 'Something I felt like telling him and then realised ....'
At work he was much loved. He invited me to do a few workshops at PES and they were very useful for me - and planned on more. 'Ek proposal bhej,' he would say when I would tell him I was short of work. Bhai log kaise hai I'd ask about Vasu and Suresh and he would tell me if they were around or not. Bhai kaisa hai was for updates on Ram who he would meet often.
Sometime earlier this year I was pissed off with him. Why does he not call? Why should I call him all the time? So I did not call. He did not either. We were off for a long time - maybe months. And then I get a message from him. 'Kya? Busy?' We caught up. His frozen shoulder was troubling him and he asked me to fix up with Prabhudheer and we went together. Six months ago? Longer? Then he stopped moving out of the house much. He stopped going to office also going only rarely.
When I met him after I was appointed Chairman of Selection Committee a couple of months ago he was joking about it. His typical jokes - tell them the counter is open here. He enjoyed the cricket stories I would tell him. I sensed his energy going down - he was more at home than office. I started visiting him every time I could almost every day - either going out or when coming back. From going for chai outside it slowly shifted to chai at home. Issues started coming up - stomach, digestion, weakness. I saw his normally slim ankles had swollen up one day and did not say anything because i did not want to alarm him. As far as I knew its a sign of kidney or heart issues. Sure enough both got affected. Breathlessness. Feet swollen - I could see his inability to comprehend why all things were failing him - like his best and trusted friends betraying him at an hour of need. Weakness. but he would still try to walk to the other room to meet us.
Vasu also sensed something and he started coming too. For years now we'd meet at Ranjan's. Ram was distraught. 'Never saw him like this,' he said. I could feel Ram's anxiety.Panic.
Vardha said it was not looking good. Tests were done for the heart, kidneys (cancer), stomach (ulcer), fluid in the lungs. The cancer seemed to have spread. One day he was pretty agitated - just as me and Vasu walked in to meet him in the evening - there was blood in the stools and in the vomit. He was very weak and we considered moving him to the hospital. He said he will hang on and would like to see the gastro before going to the hospital to treat the other things. That night I really wondered if he would make it to the morning - I told Gunjan I could stay the night. So in the morning when he was up and around it was a relief. But the gastro doc said take him to the hospital immediately. And we went - Don, Ram, Arjun - and they admitted him. The friendly palliative guy came and said 'accept death' and sold us a patch of morphine which he did not need. The fluid in the lungs was aspirated, some injection given to the stomach and we returned home which was a huge relief for him. That evening he was not too comfortable but he spoke. As usual when I was leaving these days he would say - thanks mama. He was tired and I told him to sleep.
Thanks for what bhai.
Ananya was to leave for college the next day. I went to Gymkhana for a meeting when Gunjan called. Ranjan wasn't too good she said. Gunjan saying that meant that things were not good at all. I called Don and told him to come asap. I called Arjun and told him to take Ranjan to the hospital and I will join there. In the Emergency ward they said every parameter was off the charts and he should be in the ICU. Ananya had come back form the airport and was next to him - maybe that calmed him a bit. He was barely conscious but when they wheeled him towards the ICU lift I asked him - 'kaisa hai' - and was pleasantly surprised when he gave me his stock reply - 'theek hai'. Sanjay says he gave a thumbs up sign as well. In the ICU they stabilised him. We went home and came back at 7.
It's my belief that he willed himself to hold off the inevitable until Ananya left. That will of his.
Next thing we hear is that the doctor saying that if we wanted to see him, we better do that because anything could happen. I saw him, unconscious, chest heaving. I went out and went home.
Chimu called at 130 in the morning. I had not yet slept. 'Ranjan mama passed away'.
And so he moved on, a part of us that perhaps bore all the pain and the hurt, the disappointment and the bad luck for all of us. He took everyone's share of that - standing last in line with no one behind him to pass it on to. And smiled and laughed through it. Maybe because he is not not there to bear it, we feel it more acutely now. The funeral, the peaceful expression on his face, the surreal feeling of carrying his body to the incinerator, Vardha calling me to carry him - insisting that I do, the moment when Ram touched his face tenderly when a drop of rain fell on him - Ram, who is not comfortable touching people, seeing everyone breakdown, the moment the body went in and we would not see him anymore. Like Ram said - something died in all of us.
There's so much more. But I cannot write now.
Ram going to pieces and showing it, which is new for him. Chimu writing about his love for Ranjan mama on his Insta and not telling anyone about it. Me crying in silence at odd times. Everyone breaking after the body went in. Mythily and Chanti coming to see him at home. Shobhs and Anjali crying. Gunjan and Ananya who have been through this journey together. The number of people at the funeral. Vardha, Vasu, Suresh, Kiran, Sanjay, Chandra came from Mumbai, Pavan and Suri from MCC,HPS friends, office, the kids Varun, Rohan, Chimu, Lalith, Anjali, Chandu who walked in with his stick dragging his stroke affected leg behind him. The rain, the darkness. It was movie like. Ranjan would have enjoyed it. 'Karo saale sab,' he would have said sitting somewhere in the background.
'We must have a drink,' said Vardha after the funeral. I agreed.
We all went to Ram's office and drank ourselves silly, remembering all our times with Ranjan. He would have liked it too. He must have been there somewhere. But truly, it has not sunk in yet fully.
|Ranjan and me - Uttarakhand, 2021|
Who will I call now for chai on the way back home after a tough day and expect a comfortable silent presence?
People will die. Our loved ones will die. But I never thought this would be so difficult. I wonder if I am going soft. Sentimental. Will this be how it will be from now on? But then, I also know this is different. Very different.
I also believe people stay within us, that those close to us become inalienable parts of us. So I don't think he's gone anywhere. He's right behind my shoulder quietly doing his own thing.
If there's something Ranjan taught me it is to keep the chin up and not complain, to be like water, to help and accept help, to make people happy, to love people, kids and animals. And mostly to keep it simple and be happy, whatever the situation. And I will try to consciously be that. For Ranjan.
Bhai, chai peeyenge?