Unfamiliar numbers appearing on my mobile phone screen annoys me. It was with much irritation that I answered one such call that came last week.
“Mr Matheikal?” enquired the voice which did not at all sound like the usual commercial voices that sought to sell an insurance policy or a stock market account.
“Yes,” I mellowed a bit.
“Do you recognise this voice?”
“Forgot me in a few years’ time?”
“Mr Bhat?” I was excited at the sudden recognition.
“ Happy that you remember and are also delighted...”
Mr V K Bhat was a colleague of mine at the school where I still teach. He had to leave the school a few years ago due to health reasons. He was in his early 50s when his kidneys failed. His wife’s kidney saved his life. Until two days back.
Mr Bhat is a memory now. The news rattled me yesterday morning. Just a week back I had assured him that I would visit him soon. I couldn’t keep the promise. He didn’t wait for it. The news wouldn’t have been so shocking had he not contacted me recently. Had he called me to say farewell?
He was one of the most pleasant personalities I was fortunate to live with. Serenity was the hallmark of his personality. Nothing really upset him. He had very deep religious convictions which helped him surmount problems with a smile. While he was undergoing treatment which required frequent visits to hospital, his wife met with an accident that fractured a limb and his son suffered a severe injury in the hockey field which rendered him incapable of taking anything except liquid foods. An ordinary person would have buckled under the pressure of such calamities that descended like a flock of vultures. Not Mr Bhat. He was able to retain his serene smile. The strength of a man’s character is seen in times of adversity. Mr Bhat’s character inspired me.
His unexpected phone call made me want to see that smile once more. I had made the plan to visit him soon. But destiny had other plans.
There’s one incident about Mr Bhat that I can’t forget. It was 12 Sep 2002. A year after I joined the present school as a teacher. I was packing my bag and getting ready for my next morning’s journey to Kerala in order to attend my father’s funeral. Mr Bhat came to offer condolences. Before he left he placed in my hand a cheque for a sum of money larger than my monthly salary and said, “You may need it.” I assured him that I didn’t need it. He wouldn’t take back the cheque, however. “You go and come back. I’ll take the cheque later.”
I was not particularly close to Mr Bhat at that time or later. It’s simply not in my nature to get too close to any person. What prompted him to offer help to me? I wondered at that time. Later I realised that goodness comes naturally to many people. Mr Bhat belonged to that category.
For long I have had an ambivalent attitude towards death. Death is sorrowful insofar as it takes away someone beloved to somebody. But death is the ultimate liberation. I am not able to view death as evil. On the contrary, there is some beauty in death. In spite of the pain it engenders inevitably.
The pain will be carried by the tide of time until it vanishes beyond the horizon. What remain will be memories of Mr Bhat’s smile with which he battled the vicissitudes of life.
I extend my condolence to the bereaved family all of whom I knew personally, especially Mr Bhat’s sons both of whom were my students.