Another incident from 2002 that is impossible for me to forget is one related to his 80th birthday celebration. I was peeved about something – completely unrelated to him – and had told my parents that I would not be attending the function. Even though people tried to pacify me, I was quite adamant. I had sent an e-mail to Thatha a few weeks leading up to the celebration that I would not be making it to the function. In response, he did not try to emotionally manipulate me or force me. He simply wrote that he hoped that something would change and that I would make it. But that he would understand if I didn’t. A few weeks later, the hotheaded me had cooled off and I had decided to attend the function. I sent him another e-mail telling him that I would make it, after all. In his reply- which I so wish that I had saved – he wrote me a long note stating how happy he was. And that he was absolutely sure that I would attend. As I reflect on how he behaved back then, I know that in him, I have someone whom I must emulate in more ways than one. The grace was not just restricted to his dapper manner of dressing.
In his final years, he had slowed down in a deliberate manner. The steps that were always measured were now literally so. The gingerly manner of walking was as precautionary as it was a result of advancing age. He was in control even when his body was starting to show signs of not supporting his mind ably enough. He had sustained a back injury a few months before his end came. When I last saw him in Memphis, he had to use a walking stick. Yet when we went out to dinner, the innate energy and enthusiasm surfaced. When his end came, it was in a manner that felt abrupt, given how healthy he had been till then. But to not see him suffer in infirmity meant that we could truly celebrate the life that he had lived for 84 glorious years.
I wish he had been alive to celebrate his 100th birthday. But since that was not to be, I at least wanted to use his centennial birth anniversary as an opportunity to pause and pay tribute to a man who was a lot deeper than one absorbed and appreciated at a superficial glance. After all, well-made films are timeless regardless of when they are taken out of theaters. Likewise, special human beings are immortal, regardless of when they leave this earth.
Happy birthday, Thatha!