As I walked back home from the bus stop, after Mahrukh boarded the bus, I admitted to myself that I had quite forgotten it was the 24th of October.
He would have been 80 today.
I had spoken to Durga last evening (it was the 24th morning in India already), but we didn’t talk about Meghnad. We spoke about the family, of someone’s surgery, and of someone else’s engagement, and of another one’s brave battle against an illness.
We spoke about her own loneliness, which she denied, but couldn’t hide from her voice. But for some reason we didn’t speak about him. Perhaps, she had forgotten, too, or perhaps it was too early in the morning there in Bombay for her to be focused.
Then again, it has been 18 years since Meghnad left us; and with the passage of time, memories become hazy, even if they don't entirely fade away.
In remembering him, I can only think of how I have begun to resemble him, not just physically, but emotionally, too. I remember him every time I talk to my sister, who, I think, is more like him in every which way, than I am.
I remember him when I see my son. I hope one day I will share the same father-son relationship with Che that I had shared with Meghnad. And I see it happening already.
I remember him when I quarrel unceasingly with Mahrukh over utterly and ridiculously petty things. My parents did that all the time. As did Mahrukh's parents. We are not too different from my parents were, I realize. I suppose we all grow up to be like our parents. And I guess that is the way it should be.
But most of all, I remember him every time I talk to my mother. Durga married him when she was young, and was his wife for 37 years. And although it may sound utterly patriarchal, a lot of what she is today, is what he made her.
He introduced me to the world of ideas and ideologies. And after wavering briefly, I followed his path because it seemed to me then and now to be more just and reasonable. And though the world has changed completely in the last nearly two decades, the path he choose remains as relevant today, as it was when he was alive.
He introduced me to the world of books. I remember him every time I read a good sentence, or read a good poem, or talk to an interesting person, or come across a good oratorical performance by a charismatic (and left-leaning, or at least a liberal) political figure.
I remember him for all the issues that he raised – human rights, labour emancipation, neo-colonialism, liberation struggles, Gandhi – where he agreed and where he didn’t with the Mahatma.
He introduced me to Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, and to Bhimrao Ambedkar – two diametrically opposite Indian intellectuals, and of course to Jawaharlal Nehru, the man who inspired an entire generation of Indians to determinedly move forward, leaving behind the baggage of debilitating and dilapidated beliefs, and outmoded social practices.
From him I learned to read the right way, and by that I mean reading to remember. He would read in the old-fashioned way – marking sentences, passages, pages in a book that he loved. It would irritate me when I read the book after he did, because I would be guided by his marking and that came in the way of discovering something in the book on my own.
I remember, when I was in my early 20s, I gifted him a biography of Che Guevara, in which I wrote, “Thank you for never giving me a cause to rebel.”
But rebel I did.
My act of rebellion was to read authors he hadn’t read, wouldn’t read. I began to read contemporary American literature, something that he hadn’t done, probably for ideological reasons.
I read Kurt Vonnegut Jr. and found out that Slaughterhouse Five’s simplicity was the main reason why it was a masterpiece. I discovered John Updike, who remained for the longest time my favourite author, till Meghnad gave me Midnight’s Children to read, asking me to judge the book for him. I read John Cheever, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and so many other masters of American letters.
He recommended the only two American authors he had read - Hemingway and Fitzgerald.
He was a poet, but for the longest time poetry left me cold. For many years, I was surrounded by great poetry and good poets, but remained oblivious to its many charms. Later, much later, I discovered the many joys of poetry when a young woman who wrote exquisite poems came into my life.
More than anything else, he taught me to be responsible. He didn’t teach this by lecturing me about responsibility, but by being responsible all his life. He always put his family first, sacrificing his creativity by devoting more time to make ends meet. He led a simple, uncomplicated life.
In emulating him, I realize how much of a struggle it can be to just be true to yourself, and to lead a simple, uncomplicated life.