Friday, September 7, 2012

Letter to a brother I never met

Dear Bro

Apologies for calling you Bro. Did not quite know how to address you, somehow Bro seems in sync with want I want to say to you today before it is too late. True you had a name Ramesh (son of Ram). Our parents told me that it was given to you after your death as something had to be written on your tombstone. So Ramesh was the best they could do. Wonder what your name would have been had you lived!

I also wonder if we will meet. Do siblings separated by death meet in the nether world?  I do not know. I wish one does as I would like to meet you. But believe me I have known you since the moment I was old enough to understand things and you have been a huge part of my life.

I found this picture of you today. Actually I had been looking for it for many days now. It is the only picture of you that exists. The picture was taken after your little soul flew away but you still look so precious. I wonder if you would have grown to be a handsome man. Ma said you looked like our Nana. He was quite a dashing man.

Today with our parents gone, and I hope they are with you, you only live in my memory and having reached the ripe age of 65 - you would have been 68 - I know I have little time left and want to set the records straight and leave traces of our nuclear family for others to know. It is not an ego trip, far from that. What needs to be told is that you have been a huge part of my life and transformed it in many ways. I owe you a debt of gratitude and also have a few bones to pick. I will try to be as honest as possible.

First of all I was never truly an only child. I was one with a dead older sibling. It is somewhat thanks to you that I have enjoyed the privileges an only child has, but also suffered the loneliness it entails. And because our parents were older than what parents normally are, I was thrown into an adult world at a very early age. And because you had been born and lived nine months in our mom's womb and two days in this world ma and pa had to suffer the terrible pain of losing a child which made them smother me with a love that became sometimes suffocating to say the least. But I do not grudge you that. I guess there was nothing you could have done about it.

I do not remember when exactly I came to know about your existence. I think it is when we went to visit your grave from Paris, the time we had that terrible accident on our way back when Ma was hospitalised in a small German town for weeks. That was the first time I saw your mortal remains: a grey tombstone with your name and two dates 2 days apart. You had lived for barely a few hours. Over the years the story of your  birth and death became more comprehensible. How you died because there was no penicillin in Prague because of a blockade;  how you died because of political egos between a young communist doctor and the senior old school Professor. You know he is the one who brought me into this world two years later so I guess we shared the same Doc! I was also told that the one who was to become my Godfather and worked under Pa drove his sports car at break neck speed to get the penicillin needed to save your life but it came to late. Had he made it in time, I would have had a big brother!

Ma also told me how they (our parents) had planned your arrival: the layette carefully bought at Harrod's; your education that was to be the very best at Harrow and Eaton, the dreams they must have crafted for your future. Though there were no gender determination test in those times, they somewhat knew you would be a boy. Ma's instinct I guess. In contrast when I was conceived our parents planned nothing. They were too scared to do so lest I also did not survive. No layette, no fancy school, no dreams for the morrows. They just waited with bated breaths.

I did land of this planet but again at a heavy cost. Ma was terribly unwell. Pa was the one to bear the burden. The fear of losing his wife and child's mother, the responsibility of keeping me alive and kicking whilst ma laid in a hospital bed must have been dreadful. And because the Czech Government felt responsible for your demise because of all that penicillin and doctor story, they had appointed a nurse who was like a Cerberus guarding the nursery. I was told that everyone had to boil their hands, in a manner of speech before they could touch me. Even pa! So one day he just threw her out and decided to take over and did a fab job. I am still around!

OK. All this is not about me but about you. So as I told you my memories of you in my early days were confined to what ma agreed to share and the trips to Prague to visit your grave. I must say that I was surprised at how well tended your grave was though it is in the oldest part of Olcany. It seems someone tended to you as they realised you were all alone and your family far away. The last time I visited your grave with our parents was in 1968 just before the Prague invasion. But that was not to be the last time as some years later my husband got posted to Prague. It was in 1985. I last laid flowers on your grave in 1989, 28 years ago.

I sometimes think of you and wonder what my life would have been if your were around. As I said earlier, I was an only child after a dead one and that did chart the course of my life as the parents held on to me for dear life, and thus made me live the nomadic life of a diplomat's child. It has its advantage though I did not think so then. For me life was a new school every 3 years, leaving friends every 3 years, having to make new ones every 3 years, having to discard toys every 3 years and so on. I often looked on a map at the new destination we were headed to and sometimes it looked as far as the moon for a 7 or 10 year old: Rabat to Saigon; Saigon to Algiers!

And it was not simply a nomadic life but also a exploratory one as pa insisted on going to every nook of the country he was posted to, and our mom had to visit every historical site, camera in hand: a true globetrotter! I was dragged from museums to archaeological sites and sulked all the way. I wonder if it would have been fun if you were around but then you would have been in some swanky boarding school. Wonder what they would have done with me. A boarding school or a nomadic life? I guess the later. Maybe we would have gone together on your vacations and breaks. I can keep wondering, No one will ever know. It was not destined to happen.

So after being a nomad and discovering the world and finishing school it was time for Papa to retire. If you had been around you would have definitely been sent to an Ivy league school or  Cambridge or Oxford. But for me it was back to the home land. Believe it or not they found a girls institution that was more like a nunnery where you were barely allowed out. The rebel in me was soon an adept at jumping walls. Thankfully it was only a year in hostel as by then we had our house: C 15 Chiragh Enclave. It is from this very house that I am writing to you today.

I wonder what you would have become: a doctor, an engineer or an artist? I would have loved you to become the later. But don't have hopes I know what would have happened because I had to live your life for those few moments. As I told you earlier, you were a huge part of my life and I also mentioned bones to pick! Well here is perhaps the biggest one. Our mom, bless her soul, was obsessed by the idea that her child should walk in the father's shoes: sit for the IAS and become a diplomat or senior bureaucrat. That was not my calling though I did not know what my calling was. At the time mom started her ' if your brother was alive', I was completing my Masters in French. working at the French Section of the All India Radio and had met the man I was to marry. Mom began her leit motiv of 'if your brother was alive' followed by 'he would have sat for the IAS'. It became so unbearable that I agreed to do it though I had no intentions of joining any restricting service. I failed the first year and should have left it at that but no my pride was hurt and I sat again though I had a child, Parul your elder niece, a job and a house to run. I spent many nights burning the midnight oil and passed. My name was in the newspaper and our mom was happy. I must admit she did not push her luck and compel me to join with another mournful 'if your brother was alive'! Funnily it was a total outsider who took on the cudgels. A under secretary of the ministry of home affairs hounded me on the phone to try and convince to join. It was a nightmare getting him off my back. I ultimately did though.

Mom missed you all her life and in hindsight and with the supposed wisdom of age I guess all her 'if your brother was alive' were understandable but there were nights Bro when I wished that you had lived and I died. I childishly thought that it would have made mom happier. I tried my best to fill your shoes but it was not easy and entailed me having to do many things that were not quite up my street. But I guess that was my destiny. Mom though healed all the hurt on her death bed when she whispered the following words: If I am live again I would wish for a daughter like you rather than a thousand sons. Very dramatic but one can say but to me it meant that I had filled your shoes. Today I can die an easy death.

I wonder if we would have got along as kids, as teenagers, as adults. Would we have loved each other? Would you have been a bossy brother or an understanding one? No one will ever know but I know my life would have been different as we would have had to share the love of our parents. Would they have gone gaga over you making me jealous as you got all the independence and fun and I remained housebound. Would I have been as spoilt as I was and as rebellious. I guess not. And one day you would have had girl friends. Wonder how pa would have reacted with all his traditional views. I guess ma would have supported you.

I also had to take on your responsibilities vis-a-vis our parents and look after them till they breathed their last. You will happy to know that God stood by me and I was there for both of them till the very last instant. That was the greatest blessing.

You would have had a wife and kids. Would we have got along or would I have been the proverbial nasty sister in law. I wish not but again I will never know.

Had you lived I would never have inherited this house. Would we have fought as so many do, even in our  own family or lived peacefully together. All these questions are futile and senseless but they do come to my mind time and again. So I must also admit and accept that everything I possess today is because you left this world well before your time. It is in all fairness your inheritance too! I have never forgotten that and that is why I have decided to put your picture on the wall of the house as it belongs to you too!

All said and done, and in spite of all the niceties that may have happened in my life because you went away, I wish you had lived as there are times I feel so lonely, particularly since ma and pa left me twenty five years ago. I so often want to share my pain and angst, my problems, my anxieties but do not know whom to turn to. I would want to believe that had you been alive, we would have been kindred spirit and comfort to each other even as old souls.

But there is more bro. Had you been alive I surely would not have had to sit for that dreadful IAS exam and given up many hours of sleep. I may still have become a French teacher and retired as a old professor, or would have changed tracks as I did and become an Interpreter and Conference organiser and remained one. But there is something that may have never happened and that is Project Why.

I have always held that every life however useless and futile it may seem, has a mission to fulfil. The best example is undoubtedly Manu who gave me the courage to walk the road less travelled. I need to add one more things to my list of beliefs and that is that no life however short it may be like yours, is in vain. Project Why could not have happened if you had not passed away. So Bro it is thanks to you that for the past 18  years thousands of children are getting an education. It is thanks to you that a over 20 kids have had life saving heart surgeries, and eight children are in boarding school. And I will tell you why.

Project Why was borne in more ways than one of the pain I suffered after our parents passed away. The extreme loneliness I felt after their demise was excruciating and debilitating and the emptiness I felt was unbearable. Love had to be substituted by love and pwhy gave me love in ample measure. But there is more. I wanted to perpetrate our father's name, something that you would have done naturally. The only way I found was to create an organisation in his name and in doing so honour him. I also set up a women's centre in mama's name ensuring thus that they live beyond me.

 Had you been alive Bro, I am sure you would have had a head for figures, and investments and handling money, unlike me who is an absolute ignoramus where money is concerned. I only know how to blow it away much to the horror and chagrin of my husband. So had you been around our inheritance would have been handled judiciously and competently. Project Why then could not have happened as I have to confess that it came into existence by my using the money pa left - and I mean the capital and don't frown - to keep it alive for the mandatory three years before one can accede to funds. And then whenever there was need I merrily dipped into the inheritance till it dwindled. I know I could not have done this had you been around. But Bro I think papa and mama must be happy with the way their money has gone as it has brought smiles to so many little faces and fulfilled so many dreams.

So you see Bro, your tiny life of two days also has a mission and I do hope I have fulfilled it and honoured your name.

I am who I am today, because of you and for that I will be always grateful.

Till we meet


your sister Anou

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