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Glimpses of Greatness

"...... So that his ashes could mingle....."


Attar Singh, a retired Forest Officer and his wife were seen weeping silently at about 8 in the morning  in the verandah of their newly, half built house in the sparsely populated outskirts of Chandigarh, by a Charassi* of an office across the road. They had moved into the house only a few months ago and did not know many persons in Chandigarh, having spent all their service life outside Chandigarh. There were also not many neighbours, only two old couples, retired like them.

The Chaprassi went to the house of the nearest neighbour, Dr. Gian Parkash and told him that his beighbours were weeping in the verandah. Dr. Parkash hurried to the neighbour's house in his dressig gown. It being the month of February and intensely cold in that part of the country, Dr. Parkash had not yet dressed.

When Dr. Parkash went to Attar Singh's house, he found them exactly, as the Chaprassi had depicted. There was an open telegram in Shri Attar Singh's hand. Without saying anything, Attar Singh extended his hand and gave the telegram to Dr. Parkash. In the telegram, a not so far neighbour, had been requested, to inform Shri Attar Singh that his young son had died, in a car accident in Mombassa, in Africa and the writer had requested Attar Singh to cantact his sister, on the phone, in Bombay for further details. The telegram had been received after min night the previous night and the recipient had thoughtfully postponed the delivery, till the morning.

Dr. Parkash's eyes misted. The face of the young man Baldev floated before his eyes. He was the only son, an engineer, 27 years of age. He had refused to marry till his two sisters are married. By chance, he was on leave at home, when his elder sister's marriage took place, at a short notice. He left for Africa a few days after the marriage on Diwali day (Hindu festival of lights). His participation in the marriage was total - one could say that he had done all the arrangements for the marriage single handed - he was here, there, every where and knew no rest. Always smiling, he had endeared himself, to all the neighbours, around. All these scenes and many others, passed in quick succession before the eyes of Dr. Parkash, as does a film. But he quickly came out of the reverie and took charge of the situation. Singhs were alone in the house, the remaining unmarried daughter was being away, to a friend in Jullundur. Dr. Parkash called his wife to sit with Mrs. Singh, and took Attar Singh to a house, where the phone was available. Surprisingly, the phone connection did not take much time to materialise. The phone belonged to the sister of the employer, a big Indian contractor, with whom Baldev was working for the past four years. She was very perturbed and said that Baldev had died in a car-accident, on the spot. She wanted to know whether they wanted the body to be sent to Chandigarh. It was in response to this query, that Shri Singh had hesitatingly, replied "I.... I.... I can afford only Rs.5000/-". It seemed, even this amount that he committed, was too much for him. He had just built the house, which had remained incomplete, obviously, due to shortage of funds and he had also performed the marriage ceremony of his elder daughter, and then there was no further prospect of any financial help from  his son, who had religiously sent all his savings home, every month.

Shri Singh further said that if it was going to cost more than Rs.5000/-, then the body of his son may be cremated in Africa. The sister said, that she would convey Shri Singh's desire to her brother.

Three days passed in anxiety. Two three times, again it was tried to contact Bombay, but to no avail. Then a telegram was received, requiring Shri Singh to receive the body at the Delhi Airport, in another two days time, a Wednesday. There was no information regarding the expenses.

Shri Singh, along with a few friends, engaged a Taxi from Chandigarh, to bring the body from Delhi.

The body arrived at about 1 P.M., on the Wednesday. It was packed in a large rectangular wooden box. Within the wooden box was a sealed iron box and within the iron box a highly polished very expensive wooden coffin, ornamented with brass at places and bearing a brass cross in the middle. It seemed some expert Christian undertaker had done the job. From the look of the wooden box and the polished coffin, it appeared, no expense had been spared. When the coffin was opened, it looked as though Baldev was sleeping, the sleep of exhaustion, after having been bandaged. The body had been superbly embalmed. There was no smell of putrefaction.

When the face was shown, there was a burst of wailing from the family, silent tears ran on the face of many friends. It was decided not to take the body out of the coffin. The coffin was closed and the body was taken away for cremation.

In the night, when most of the relatives and friends had left, Dr. Parkash gingerly enquired, as to how much expenses were incurred. To which Shri Singh replied that the expense of transport as indicated on the voucher accompanying the body, was Rs.9750/-, which had been prepaid. If the expenses of embalming, coffin and packing were added, they would well top Rs.12000/-.

Baldev's employer wrote a heart-moving letter, after the body was received. In the letter he had explained all the circumstances leading to the accident, had lauded the qualities of Baldev, whom he had loved as his own son. But there was no mention of money, he had not embarassed Shri Singh even by hinting at the enormous expense he had done so that the parents, sisters and other loved ones could have a glimpse of the beloved face and so that his ashes could mingle with the earth of his mother-land and flow with the eternal waters of the holy Ganges.

(Gratefully reproduced from "Glimpses of Greatness" by Dr. Gajindar Singh)




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