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