We realise the importance of people in our lives only after they’ve gone
Umed, who was with me for 27 years, died of a devastating stroke on Tuesday. He was just 53. He was one of the most efficient people I knowUpdated: Aug 26, 2017 17:15 IST
One of the saddest things about relationships is you only realise how much they mean when you lose someone. Till then you take their presence for granted and rarely express appreciation.
Umed, who was with me for 27 years, died of a devastating stroke on Tuesday. He was just 53. The tragic part is no one knew he had a blood pressure problem. If there were, he never mentioned early warnings. He was the sort of person who made light of his ailments. He believed in cheerfully soldiering on. But it’s even harder to accept a death that could have been avoided.
Umed, was 26 when he joined me. In those days his speciality was dum aloo stuffed with paneer. People often asked how this was done but he would never say. He’d simply laugh and change the subject.
He was one of the most efficient people I know which, perhaps, is why he frequently left everything to the last moment. Yet nothing was ever delayed or unfinished. I only had to tell him there would be guests for dinner and the number. In return he’d ask: “Have they been over in the last week?”
I was perplexed the first time. “Why does that matter?” “Because I don’t want to serve the same thing again.” Umed was house proud and these thoughtful touches mattered to him.
Umed also had a knack for jugaad. He was naturally quick-witted although his formal education from a village school in Kumaon was limited. When the toaster collapsed he pulled out an unused waffle-maker and put it to good use. But I don’t think he knew what waffles are.
Once, when my sister Kiran was using a kitchen fork to beat cream she asked if we had an electric whisk. “No” I instantly responded. “Yes”, Umed interrupted and immediately brought one out of a rarely opened cupboard. He’d worked out what it was and what it was meant for.
In 1997, when I got caught in a terrorist attack in Colombo and returned with stitches on both hands and legs, Umed would bathe me. He’d make me sit on the side of the tub and scrub me with an old-fashioned jhamma. Unused to one, I’d complain he was being rough. But that only made him laugh: “It’s good for the circulation of your blood.”
It took him a decade to accept there was no need to give Mummy detailed accounts of my life. “Why do you always tell her?” I would quarrel. “She’s your mother and has a right to know”, he would respond with a finality I never questioned.
One night when I was food poisoned and repeatedly rushing to the loo he materialised around four in the morning to ask what the problem was. He’d seen the lights on and realised I wasn’t well. The next morning he summoned the driver and sent me to hospital. “I’m fine”, I weakly remonstrated. “You’re not” Umed firmly replied. “Your fingers and toes have curled up. Drip ki jaroot hai.”
Five years ago he started the practice of a glass of lassi every evening when I returned home. On the first occasion he explained “You’ve reached an age when this is good for you.” It quickly became a habit.
I still have the lassi but without Umed it doesn’t feel the same. In fact, even the taste seems different. His touch is hard to replace. I shall miss it for the rest of my life.
The views expressed are personal