One of the joys of traveling back to India in the summer is
eating great food catching up with friends (and eating great food)! Last summer had its share of good times, but was also filled with its share of bad news – my cousin and namesake suddenly passed from a heart attack, a friend’s marriage fell apart and two friends, in their mid-fifties were diagnosed with cancer. While all this had everyone around me asking about my own health and how well I was taking care of it, I found myself both praying for my friends and pondering about purpose.
One of those two friends was Badri, who has been a mentor and friend to my father, my wife and me. Badri had a near inexhaustible share of stories to tell, in his own unique way, often self-deprecatory and delivered with a mischievous smile. A great devotee in the Sri Vaishnava tradition and an ardent reader of the Divyaprabhandam, one of his favorite vignettes was about the evanescence of self-awareness. Whenever we spoke of entrepreneurship or personal relationships, of the mistakes we’ve made and lessons we’ve learned, I invariably ended up asking why didn’t that lesson stick. It’s like mashana vairagyam—dispassion that arises in the crematorium—that doesn’t last, and tell this tale. I paraphrase.
“When there’s a death in the family, even as we take the body to the crematorium we feel sad, listless and wondering about the meaninglessness of it all. When we pour out the pot of hot coals on the body and it’s set ablaze, we think ‘What is life all about? It is ephemeral!’ We realize all that seemed real and important until then—ego, money, success—is actually meaningless. ‘Why did I even care about those things? My life is now irrevocably changed and I’ll never be the same again.’
Of course soon as we return home, my wife brings me coffee. I take a sip. ‘Hey! Why is the coffee so cold?’ I yell at my wife. Alas all that self-reflection and insights I’d drawn by the funeral pyre, didn’t last for long and didn’t survive first contact with the mundane—a cup of coffee that wasn’t hot enough!”
Badri would invariably laugh as he narrated this story always in first person. Through last year, as he underwent chemo and struggled with its aftereffects, he stayed in good spirits. With the arrival of his first grandchild—for which he he’d traveled overseas, he appeared radiant in the photos he shared.
Soon as I arrived in India in late May, I called to visit him. He was in the hospital, resting and recovering from a cough. His wife and I spoke agreeing that we’d visit him when he was feeling better maybe in a few days. But on 4th June, he passed suddenly. As family and friends gathered on the 13th day of his passing, they shared stories of what he’d meant to them and I found myself grief stricken and unable to speak.
Today as I write this, I recall Badri’s stories and the wonderful, loving and demonstrative person he was and hope I can keep his love and insights a little longer than the fella in his tale!