There are just a handful of people who are a part of your life and whose presence around you is felt once they are gone, forever. They are the ones who have been with you in your best and the worst hours, who have seen you grow up and who have let out just a smile when you acted like not such a grown up. They remain with you, long after they have left.
Saadhu bhaiya was one such soul.
Saadhu bhaiya epitomised all that humanity is about. He was a part of our family. He was present at every festival – Holi, Diwali, Dushehra. He was the one who introduced me to the various dishes that I have known in my entire 28 years of existence. He was more than the cook who was hired by my parents some time in 1984-85, before I came into this world. He was that dependable and honest person who would never ask for a raise. He was the one guarding our home when we were out of town. He was the one we would turn to, if we left our house keys at any of those several family friends’ place. He was family.
He was the happiest on my birthdays. It was an annual congregation of cousins during summer holidays, some 18-20 relatives, being part of an annual celebration. Add another 30-40 guests to the list and there were around 60 people, every year, at the birthday dinner. Apart from preparing amazing food twice a day, Saadhu bhaiya would come in at 8 in the morning to prepare breakfast for the 20 souls at home, each year, on my birthday. He would go back to his day job as a cook in the students’ mess around 11 in the morning, come back to prepare lunch and would be back by 5 PM to help decorate the place and prepare a dinner for 60. He never complained.
He was responsible for bringing the carpets out and lay them across the house, with the advent of winters, every year. He would clean the dust off the fans, clean the furniture off dust, boil the milk, get vegetables and what not. We would face a tough time every time he would be on leave. He was central to our household. He was the one who we could bank on. He was family.
He named his grandson, who shares his birthday with me, after my name – Aashish. He was family.
I remember him taking me around the campus on Holi, holding me in his arms. I remember him prepare the most delicious jaljeera on Holi, every single year. The gunjiyas that he made will never be forgotten, ever. The poori-aaloo, halwa and chana on Ashtmi for the entire gang of 15 odd kids of my age in the campus, the poodas on Hoi, the paneer dishes he would churn out especially for me, the aloo-pyaaz parathas, it’s an endless list.
The last I met him was in 2011. We were visiting home as my father had retired after being with IIT Roorkee for 42 years and were moving to Meerut to our home. Saadhu bhaiya was not pleased but he kept working as I had seen him work all these years. The breakfast, the lunch and the dinner, the chores and the ever-present helping hand. He helped pack the stuff that he had seen and dusted for over two decades. He saw the house without anything but the walls, windows and doors that made up the structure. We gifted him a shirt that I am sure, he would have cherished wearing. He was family.
Of late, mummy had been informing me about his health turning for the worse, information relayed from the folks back in Saharanpur. A bout of tuberculosis, is what I was told, he suffered from, last year. Blocked arteries of the heart were discovered later. He was seeking treatment in Chandigarh. It would have been painful, but he would have been calm through all that.
I got to know about his demise a couple of hours back from mummy. He transcended to a better place around 5 PM on 12.12.2013. I have been away from home for over 9 years but I had never felt that Saadhu bhaiya was any place far off. As I started writing this, the memories came gushing back and it was difficult to hold the tears back. I am sure he would be looking over us from up above.
He was almost a parent to me. He will be missed. His memories will be cherished.
He was family.