Cherishing the Life of a Dear Departed..
A week ago, a group of 30 odd trekkers got trapped in a raging inferno that resulted in the death of 14. Among those who lost their lives, was one of the finest friends I made during my Warwick days – Nisha Tamiloli.
Nisha was a hale and hearty girl who lived life to the fullest.
She was an immensely likeable person who radiated positivity and attracted friends like a human magnet. A perpetual smile adorned on her lips, and despite having strong opinions, she held malice towards none. She was an epitome of the strong, independent modern Indian woman – the kind of woman, other women always looked up to.
Nisha was also among the most supportive friends I ever had– she was among the first to congratulate me when I ventured into writing and among the first to buy my debut book. She was the one who gave me the confidence to go solo on stage when I first did a solo guitar and harmonica gig at an English pub during our university days, and her friendship was among the very few meaningful ones that I made during my university days that stood the test of time.
Nisha’s violent and sudden death (a result of the 100% burns she sustained while still trying to save others trapped in the fire) was a shock that I’m slowing coming to terms with, and I can only imagine the amount of torment her parents, her lone sister and her other near and dear ones would’ve gone through.
Think of somebody close to you – somebody who is vibrant, universally loved, and in the pink of health, dying an agonizing death, without any warning. Undoubtedly, that is the kind of passing away that leaves people far more devastated than any natural death.
A memorial service was held for Nisha, last Saturday evening, in Chennai, which I too chanced to attend.
The gathering, held on the terrace of my late friend’s home in Chennai, was attended by about 100 people – close family, friends and neighbours – including many who were from out-of-station.
While I had attended memorial services in the past (though, coming from a Christian family, these were mostly Christian services), most of the times, these are somber affairs in which a priest (or some respected elder) comes and presides over a prayer meeting in which people sit together, sign a few hymns, read scriptures, say a few prayers, and delivers a message – usually about how everybody is meant to pass away someday and how that departed soul would be in heaven. Being the grave event that such events are, there is hardly a smile, or a happy moment shared at that time.
But this time it was different.
One of the things that made Nisha’s memorial service stand out was that its simplicity – the event was devoid of any overt religious symbolism, ritualistic prayers or overbearing preachers.
There was a tiny pavilion assembled on the terrace under which a projector was set up to show images of various little prized moments of Nisha’s life – pictures from various treks, pictures from her tours around the world, her graduation day, and her marathon runs among others.
A local 3-member band, apparently Nisha’s favouite, fronted by violinist Karthick Iyer (ostensibly of friend of hers too) also dropped by to play a 20-minute long instrumental tribute – some soulful, beautiful music.
Once the band had left, everyone huddled together and decided to share their personal stories and anecdotes from Nisha’s life.
In the hour and half or so that followed, people talked about their favourite personal anecdotes which Nisha was a part of – it was evident that she had left a lasting impression on many lives.
Each of the testimonies were spontaneous, genuine and heartfelt – it wasn’t a prepared show put on for namesake.
Along with the others, I shared my own stories of her – about how we met first and how I failed to recognize her in a rather awkward but funny moment during our first day on campus, and how during a lonely Christmas eve in the UK, she took the effort of arranging a memorable Christmas evening for a few of us.
Everybody’s stories evoked smiles and occasionally laughter – even in that sad atmosphere.
Each testimony shed a small light on Nisha’s vibrant personality. In fact, I learnt a handful of things about her that I had not known in our seven years of friendship.
Towards the end, a 10-minute video (mixed with a music track she loved) that showcased more stills from her life and the video testimonials of a few friends who couldn’t make it for the event were shown and everybody stood up for a few minutes of silence in her memory before finally parting ways.
Nisha had made a difference to the lives of many, and that’s what eventually mattered. While her physical presence may no longer be felt in this world, her memories would live on in countless lives she touched in small ways.
So why was I compelled to write this post about something very personal to me, you might ask
If it’s not evident still, here is why:
When a someone passes away, it is true that it brings inconsolable grief and sorrow to that person’s loved ones. But trapped in that circle of grief and gloom, there’s one thing that we often forget – to celebrate that person’s life and to cherish his/her memories.
We get caught in a cycle of ritualistic mourning ceremonies – carried out as a social or religious norm more than anything else – devoid of any real purpose. In many of our communities, eulogies (if you can call them that) are cliched impersonal lines mumbled by some elder or person of authority, who barely had any personal connection with that person who passed away.
This was the first time that I witnessed a meaningful memorial gathering. People who gathered and spoke were the ones who were touched by my late friend in some way or the other and there were dozens of them.
Her parents and family members probably wouldn’t have known so many things about her had it not been for that little gathering.
While the voices that spoke probably would not have lessened the grief of the mourning family, it would have given them consolation, and maybe even a tinge of pride in the fact that the one they lost was loved and had made a difference to so many lives and that echoes of their own loss were also felt genuinely among others.
Life isn’t fair and often the best of the ones we love leave far before their time. But even in the face of such tragic events there is something we shouldn’t forget – that despite our grief and mourning, we shouldn’t refrain from reflecting and celebrating a dear departed’ s life and the difference it made to our own.
Very nice place
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