Remembering Somi

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By

Rabindra Kishen Hazari Jr.

Mes Amis. Thank you all for your messages and calls and outpouring of love, concern and grief for Somi, or Sona, as my much beloved mountain bear like brother, Somindra, was called at home.

We are totally devastated at Sona expiring so suddenly. He was ailing for the last few days. His grotesquely swollen and maimed legs which had been gouged with gangrene when his apppendix burst inside his abdomen when he was less than 3 years old was a constant ravaging pain which he bore with his customary joke and cackle; the diabetes, the pancreatic and all other miscellaneous ailments, he made light of and charged through like the Rugby player of old that he was and remained at heart.

My Mum spoke to Sona on Holi morning and was alarmed at how listless Sona sounded. “Dont Worry Mama”, I assured her, “Sona is Sona. He will get well soon and smash through yet again”.

Instead, there was this frenzied banging on my bedroom door at about 4 pm. I was fast asleep. Giddy and disoriented, I opened my door and my youngest brother, Hemu, charged in. “Nika (Sona’s wife, Varanika), just called. Sona expired”.

It was a bullet to the brain. What followed was unreal. I thought it was a horrible dream, that Sona’s characteristic chuckle will be heard anytime soon heralding that this is a macabre joke. Instead, I heard a sobbing Nika say that Sona had his lunch in his upstairs bedroom in his charming duplex penthouse in a rural area outside Madras, that when she returned to the bedroom, Sona wasnt breathing. All their efforts at pulmonary massage, resuscitation, were of no avail. Sona was gone. Poof! Just like that! Gone!

Sona, the Great Grand Daddy of all Pranksters, had played his final prank. He had quietly slipped away, giving doctors and hospitals his beloved middle finger salute, as he did the ultimate bunk of all; from life altogether.

Telling Mum was the most difficult part.

We gently roused Mum from her afternoon nap. The first thing Mum sleepily said was, “How is Sona? I didnt like the sound of his voice when we spoke in the morning.”

“Please wash your face, Mama” , said I, hoping that my voice didnt tremble.

Our 92 year old Mum, quietly freshened up in the bathroom without a word, then emerged, standing tall and straight, she looked at us directly and with a tremor in her voice said, “You have both come. You have something terrible to tell me…isnt it?”

That is when the three of us collapsed into each others’arms, holding each other tight as we wept for our beloved Sona, the light of our lives, not believing that we will never hear his booming voice again.

What followed was a blur.

Hemu and I flew down to Madras on the 30th.

We arrived at Sona’s residence which is in a resort complex in a village in Kanchipuram District of Tamil Nadu, one and a half hours from the Madras airport.

Palmyra Springs, Nariambakkam village, Sriperumbudur taluk, Kanchipuram district

As per our family custom, we insisted on no religious rituals, no priests nor prayers, and that Sona’s daughter, Shonali, aged 31, will light the funeral pyre.

This deeply shocked the villagers as women never go to the cremation ground and the lighting of the funeral pyre is a strict male prerogative which is carried out with complex Hindu ceremonies all of which we had cheerfully short circuited.

So the villagers, who adored Sona and Nika, diplomatically set up the pyre 50 metres from the open corrugated roof shed which is the roadside village crematorium.

At home, Sona’s body was kept in a Sleeping Beauty like viewing casket cum refrigerated box. I thought Sona was sticking his tongue out which would have been his way to say his last irreverent good bye.

Hemu embraced the casket repeatedly and for long, too choked for words, sobbing his heart out.

I sat far away. I was glad that our mother did not have to see this sight. No mother should see her child dead before her.

Sona seemed too restricted in the casket for my liking. He looked uncomfortable. This is not the way I wanted to remember him. Of course, its a bloody miracle that they found a casket big enough to hold him considering that Sona tipped the scales at a mere 158 kilos, which was down from his proud peak of 175+kilos.

In the meantime, George arrived. We grew up with George when we lived in Bank House when George was an integral member of our household. George hailed from Tuticorin, near the southern tip of Tamilnadu, more than 600 kms from Madras. He had taken a flight from Tuticorin and rushed over to be in time for Sona’s funeral.

George and Sona shared a special bond. Sona was perpetually falling foul of the Cathedral School teachers. Not for nothing was Sona called, “Teachers’ Pest”, an accolade that Sona typically wore with great pride. Dr Krishnan, our celebrated English literature teacher, was fond of doling out punishments, like, “Someeendra! You horrible boy!! You will copy out the entire Act II of Julius Caesar. I want it on my table by 8.30 am tomorrow.”

Sona would nonchalantly roll home and rouse George. “George, let us improve our English. And what better way of doing so than by studying Shakespeare. Let us start with my favourite, Julius Caesar. ” Of course, the joint study session was just a ploy to get George to write all the detention work which George gladly did thereby earning Sona’s undying gratitude.

Soon George became so famous that Sona’s entire Galllery of Rogues, all got their detention homework written by George.

Many years passed and George returned to Tamilnadu as an union leader of the erstwhile Vijaya Bank Staff Union but he always maintained his close relationship with our family, naming his daughter, Shonali, after Sona, and his son, Rabindrajeeva, after me.

Seeing George, and holding him tight and close, I wept for how lucky we were to have good, solid, loyal friends like George, and how chuffed Sona would have been, to have George at his side to say the final good bye.

We had to wait a long while for the shops to open in the nearby Padappai town where firewood and other funeral pyre materials had to be bought. More time passed as the funeral pyre had to be laboriously constructed by the villagers.

Finally, they were ready. It was now 1 pm. The sun burnt hot and fiercely with gusts of wind. Accompanied by shrieks from the women, who usually are barred by custom from proceeding further, Sona’s refrigerated Sleeping Beauty casket was wheeled out of his apartment.

A paltan of about 15 solidly built Thambis lifted Sona out of the refrigerated casket, then down from his penthouse apartment to a gaudily decked out open hearse, which was a cross between a Mahabharat charriot from a Tamil mythological potboiler, and an Election Special Rath Yatra of our warring DMK parties.

Sona was laid to rest on the top of the flower decked bier, while his wife, Nika, and daughter, Shonali, sat on the steps of the flower decked celestial charriot. Rose petals were liberally strewn while Hemu, George, I and many villagers, males only, accompanied the charriot on foot.

I was pleased. Sona would have been happy. He loved pomp and pageantry. Going out in style, lying on top of a flower decked charriot, with half the village following in his wake, was something Sona would definitely have approved of.

Walking in the burning Sun, we walked out of the resort complex and onto the kucha village road until in a patch of scrubland we came to the pyre.

I gazed dumbstruck at the laboriously constructed pyre, which had obviously been made with much skill and expertise, but it was unlike any funeral pyre I had previously seen, and I had seen plenty.

Firstly, it wasnt all wood. I was horrified to see that the bottom layers consisted of old tyres. Burning tyres I associated with street protests and black smelly smoke!! Then I grinned. Sona always loved cars as did his son, Somi Jr, who was sadly stuck in far away Toronto. Father and son were happiest talking cars, or even better, driving into posh showrooms all dressed up, pretending to buy those over priced four wheels, which they would take out for a spin and return the car with a trembling salesman who had often wet his pants at their high speed skid antics.. “Just testing the brakes, old chap..”

Sona, would have approved of a pyre made of tyres!

What the Hell, Get the Show rolling, Sona would have hollered.

And so the show began.

With more wailing from the ladies, and grunts from the Thumbi Paltan which had to be reinforced, Sona was placed, swaddled in a Toga like bedsheet, on top of the pyre of old tyres and logs of wood.

I remembered Sona’s 5th Standard class play, in Middle School, in 1971, (I was in the 7th), when Sona played King Midas, he was similarly caprisioned in a toga. Rags, Ravi Khote, was feeding Sona porridge as Midas couldnt feed himself because everything he touched, turned to gold. Sona, ever greedy, was thrilled at being fed porridge on stage. “Mama, they are feeding me real porridge in my school play”, he informed my annoyed mother, who had tartly enquired whether he was fed fake porridge at home.

Dilip Panniker feeding Somi as King Midas, 1971

Sarcasm had no effect on Sona. Food was food. It had to be supplied liberally and fast. This, Ravi Khote, to his misfortune, forgot. He dithered in feeding Sona the porridge at the requisite speed whereby Sona lost his patience, and caught Rags in an armlock on stage whereby Rags fed Sona porridge superfast while being throttled while the audience roared.

More was to come. Sona, as all those who knew him, knew that he was fascinated by shit. Scatology was Sona’s all time favourite subject on which he could effortlessly hold forth for hours, analyzing every whiff, fart, flavour, fragrance, frequency, colour, consistency and a myriad other variables which would put a path lab to shame.

The villagers now produced bags of dried, flattened cow dung cakes which were distributed like prasad amongst us. We reverently placed the dried dung cakes, totally odour free, (Sona would have been disappointed as he liked them pungent), all over Sona.

Raw rice was then scooped and released in three handfulls by each of us on Sona’s mountainous middle. Again, Sona would have approved, as he loved rice, which he religiously devoured like a pucca Englishman, with fork and spoon only.

Chilled milk, another favourite of Sona’s, was also poured by the family, including George, at the corners of the pyre.

Finally, a huge bale of hay was produced and the hay was spread all over Sona until he disappeared completely under a mountain of hay.

Then, Shonali lit agarbattis, (incense sticks), which were placed at the foot of the pyre.

Then squares of white wax and camphor were placed strategically on top of the pyramid of hay, which Shonali lit, and suddenly the hay was alight and burning.

Everyone walked away quickly. We were told not to tarry, not to look back, but to just go.

L-R: George Elango SM, Rabindra & Hemindra Hazari

So off we went.

The next day, the villagers delivered Sona’s ashes in a Kalash.

We are waiting for Sona’s son, Somindra Jr, 29, to arrive from Toronto on Friday, when we will decide where we will immerse Sona’s ashes.

Mahabalipuram, one of Sona’s favourite watering holes, may be considered.

I am deeply concerned, however, at my beloved Sona arriving at Yama’s threshold parched and famished.

I will hence recommend to our family that the Kalash containing Sona’s ashes be filled with Sona’s favourite Old Monk Rum and Thums Up and maybe some of his favourite chips as well, so that when Sona meets up with Pal Yama, they have a rip roaring rum soaked Mother of All Parties together.

So, Mes Amis, remember Sona with a tumbler of Rum and Thums Up in hand, eats galore, and dance music playing, for Sona lived to eat, drink, crack jokes and be merry, and that is the way to honour Sona!!

April 2, 2021. Somi Jr arrives from Toronto after 3 years. Raising a toast to Somi Hazari. L-R Hemindra (Hemu), Shonali, Rabindra (Ravi) Jr, Varanika, Kiron Kumar and Somindra Jr.

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