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Memoire

My Uncle – Janardan Pranlal Vaishnav

My uncle – Janardan Pranlal Vaishnav [B: 09-06-1932 | D: 23-09-2020]- was the youngest of the three sons of Pranlal Vaghji Vaishnav. The eldest one was Kamalkant Vaishnav and the younger to him was Mahesh Vaishnav, my father.

I was only 19 when Kamalkantbhai passed away in 1970. My relationship with him was that of a very loving uncle. Whatever little I have known of his personality is either from his soliloquy during that fateful bus journey to Bhuj for the ensuing marriage ceremonies of his eldest son, Divyakumar, or subsequent hearsay from different people at different occasions. My father, Maheshbhai, always treated me as junior friend ever since I passed my SSC examinations. When I joined my professional life, he groomed me in the role of as friend-cum-independent family member. After he passed away in 1983, I graduated to the level of Janardanbhai Vaishnav’s principal assistant  in the family matters.

The age difference between each brother was such that they would have got almost similar upbringing during their respective childhoods. However, their developments as youths and then as head of their own micro-families, took different paths. As a result, even if their in-practice approach towards their core values apparently seemed different, they shared a strong family bond of common basic values of life. My position, or competence, expressly disbar me to express any views about them as individuals. Therefore, what follows is what I have perceived as what a next-gen family member would view on the basis of his personal experiences of the associations with the immediately preceding generation family members.

In terms of the Hindu philosophy, 10th to 12th days after the death are considered as the days of beginning of disassociation of the soul from the mortal life relationships. 13th day is the considered to be the day when the journey of the soul commences towards his ultimate destination of attaining the eternal peace. As such, from now on Janardanbhai will live with us in our memories. Standing at that point in my life, I have attempted to recall my reminiscences of him as head of the family. The instances that I present here are solely my own, personal, experiences. Therefore, the interpretations have my personal view point..

The first learning experience with Janardanbhai that I can recall dates to sometime in 1956. We were travelling by train from Bhuj to Sirohi / Abu to spend holidays with grandparents. In those days, the transhipment halt at Palanpur would last two /three hours. During that time, there were many trains, which terminated or started from Palanpur or required a change in engines, came on to the platform. That either, necessitating (as they were in vogue those days) a steam engine to be decoupled or coupled with the rest of the coaches. I was witnessing these activities first time and hence had tremendous childlike curiosity to watch it from the close quarters. However, in the very first instance, the shrill, loud whistle, accompanied by a large boisterous release of steam by the engine was enough to shake me up the bones. I was so afraid that next time I ran away farthest away from the engine being coupled. Janardanbhai, with all the care and tenderness that a force can accommodate, took me right up to the engine and firmly held me there during the whole process. I kept crying all the while, but he simply held me there. He repeated the process each of the four or five instances in those two / three hours. That was his way of imparting me the lesson of driving away fear from my mind, on my own.

In fact, I now can understand that even Kamalkantbhai or Maheshbhai also adopted more or less a similar method to make us understand that even as they would be thee to back us up, we have to learn to fight our battles on our own terms.

Kamalkantbhai would thrust a lighted, giant-sized cracker in our hands such that it would have just enough time before it explodes. We had to learn to handle it safely. My father had got an unexpected chance to instil confidence in me to navigate a unknown terrain. We had just shifted from Rajkot to Ahmadabad on his on the-job regular transfer. I had to reappear for one subject for my VIIth class annual examination, back at Rajkot. Maheshbhai had made all back-end arrangements for my pick-up and stay at Rajkot, but actual bus journey from Ahmadabad to Rajkot, and back had to be performed by me alone. Few years later, I had to be on such projects all alone, but I had had an excellent lesson of being able to stand up on my own feet in my armour by then.

We had spent several summer vacations wherever Janardanbhai would have been posted in his job. To us these were the happy moments of merry abundance. However, when I recall those joyful days now, I realize how finely Janardanbhai  was able to maintain the personal-work life balance. Obviously, he was adept, even then, to bear with equanimity the work-personal life pressures and pulls. My first-hand explicit experience of his forbearance of extreme pressure was when my father, Maheshbahi, passed away in 1983. Janrdanbhai had to bear the responsibility of bring along his mother and a family of wife and two young children during that arduous six-hour Rajkot- Ahmadabad journey,, while ensuring that none of them would get a faintest clue that when they will reach Ahmadabad, they will ne pitched-forked into the last rites of Maheshbhai.  As the autorickshaw came to a halt in front our home, the situation was abundantly clear. As we were witness to the traumatic effects of deaths of my grandfather and Kamalkantbhai have had on my grandmother, we were quite aware of what the state of physical and mental condition of our grandmother would be during the journey. We had also planned for receiving her when they reached our home. So, obviously had Jandardanbahi. He did not waste a moment to help my grandmother’s sagging body frame to alight from the auto and then almost carrying her all the way up three stories on the staircase. In front of the deeply silently resting body of Maheshbhai, he eased my grandmother into the sitting position while continuing his firm grip over her body, till he felt that that critical moment had passed away. He, then, quietly gestured  us to immediately quicken up the rest of the proceedings. With so much of comings and goings of relatives in next few days, he probably could not physically comfort my grandmother, but his vigilant gaze was always on high alert to detect any signs of worry on that count.

As it happened, this was his second such experience. He had to carried out this once before in 1970 too, when they had to travel from Bhuj to Surat, when Kamalakntbhai had passed away, then also without any forewarning. Only the travel at that time was far more arduous on account of severe floods in the rivers of central Gujarat to Tapti at Surat.

After the death of my grandfather, all the brothers took extra care of my grandmother. Sudden death of my grandfather had thoroughly shaken my grandmother. As part of the Hindu tradition, family members and acquaintances would come in person to express their grief to the kay relative of the deceased. Most of these relatives lived in Bhuj and had to travel to Surat for this purpose, As a result, there would always be two or three new grieving people in front of my grandmother. This had aggravated the situation of to such an extent that her own health was now the cause of worry. Kamalkantbhai himself was not in position to take direct initiative since tmy grandmother would always be surrounded by the ladies. So, he used us to create a ‘remote’ protection shield. He would instruct us with new tricks every time a new grieving party would arrive, so that their grieving drama would not last more than few minutes.

My grandmother, by her core nature, was very emotionally sensitive. But she would keep all her pains to herself. That did not work well with her overall health after my grandfather’s death. On top of that, in the spirit of being a devoted wife, she shunned evening meals. It was after great deal of persuasion by her sons that she had agreed to take a glass of milk and just one serving spoonful cooked vegetables as her evening meals.  Over the years, that had rendered her physically very weak.

Her weakened body took its toll when, once she accidently sat down too heavily, resulting in a hair-line crack in the last bone of coccyx. That gradually reduced my grandmother to be bedridden. The bedridden stage acted as the proverbial last straw on the already weakened body of grandmother. She required very delicate and meticulous care for an extended duration. Even if we consider that all the care that Janrdanbhai and his family members took of her as natural affection and sense of duty, more striking was the unwavering faith that Janardanbhai held in the remotest possible chance that she would survive. At the very last, when treating doctors declared that her kidney has totally stopped functioning and medically speaking the end may now be a matter of sometime only, and that he may call me to remain present. But he seemed not keen to accept that finality. Probably, nature also needed extra efforts to overcome the positive force of his the then thought process. Grandmother medically breathed last only after about 60 hours. After so much of traumatic last couple of days, visibly from outside and emotionally from within Janrdanbhai was like a true saint, fully at peace with himself. At the end of the traditional mourning period of 12 days, he assembled the whole of larger Vaishnav family, to read out the formal will that my grandfather had written, along with an informally written  testament of my grandmother’s last wishes. He ensured that all that was directed therein is complied with in letter and in spirit, with the least possible delay of implementation

The disposal of THE FAMILY HOME at Bhuj, the  only immovable ancestral property, took some more time, and had quite a few glitches. But Janardanbhai ensured that whole process ends to its logical conclusion. Since then, till the END, In a family where the next generations were also quite now grown up, more and more differences of the outlook to different issues would come to fore. Janardanbhai was always explicit and clear about his own approach, but he was practical enough not to insist that his view, as the head of the family, only should prevail. His pragmatic approach indeed worked well in keeping the broader family tied up as loose federation.

After, Janardanbhai’s wife (Purnimakaki) passed away, he seemed to be even more balanced and liberal (!) in his approach with the (greater) family issues.  He ensured that marriage of Kamalkantbhai granddaughter, which was held in just three /four months after the death of his wife, or that of Maheshbhai’s grandson, in the same year, had the faintest shadow his personal loss. After a few years, in another such family occasion, I believed that respect due to his position may not be accorded, and hence I was ambivalent about his presence in the function. He simply brushed aside my objections and ensured that all of us attended the function. To him, duty associated with his position was far more important than the status of that position.

Whether it was duty to the family, or to their profession, or whether it was maintaining a commitment, or whether it acting according to the spirit of what they considered or understood as ethically right, was always one of the many dimensions of honesty for all the brothers.  Another very important dimension of honesty was always do what you say and think, while maintaining total transparency. That is why they perhaps never feared or hid their considered views. Kamalkantbhai never seemed to hesitate to call a spade a spade. Maheshbhai’s expression of his view was always soft. If he thought that his views will not be acceptable, he may even choose to remain silent. Of course, under those circumstances, his unspoken word was louder and more forthright. Janardanbhai would spell out his views once, and then if these were not heeded to, he would never broach that subject again. In the process, it was abundantly clear to the other party that he did not agree to what they say or approve what they do. For him, the matter ended there with a full stop.

Someone who is so honest in such subtle matters, it was not surprising that financial impropriety of smallest degree was a cardinal sin, for all the brothers. Only one illustration should sufficient to impart clarity to what I have to say. When I was shifting to Mundra on a job transfer, I could persuade Janardanbhai to accept a small imprest amount towards any minor maintenance expenses of our house. He religiously documented any expenses incurred and the outstanding balance in a letter to me every six months, even when we talked with each other over phone at least once a week.

Money (material wealth), for all three brothers, was simply a medium for conducting the ways of life and not the means or an end to the happiness.

Outwardly, the death of his wife (Purnimakaki) seemed to have had no effect on the conduct of Janardanbhai’s life. But from within, he seemed to have decided to retire from the active executive responsibilities of the principal player of the household. He started grooming his daughter-in-law (Ami) to take over the economic and financial management sides of the household. While he provided the back-end support for maintaining the meticulous documentation of the financial affairs, he did ensure that Ami did inculcate a similar habit for maintaining the documentation with accuracy and timeliness.

One can also observe that major prostrate problem, before five years or so, was another gamechanger in his life. He now seemed to plot the chess board of his for the end game. Death of his son-in-law (Dushyant Rindani) was destiny’s unexpected change in the rules of the game. But, Janardanbhai mentally had so advanced in this process of renunciation that could take even that in stride and seemed to have felt that his endgame plan can proceed as planned. With that state of his mental approach, his advancing physical age gradually had started affecting his general health. In the retrospect now, it seems that his illness in last fortnight, he had probably seen the inevitable. As a result, he seemed to participate, with only barest  minimum passive support, in all the nursing efforts that his immediate family had undertaken with missionary passion.    

Janadanbhai used to state that he had lived his life fully, in the same spirit as the heart-touching statement ‘Life is so beautiful’ by Don’ Corleone, of Mario Puzo’s epic novel “The Godfather’. Janrdanbhai had so cleanly closed all the accounts of the books of his  life, that his eternal journey will be one of the most peaceful journeys.

We are so fortunate that we are born, and have lived, in the family of such exemplary human beings. I would only wish that I can draw some lessons from these lives to live the rest of my life with similar balance and fortitude….