Mohinder Sukh Deva. Born 1919 and from then on nothing but adventures of which I got to share a few as his son. And now this final adventure…
I got to Delhi after a 19 hour flight and watched the sun come up bringing on the Delhi heat that begs for a monsoon rain. Prem tells me that Dad laughed, pointed towards the bedroom, indicating he wanted to lie down. He wasn’t quite able to make it all the way and then his breathing moved into that breath. You know it once you’ve heard it and can never forget. He only managed to sit and they had to lie him down and in 3-4 minutes he settled into stillness. Quietness in a man who was larger than life. I knew right away where he had gone. Straight to my mother.
Now it is a day later. My fathers Mahabhutas (earthly remains…and that is all that is gone/left behind) sit in a matka covered by a red cloth tied with flowers on the floor of the car as we drive to the Sacred Ganga at Tapovana in Rishikesh to send him onwards.
We is my sister from Napa, my cousin from Mumbai and me in the front seat with the driver. The A/C is greatly appreciated because it is HOT outside. It is a long ride so we talk about how he would get behind the wheel of a car, especially to go on another adventure, at the drop of a hat…and he would find a way to arrange that drop whenever he could!
So we tell stories…and even though I have a few, I want to listen. My sister reminds us of tales of tiger hunts, dacoits, of jungles and deep ravines. We stop along the way to eat and remember his passion for good food at roadside inns (dhabas) and so we eat with relish and I throw caution to the wind, eating red kidney beans with rice and pumpkin curry. Yummy!
It takes us the whole day through dusty roads, diversions and packed streets on what seems like an endless town but in reality is one town dissolving into another, and another…India has run out of open fields between towns. By the time we get to Tapovana the cloud cover allows only a fairy tale sun to paint the Ganges to life.
By trial of memory and luck I find the very same spot where 5 years earlier I had immersed my mothers’ ashes in the sacred river.
Stepping into the cool water I empty the matka with prayers into the Ganga and watch him eagerly go in search of my mother. I pray fervently and know that they are back together.
In her last few years, when she was bedridden with a broken hip and severe osteoporosis she would trouble him endlessly. “Deva, raise the bed…Deva, lower the bed.” And he loved every word she said because it was said to him and he loved her so very much. As she faded, so did he. And when she died, he shut out the world. He was too strong physically to follow her anytime soon so he shut down his mind and entered into the unknown world of Alzheimers. Over the next five years he forgot everything, even his children who would visit from America bringing him gifts that went into the cupboard.
Right now, as we leave the banks of the Ganges, I have no time for tears. Those came before and will come again after and for a long time and those will be for me. Right now there is laughter, jokes, a tightening of family bonds and a beautiful drive up the hill to Ananda.
The sky above us is painted in shades of grey monsoon clouds, but ahead of us at ridgeline, the setting sun breaks through in its oranges and pinks and reds to soften the palette between the lush greens of the hills and the grey rain clouds. It is entirely a poem in love, spreading across the evening sky.
And that was his life…a poem. We recite “shayariss ”, precursors to elaborate Sufi poems that he taught us. He was the penultimate romantic and it seemed that this world ran out of its need for him. Either that or he mourned the “busy-ness-man” he had to become to support a family. He could not wait for opportunities to get into the car, the train, the plane, to set off on another adventure. And there would be my mom, with her “lets live it fully!” smile and bewitching laughter.
Now it is a beautiful evening at Ananda Spa in the Himalayan foothills rising above the sinuous Ganga as she winds her way through Rishikesh, a home of sages and siddhas ever since time.
We settle into the private residence of the old Maharaja at Ridgeline House. A hot bath, comfortable clothes and then back up in the dark to the elegant restaurant where I have memories of past sweet visits and of meeting the legendary Shyam Dass. We order a meal dad would have been delighted with. And then he would have burst into song. But not without a chilled beer on a warm night like this. So we order a couple with the food. This is for you, Dad. And you, Mom. I miss you both. Your romance continues somewhere, I know. Love spreads…love spreads…like magic.