03 September 2012

There are old men we have to look after

One of the saddest days of my life was April 30, 2012.  My maternal uncle, Edward Franklin Augustus Herat, known to all as ‘Asoka’ and to me ‘Loku Mama’, a man whose life and ways were nothing like the grand name on his birth certificate, died under tragic circumstances. He was single, 71, and was living in a home for the elderly run by a temple in Wanavasala, by an unprotected road that crossed the Colombo-Kandy railway track, a place where someone gets knocked down every month on average, according to people in the area.  His time came in April. 

Loku Mama was a simple man.  He was also difficult on occasion.  He would not be himself after a few drinks and it was that not-him persona that made it impossible for any of his siblings to take care of him for more than a few months at a time.  He had a heart of gold when sober. He was amazing with children, i.e. with us, his nephews and nieces, and with our own children.  He was the black sheep of the family, but only to the extent that he dropped out of school and was unemployed most of his life.  He placed modest bets whenever he had money and I can’t remember a time when he ever made a splash.  He fought with everyone in the family, abused them all, and loved them all nevertheless.  He died on the spot and was cremated the same day.     
 My Loku Mama was a pile of skin and bone when I went to identify him at the General Hospital.  The following morning, I took my Loku Mama, now reduced to ashes, to Hanwella and sent him down the Kelani Ganga as per the custom in the family.  That night I received an email from my sister.  She wrote about two dreams. 

‘I crossed over a few inches of water but when I got to the other side, the water had risen and I couldn't get back. You jumped over the water and said we'll go this other way. We crossed a small low bridge and we saw what we thought was the head of a tortoise poking out and looking at us. When we looked into the clear water it turned out to be a giant turtle and then we saw the outline/shadow of another one materializing and the two of them swam very fast under the bridge and when we ran to the other side to watch them, they disappeared. I imagine it must have been a dream of Ammi waiting for Loku Mama’.

Our mother, his eldest sister or ‘Loku Akka’ died two years ago.

There was another dream.

‘I dreamed of an infant in the arms of a mother on a train. The mother was falling asleep and I said I will take the child. She gave the child to me and left and I was there with this child wondering if she would come back. Last night (this morning for you), I dreamed that I had put the rest of the family on a train and I was supposed to join them later because there was an old man that I had to take care of. But Cookie had taken a lift into the train by herself and she was very small and I got on the train to settle her with Mark but the doors shut and I couldn't get off. I was crying saying "there's an old man and I have to go and look after him," but the conductor would not stop the train. These dreams too were I imagine about Loku Mama.’

Cookie (Kisara) is the youngest of her three daughters, just 10 years old, and Mark her husband. 

There are old men we meet. Some are relatives, some are friends. Some are strangers.  Some are young and young at heart. Some sick and some infirm. Some have memories and others have forgotten and been divested of the burden of remembering.  Some are cranky and some infuriate. Some are insane and they can’t help it.  They all have loved and been loved.  They have all got to be ‘looked after’.  One way or another.  To the best we can. 

‘Take care of your Loku Mama,’ my grandfather told me a few months before he died.  I did. And I did not.  That’s how it is.  There will always be old men.  We can’t exercise 24-hour surveillance.  We can visit though.  And sometimes, that’s all that we can do and all that needs to be done.



Ramzeen said...

The black sheep of families are always the best-loved by the kids. We had one too. A handsome ne'er do well Uncle, but he loved us kids and we loved him. We used to cry whenever he came and left: more often than not to cajole a few bucks from grandma, with his charm and guile. He died in hospital with almost all of his toes removed due to an infection due to nicotine. But his cheerful grin never left his face.