On Matters That Matter

The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones

Ode To A Simple Man

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I keep coming back to the saying of the Guardian’s legendary editor C.P. Scott and his words as I love the simple manner in which it defines the job of a journalist: Comment is free, but facts are sacred. The fact is not a matter of interpretation. It makes no difference to the fact whether you face it or you avoid it; the fact is just the fact. This post is dedicated to a simple man who lives with the fact.

My 88-year-old uncle, K.C. Tewari, has limitless attention, not a single problem and a face that conveys without a word immense love, understanding and concern. He is the husband of my mother’s eldest and only sister. His life has been quite eventful; six children, 3 boys, 3 girls, all of them married and all having growing up children. The eldest son is about 58. My uncle had a pretty senior government job, and all his children were married after he retired. He is not one of those old men who get together in the park and discuss a lot of things, he is quite happy on his own. He neither seeks company nor does he avoid it. Everyone faces the fact, one has to; but to live with it is quite another matter.

I have seen only one in my life. To quote a 20th century philosopher, “Is there a basic duality at the very core or, does duality arise only when the mind moves away from ‘what is’?” You have pain in your stomach, that is the fact, and the process of thought that there was no pain yesterday or will not be tomorrow is duality. My uncle is always with ‘what is’. I admire him, and on very cold and stormy days I just go and sit by his side for a while, his warmth is enough to heal. I don’t have what he has and I don’t even try because any comparison is an even bigger movement away from the fact.

Perhaps that is the reason that he has never carried any problem in his life despite having a multitude of them over the years. When death and tragedy and the inevitable suffering that most people get caught in came to his doorstep and in the lives of his children then that was the fact. When all that passed and the Sun came out on a bright new day then that became the reality. You can’t fight with him because he is beyond conflict and it’s not possible to drag him into one. It is tough to be with the only thing that exists, which is this moment in which you might be rich or poor, happy or miserable, lonely or ‘absolutely whole and alone’ like my uncle.

I am told that he did his work with a lot of care and he was a man of few words. He now speaks a little more than when he was young. Sometimes you can see him looking at the dictionary because he might have seen a new word in the newspaper. He loves to watch football. His handwriting is so beautiful and so clear, that each and every alphabet is worth looking at. And there is a lot of his written work available as after he retired and even before it there was always someone or the other that he was teaching.

He made all the college notes of his youngest daughter and then must be for five or six grandchildren after that. Before he had retired he would teach Hemraj; a servant in the house who was very interested in getting educated. Hemraj cleared his 12th standard, and I don’t know how many man hours my uncle devoted everyday after work for more than six years. Hemraj now runs a successful motor repair shop in my hometown of Mandi; he always comes to meet whenever my uncle is visiting. My uncle must be sitting in his house right now with ‘what is’. You can talk about the past with him; he has a great memory it’s just that he is not stuck there.

He was close to dying twice, but when he survived there was no thinking of that time because he was all attentive to the now. According to him there is no problem with the fact; while there are all sorts of problems in escaping it. He is a man of action and needs no activity. My uncle is very frugal with money but is blessed with the generosity of the heart. And at 88 he takes care of quite a lot.

As such things cannot be inherited the children have the DNA but not even one of the qualities that he has in abundance. He is full of life; and has a dignity that is so easily visible yet difficult to describe as it is not linked to a position, title or any tangible material accumulations. He must have seen me as an infant but my memory of him goes back to when I must have been six or seven years old. The pleasure of his regular company started when I began my first job in Delhi and lived in my uncle’s home initially. It was home not just to me but for many of my journalist friends in the initial years.

The cover of security had to be broken and the temptations of the world at 22 had a gravitational pull that I never thought was worth resisting. So first with friends and then alone slowly I settled in the city and would meet my uncle with irregular regularity. One day and I don’t remember when; just like the last scene of the movie The Sixth Sense my memory of him went all the way back after a thought crossed my mind.

My uncle was never caught in the process of becoming and all the strife that goes with it; he always had the joy of simple being. Some things cannot be planned, they just happen. Becoming can never know being; becoming is psychological effort and being is effortless. A man is either simple or not and there is no way of becoming simple. The only possibility here is to realise one’s complexity and the mind may stumble upon the simplicity that takes all the worries of life away.

He is a wise man and, therefore, many a times just says a word or two to change the course of a life he cares for if it is going sideways. More than that my uncle lets everyone go his or her way and never interferes as he probably understands what the Hermann Hesse novel Siddhartha talks about: Knowledge can be transferred but wisdom is incommunicable. He doesn’t read fiction or non-fiction so the sentence for him is a statement I wrote as it seems to be true in his case.

If anyone has the desire to see a man who is completely unscarred by 88-years of life, I can arrange for that. My only request is just observe simply without making him feel strange, he is rare but otherwise normal; I am pretty sure you will have a good time if you are one of those who love the facts of life.

One Response

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  1. Hi Deepan,

    Heart-felt and brilliant — your tribute to Prabhash Ji.

    I really like the fact that you are writing almost everyday. There’s nothing quite like it isn’t it? To be drawn into something to the oblivion of anything else—can’t be bought, isn’t for sale—it just belongs. Period.
    A refreshing aspect of your writing is that you write how you speak. It’s also called ‘voice’. And yours doesn’t need a baritone.

    Rohit Karir

    November 22, 2009 at 6:47 pm

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