My father-in-law died exactly a month ago. He was eighty-five when he died.
My earliest memory of my father-in-law is the first dinner I had with him over a mug of beer at Koshy’s in early 1988. My father-in-law wore many hats: friendly, calm, composed, and very frugal. Along with his job at Bharath Electronics, he ran the first monthly neighborhood monthly newspaper of India, Kshemasamachar, for two decades, partook in social activities, was the founder trustee of Devagiri and Dharmagiri temples of Banashankari, and was the national president of U3A, University of the Third Age, an international movement whose aims are the education and stimulation of mainly retired members of the community—those in their third ‘age’ of life.
He signed up for both eye and body donation rejecting Hindu funeral rituals and even cremation. He donated his body to M.S Ramaiah institute of medical research, Bangalore. After a person’s death, the deceased’s body is the property of the next of the kin. Being the only available next of kin, it was his daughter, my wife, to take a call since it is not mandatory to donate the body even if one has pledged to donate his body during his lifetime. My wife decided to fulfill his wishes and graciously donated his body to a medical institution. Not to ignore the common belief that body donation would deprive the deceased of the proper afterlife and to carry out last rights, and despite my father-in-law’s lack of belief in rituals honouring the departed soul, my wife cremated a part of his hair (Agni Sparsh) that she had collected from the Mortuary and left the ashes in a river. She and I conducted the four-day Shraddha rituals in strict adherence to the Hindu scriptures despite my father-in-law’s lack of faith in them.
Body donation plays a critical role in helping medical students to master the complex anatomy of the human body and will provide researchers with the essential tools to help our patients of tomorrow. It is better than the other methods of disposal, which may consume a lot of money, land, and natural resources. In India, although the prominent personalities have donated their bodies, a stigma persists in donating a body.
One of my father-in—law’s last wishes was to see my book, “Inner Trek, A reluctant pilgrim in the Himalayas,” in Prime Minister Modi’s hand.
A week before his death, I sat in front of him, watching a frail convalescing man weighing less than his robust 70 Kilos a few years before. I held his hand and loudly lauded his achievements, how successfully he had raised his family, contributed to society, and helped the needy. But unfortunately, his death came after several weeks of intense suffering.
I went along with my wife to give away his body to the M.S Ramaiah institute. As I bid my final goodbye to my father-in-law while his body was being placed into the ice chamber at the Mortuary, I recalled his most famous dialogue. “To live only for oneself insulated from the society and not contributing to society in some form is the worst kind of selfishness.”
More than anything else, I am indebted to him for inculcating a sense of positivity in difficult situations and a drive for social work in me. I will miss him greatly, and he will always be in my heart. He was my friend for 34 years.
He was a friend to society even after his death. He was a friend in need even when he was dead in deed.