The Last Salute

Rest in Peace
Rest in Peace

I don’t want to write about death. Who does? The business is best left to newspapers, God and Pratibha Patil. That last for her amazing powers to grant life to those long dead.

Yet, I must dwell for a brief while on life’s best known secret.  If the ringer of the phone that morning sounded ominous, my wife’s choking voice was a harbinger straight from Hades. I knew for sure my father-in-law had gone the way of all sins. Sins of worrying about his tottering business, Sins of fretting about his sons and their recalcitrant wives, and Sins of paying the daily extortion to the practitioners of Medicine.  The practitioners, who were not sure which of his organs to blame till the very last day when they chorused the end of his kidneys.  And, he was not suffering from diabetes mellitus.

Varanasi is a remote destination from Mumbai both as the crow flies and as the Indian Rail crawls. Most of us readily curse the British for ravaging us for centuries but few stop for a moment to thank them for the amazing infrastructure they managed to pull up within a short span of time, without the cranes, rigs and computers. Yes, the resources were mostly ours but they were not being siphoned away to private accounts. For the disbelievers, the proof of the pudding is in the eating: you are still riding away on those very tracks ninety percent of the times. How I wish those tyrants were still around to speed up the trains or develop a thriving aviation network. Granted, dogs and Indians would have been barred from the Business Class but hey, there are days I’d give my kidney to travel Economy Class, nay, Luggage Class, especially if the lifeless form of a parent is waiting for your last salute. You can call me sick to be wishing slavery upon us for a passing personal matter but tell me, why have we not been able to lay down tracks that can withstand faster trains? Why have we not been able to build highways that can afford constant speeds like 200 kilometers an hour? And I will just stop here.

Falling back on the popular air travel site that promises to ‘make my trip’ was another near-death experience.  We were four passengers, including my wife and the twins; they had twelve flights that promised to park us in Varanasi the very next day after a halt in Delhi for a cool tag upwards of Rs. 14,000 per head. But we wanted to be there the same day, didn’t we?  Fine, there was this plane that would dump us there in two hours flat! The price? Rs. 19,000 odd per head. Remembering my favourite deities and the departed soul, I pressed the ‘Pay’ button when an outraging sight blasted my eyes. ‘Sorry,’ the portal said, ‘Your fare was revised to Rs. 28, 499 per head!’ Give me a break! Or, better still, Give me the British back as rulers! Don’t we have qualms? Who will now save the Indians from the Indians?

Eventually, we made it to Varanasi in time without having to sell our kidneys and which I am sure is another story. I don’t need to tell you, but standing next to the corpse of a loved one is a heart-rending experience. But, stand we must, in honour of the noble soul whose smile was quicker and simpler than a bird’s flight, whose tongue was sweeter than the cuckoo in spring and whose heart was purer than the murky Ganges to which we consigned his ashes.

May his soul rest in peace.


  1. I am so sorry for your loss. My condolences to you both.

    Yes, Varansi is far off, and the distance must have seemed even more when travelling for such a sad reason.

  2. I share your frustration. I have an idea about how to get back at those who rip us off. I will write you a mail. There is something called coupons or some such, whereby, you can buy a number of coupons and fly to any destination in India for a period of one year. We had those in the days of “Air Dhakkan,” but it was a saving grace a few years ago when we had to rush to Hyderabad on my fil’s demise. May you be blessed with strength to take care of your wife in this terrible time!

    1. Rachna: Do send me the details soon too. What you have described seems to be a good option.

      US: Heartfelt condolences. I lost my grandmother a couple years back and was in the US then, went through the same issues. Its disgusting when you can’t be where you need to be especially under such circumstances. I wish things were a little easier. Your FIL will be in my prayers today. May he rest in peace.

  3. Sorry to hear about it UMA sir, Yes I know how it feels to be standing next to the corpse of loved one.
    But that is not enough what the authorities make us go through after that for the certificate or for that stamp you need to get from the court to put on a affidavit or that 10rs stamp paper you need .. I have had such a experience after my dad passed away.

    I strongly second you on the infrastructure provided to us by British, the roads made THEN are still perfect in many places while the roads made by the india shining teams, last a few days .. The roads in shimla or interiors , the single track roads stand strong.. the rail tracks too

    But then as usual who am I to say something about india..

    sorry to hear the problems faced by you , I wish I could do something about it all but ALAS..

    Take care sir..

    1. You are a kind soul, Bikram. Thanks for your concern. It pleases me no end knowing that you agree with me about the sad state of infrastructure in India.

  4. no words can ease the pain of your loss. life is a sum total of these inevitable heart-wrenching moments.

    may his soul rest in peace.

    and i can totally understand your annoyance over the train and flight services. ironically, the travel site is flaunting their ad on top of your comment form.

    1. Well said, my friend.

      I also noticed the advertisement of the travel site. As they say, name the devil and the devil appears! But they are just a cog in the bigger game of statelessness.

  5. Oh!! How I was waiting to read a post from you…didn’t expect this one for sure. Am so sorry for your loss. And what’s that price? Ridiculous…I agree with you….we need to have the British build our country for us. May the almighty grant your family strength and courage during these hard times. Pls do take care.

  6. I am very sorry for your loss.Do convey my sympathy to your wife.The very face of her father evokes respect.
    About our devotion to duty,our efficiency,honesty & accountability-the less said the better-these thoughts are so disgusting.

  7. Sorry for the loss. I could almost feel your pain…..I am not sure whether it was Varanasi or the fact that your father in law reminded me of my father…..I just don’t have words. May his soul rest in peace. In many ways the past east India company was better than the present one.

    1. Alka, he was a gem of a man and I had started turning to him more after I lost my own father barely six months back. It was truly sudden and I am convinced now that Mr God usually has his own plans. Thanks.

  8. My sincere condolences for you and your family. May the Lord Almighty grant the dear departed soul all heavenly bliss.

  9. What? Prices were revised after you clicked on pay? That IS outrageous! I’m sorry for your loss. I hope you find the strength to push through the next few days. Hugs to your wife. May your father-in-law rest in peace.

    1. So they were, Divya! And twice too. It leaves me wondering how hideously thick-skinned we Indians can get. Thanks for your kind words.

  10. USP, my deepest condolences to you, and your family. And respects to the departed soul. May his soul rest in peace.

    I am absolutely aghast at the brazenness with which you were charged the cost of the flight. And sometimes I even wonder , if we are actually supposed to be making progress.

    My mother-in-law passed away in Mumbai in 1987 rather suddenly at midnight, and her daughter who lived in Delhi was informed . Those were not the days on internet portals, competing airlines and stuff. Nor were Mumbai Delhi flights that frequent. But within hours, they reached the Delhi Airport, met the Duty Officer, and mentioned the reason they needed to fly. (No written documents, affidavits , proofs asked for. A knowledge of human nature sufficed). He immediately made available 2 tickets on IA, on compassionate basis. She was with us by 8 am.

    I guess compassion cannot be programmed . Just like honesty in the work of creating infrastructure cannot be taught. But do we even learn from our mistakes ? …..

    1. Thank you, Suranga. It was stunningly sudden. God seems to have forgotten the art of making men like him. And now the few good souls are leaving us for ever.

      The incident you have quoted almost seems mythological in today’s context. Compassion and honesty are passé.

  11. May your father in law’s soul rest in peace sir.
    Talking abou the frustration towards the nation’s development, let me remind you of the recent hike proposed by a railways minister, with a professional background, and projects to increase the safety of travel. He was, eventually, dethrowned due to dirty politics. I don’t i have to mention more about the sorry state of our development.
    Only i wish we were slaves for 50 more years to match with the likes of hong kong.

    1. Your observation is accurate, Mak. The sincere, the considerate and the wise will be naturally booed out from a banana republic. The British seem to have delayed the inevitable by a couple of centuries.

  12. Sorry to note about your FIL. Well written about the travails of your travel ! Couldn’t agree with you more. But the British have lost their cutting edge long time ago and they are themselves toothless. May be some other tyrants instead, for infrastructure development:)

  13. Sorry for your loss. I think it is your wife that needs lot of support from you in these times. I agree that the system is frustrating and there is not much we can do about it. At these times, it is the air travel that is mandatory and those guys rip off every penny.

  14. You have pointed that out correctly, Jas. We are trying our best to console her. She was quite attached to her father. And those aviation companies are worse than butchers.

  15. Hi umashanker

    My heartfelt condolences to you and your wife.
    I lost my dad last year and I am able to relate to her loss . it’s not easy but we need to believe that the departed ones are in peace .
    Take care .

    1. You are kind Jaish. My father left for the other world barely six months back. We all know how deep the pain and void are. May your father’s soul rest in peace.

  16. Condolences to you and your family. Yes, I wish too, things were easier during such times of distress. But unfortunately, there are always enough sharks to make the most of our bad days. 😦

    1. Thanks for your kind thoughts. As for the sharks, I was wondering how similar in spirit these aviation/travel companies are to the the wood-sellers who short-change wood for the funeral pyres.

  17. May his soul RIP and god give you and your family courage to bear the loss!The lesser said about the loot by airlines the better!

  18. My heart felt condolences to you and your family … Be it train or flight or for that matter bus …we all would have undergone some or the other unpleasant exp ..

  19. Few days ago I had felt the same way, who will save the Indians from Indians? At least with the British we could demand freedom and fight against injustice. So sorry for your unpleasant experience. May his soul rest in peace.

  20. My condolences, Umashankar. May your father-in-law’s soul rest in peace.

    It must have been really harrowing time getting to Varanasi. As Suranga has so rightly pointed out compassion cannot be taught or programmed no matter how much customer care and value a company may claim that they have.

    About 20 years back, my mama died suddenly in Mumbai. My mami and their daughter were in Chennai at that time. They came to the airport were not only put out on the first available flight to Mumbai, but were escorted to their home in Mumbai too. Have we changed so much, I wonder, in the last couple of decades or so?

    1. Sudhagee, unfortunately, the answer to your question is a resounding yes. We seem to have shed away the last last vestiges of compassion and honesty quite like the tail we once had. Thanks for your kind words.

  21. Heartfelt condolences, Umashankar, to all the loved ones of the Departed Soul!

    May he rest in peace.

    It seems setting a soul into flight seems much easier in this country than being able to go by air when we are alive. The aviation business has really turned murky.

    It must have been a harrowing experience for all of you. Wishing all of you the courage to go on.

    1. Thanks for your kindness, JM.

      Instead of just the aviation business, I’d rather say Most things are rotten in the state of India.

  22. I am not hitting the like on the article or the link at Indiblogger … because this is not material to be promoted. Its to be sensed and empathized with. Take care.

  23. Heartfelt condolences to you and your family. It is times like these when we see our country conspiring against us when we have the most need, it is but natural to entertain unpatriotic thoughts.

  24. I am deeply pained and saddened after reading this. My deepest and heartfelt condolences to you and your family. A moment of silence to your father in law. May his wonderful soul rest in peace. And all that you had to go through and endure at this tumultuous time, thanks to heartless and mindless people, brought tears to my eyes and a burning anger beyond description.

    1. You have a very kind heart, Raj. Thank you forever. Anger, bitterness and tears are all that is in store for us time and again.

  25. My condolences.
    I liked the frustration about the trains, and the appreciation of the British,, in this context.
    You write very well.

  26. My condolences to u and ur family..may his soul rest in peace..I was in a similar position, way back in 2006 when my father passed away..It really makes us helpless..

    1. I wish there were a judgment day or something like that when all those morons could own up their atrocities. Thanks for your kind words.

  27. First of all, my condolences to you and your family for the loss of your father-in-law. As for the sorry state of affairs of roads, airports, railways, etc., I am of the opinion that India embracing socialism instead of free trade and capitalism was the sole reason. Any country that favored the later instead of the former had done better. You can compare north and south Korea now and East and West Berlin before the fall of communism. Now China is moving forward preciously because it is moving away from communism and socialism – at least in economic aspects – and now has the potential of becoming a prosperous nation.

    1. Dear Nandagopal, socialism could be one of the factors of our ceaseless regression. And if that is the case, we are falling deeper and deeper into that abyss. How else do you explain NREGA? And now that I have raked up the muck, tell me what percentage of the mammoth resource allocation is meeting the target? Could it be that unbridled corruption and utter criminalization of politics are the key? Does it mean that democracy is still a sane bet for this country?

  28. You want the British back, and so do I and not just to build up our highways or railways. There were so many other things (good manners, civic sense, discipline – to name a few) we could still learn from them. Alas, that’s not going to happen. So why not another dose of emergency ?

    My deepest and heartfelt condolences to you and your family.

  29. Sir, it is an honour to be endorsed by you! Yes, we could certainly use some good manners, civic sense, discipline – to name a few…. Thanks for your kind words.

  30. I don’t know what to say when I read such emotionally charged posts, all I can say is I can empathize and sympathize with your loss. Hope you and your wife and your family gets the strength to move on.

  31. Medical system in India is in such a sorry state…We keep losing our closed and dear ones , and our Doctors keep charging us till the last penny…Funny they took an oath which promises of unparalleled service to Human Kind..Feel Sorry for your Loss…

  32. Uma Shankarji. unlike Jayadev, I would still hit the LIKE button for the way you put things on this page. the saddest incident of life and the smoothest way to write about it. Indeed, the medical system is pain in India. I remember been said a NO for some of the items from Prescription because the remaining were purchased from another medical shop. and lets put it to any other business, they know well to bank upon emotions. be it a death or a union of two families. Yes! its been my dream since 3 years to see India ruled by either Brits or some Islamic Org. Let the life then be as horrifying as it was in MENA or in Afghanistan. Democracy has been used in a wrong fashion in India since few years. 😦 😦 i know, i might be wrong and I am harsh but it has to be.

    1. Jkhona, both you and Jayadev mean to pay only respect. Thank you for your kind thoughts. You may sound harsh but these are desperate times indeed.

  33. My condolences to you and your family, US.
    Do the roads running parallel to the tracks on that route suddenly change their appearance, when you leave Maharashtra border? The BNR route I frequently traveled on, had such a sudden difference that I always found it rather poetic and symbolic.

    1. Nomad, I have always found travelling by trains poetic and symbolic, that is when I am not struggling with the grime and stink of the coaches. One of my earliest memories pertain to a journey by train. There are times though, the intensity inside gets reflected onto the vistas whizzing past. Thank you.

  34. How we deal with death is as important and as telling as how we deal with life, old friend.
    You can rest easy knowing you honored your loved one and your life well.

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