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when someone 'leaves a body'

'Njal left his body' said the simple subject line of this morning’s mail from Auroville announcing
the death of a German origin Aurovillian, Njal. Immediately the mind went back to the time
I met with Njal and his partner Rita about a decade ago during the peak of the Endosulfon
controversy at Kasargod. They had been fighting usage of this deadly pesticide in the Auroville
region, particularly in the cashew farms. Their fight was against this POP being so liberally used while alternatives were available.

I remembered meeting them and being gifted with several crudely stitched cloth bags in various
sizes which they had made with unbleached coarse cotton as an alternative to carry bags. This
was still a time when talking about these things hadn't caught large scale attention (and plastic
carry bags were just getting to be seen as a menace in society). I still use some of these bags.

When I saw the message this morning the immediate feeling was sadness, that despite being in
Auroville on a regular bais and always wanting to catch-up, I had never taken the time to meet
with them.. Google was the next stop. I tried it and found that there were hardly 400 (!) mentions
of him and just this one audio recording on youtube - link

People who fight the environmental cause are not a popular breed in current times. For every
celebrated environmentalist by the mainstream media, there are atleast 10 who are hated and
a 100 more who are not recognised. It can't be any other way. But even within the community
of those who express solidarity and lead their own fights, often, there isin't much recognition
of such people, we don't make time to understand what drives such people, what are their
motivations, what are their accomplishments and learnings. Inthe land of a million mutinies, we
don't have time for those who fight a battle we also are part of - life has become so scattered and
busy often.

Here is wishing Rita strength and Njal a wonderful journey into the beyond..


My dad had come home to spend a few days with us. Every evening he had a long chat with
mom who lived in their retirement home at the other end of the city. Couple of days ago, after
his evening call, he came and enquired about an email address of a second cousin with whom we
have had about 1 email transaction perhaps 5 years ago. When I asked for what and mentioned
that it was unlikely I would have such personal email ids as I have changed my laptop twice
since then, he informed that his cousin's wife passed away the previous evening in the USA in
the home of one of their sons. There was a silence.

I realised that he must be going through all kinds of emotions just then. These are people from
an age where cousins grew up together, when they shared (at least till the kids grew up) regular
visits, gatherings, family functions, etc. Something the Chennai 3rd - 4th generation has lost
completely now. When the kids grew up and went abroad (as all kids who grew up in Chennai
did), then parents often are rendered nomads. They are called in to take care of the new borns' in
the family and / or be part of their children's graduation, new job, first car, first house, etc., in the
USA while their own sense of 'being' somewhere is completely modified. Most of them want to
stay in Chennai, but, would also feel lonely staying here all by themselves. Children who spend
a decade abroad are least likely to return, the avowed 'green card' just an excuse and a binding to
career aspirations and lifestyle they get used to.

This particular cousin, I had met a few years ago. The parents, an old couple well into their
80s, living all by themselves in a flat in the centre of the city. Everything that they needed was
ordered over phone and supplied at their home; they hardly cooked as they were both physically
constrained, so, ready to consume food was supplied by a local caterer...I wondered why
would they live like this. So, I asked them and got this reply, "to be an elder in a family is to be
available to all youngsters and bless them, we are here because we want to wholeheartedly bless
whenever something auspicious tkes place in the extended family"!

I remembered the couple coming over to bless my father when he turned 70! just that, visit
someone, bless them, share a meal perhaps, spend some time...little gestures of warmth and
bonding that is lost today when we end up negotiating personal and family time amidst the 'busy'
professional commitment!

It must be hard for such people to not share the bereavement with each other, these are
emotionally intense moments in life. It is worse that the society has lost value for these
gatherings, a society that placed value choices before us that do not include such moments and
what it means to humans. I started to search for that email address and meanwhile couldn't stop
wondering what my Dad's cousin who has lost his wife just then, must be going through, being
in an alien land, with children ofcourse, but, not the long list of extended family members he and
his wife so much loved to bless and share their time with. What is the costs we pay to live abroad?

thanks to a dear friend for doing preliminary editing!