“Joe”, “Prem”, “Prem Anna”, “Chief”, “Bugga” – the man was known by many names within the family. I shall, however, refer to him as “Jona” – I’d like to think he liked being called that. Jona was the first of five grandchildren from the maternal side and having been born into a small home that knew only girls for years together, the sound of a little baby boy was perhaps relieving and refreshing. He was truly adored. Truly, he was.
I, however, was born 17 years later and owing to this huge age gap I don’t really remember our initial interactions. However, our interactions grew when my parents would drop off my brother and me at 8′ Station Road whenever we missed school or school was closed. He was the first person that I can think of to have had his upper lip completely concealed by his moustache. That was some moustache! Fearsome! My brother, Arun, and I will never forget the way he used to send us to the shop to get him some ‘slender paper tubes’. Come to think of it he loved getting things done by his two little cousins and quite frankly we didn’t complain either. I vividly remember how, Jona, during those days would instruct me to massage his back, his neck, and, strangely, even the back of his hand. And he had me do it every single time even a few days before he was taken to the hospital one final time. Looking back I feel I owe him a big “thank you” for having rescued me on so many occasions – rescuing me from the displeasure and torture of having to regularly and repeatedly listen to Becky’s odd choice of pop songs. Jona loved music and his choice of music (the songs, the artists and the genre) in some sense reflected his very own being.
The man loved being amidst people. He loved being with family but more than that loved being with friends. The fact that today we have so many of Jona’s friends here today (at his funeral service) testifies to his friendly and welcoming personality. He would always make it a point to be present at every family function and get-together and he would honour the occasion and the people by being there, even if it were only for a little while. Jona loved and cared for, and even though it was expressed to us in peculiar ways, he nevertheless did it. He was a self-less person. If he was eating something and you happened to walk by and that happened to be something you like, he would willingly offer it to you. My sister-in-law, Yasha, is a witness to that on several occasions. And if there was a person amidst us who couldn’t understand a language and if we kept speaking that language, he would reprimand all of us for our insensitivity. He was courteous and sensitive.
Jona was well-read and even though he seemed to have lost that habit a bit in the recent past, he was still well-informed. He would never accept anything at face value and would question and critique any piece of information, especially when it came to religion and faith. He was critical of popular religion and it was because of this Jona was one of the very few people who was keen in having me join the United Theological College for my theological studies on the terms that it would actually make me a better person. I joined the UTC and I knew he was pleased, pleased that he made it to my graduation four years later smiling approvingly even as I walked the procession. Had he been alive today I am sure he would have given Arpana, our cousin in the US, the very same smile. His smile was such a confidence booster. It was enough to suggest that you’re doing things right. No words were needed.
Perhaps, one of the most striking traits of Jona was his humour. Honestly, I cannot think of anyone who could say something really hilarious and yet have a straight face. He managed to do that so well! I remember visiting him in May in the upper room and there was this small packet of dairy milk Cadbury shots next to his bed and upon seeing it I asked, “Jona, you’re having this eh?” and he remarked, “Yes man! These are the only shots I’m allowed to have now.” He had a great sense of humour and his humour lit up his home, even during his times of struggle. He was strong-willed person; he was a fighter. He could endure any amount of pain. And even though most of us would whine, sit and pout about it, not once did Jona complain.
If Jona during his life questioned faith, his suffering and death did the same. His life rightfully revealed faith’s ambiguity; his death rightfully revealed faith’s uncertainty. And that is why I believe Jona has much to teach us about faith and what faith can do to each one of us.
Every time I entered the house one of my immediate questions to my aunt and uncle were, “Where is Jona?” And he would slowly walk out of his room. I won’t be asking that again. I would no longer see him walking out of that room with a tee, jeans and boots on. The night after Jona slipped into eternity I asked him, “Jona! Do you need a massage?” I didn’t get a response. I had forgotten that he wouldn’t be needing one anymore.
Jona has left a void in each of us and rightly so. He has left us but trust me he still exists – exists here, he exists in that void. This void stands barren yet is filled with memories of fun, joy, laughter, disagreements, fights, reconciliations, smiles, hugs and kisses. It is this void that breaks our heart yet it is this void that gives us hope. I believe Jona exists in that void and the only way we can still embrace him is by embracing that void. We must preserve and hold on to that void for it is a sacred space.
I will miss you Jona! I will miss seeing you stand outside the gate, I will miss you asking me for small favours. I will miss massaging your back, I will miss calling you “Jona”, I will miss your friendly abuse, I will miss your laughter. I will miss the sound of your boots, I will miss your random late night calls. I will miss your humour and I will miss your care. I will miss you very much but I know you’re up there making paradise a place of laughter and fun. Even the Divine couldn’t resist being with you, Jona. Rest in Peace my brother!