Only a few months ago, I had a hearty discussion with one of the co-inhabitants of the (supposedly) co-operative society that incidentally (rather accidentally) happens to be my residential address. I have little to do with the society - given the recurring nuisance value of several members in different forms - some over-inquisitive, others perpetually hostile, few causing headaches with their poor civic sense or their rash driving in the society premises, and many with their insatiable appetite for 'structural changes' to their apartments, not to mention the toxic politics of convenient committees, mundane meetings, monotonous minutes, hasty resolutions and dubious deals.
But I shared a rapport with him that was unique in every respect. Not that we met often or that our families were close-knit, but there was something reassuring about his unconditional smile every time we bumped into each other. His concern for you reflected in his gestures, there was hardly any need to express it.
That day, he was all charged up to begin a new innings post his impending retirement. He was in fact planning a vacation to celebrate the grand transition. I had recently lost my father, so the conversation was about my father's life work into archaeology. He was genuinely interested to know more about dad's incredible excavations in far-flung places like Arunachal Pradesh and Port Blair, his insights into rock-cut architecture and his unique contribution to the study of history and archaeology. We were in the parking lot near his car, engaged in some hearty talk, oblivious of time and space. I suggested consultancy as a viable option for him in his new innings and he said he was open to the idea but needed a break before delving deep into the possibilities.
The discussion then moved to my favourite topic of travel and we exchanged notes on our respective past escapades and outings planned for the near future. He narrated his recent Madikeri and Coorg experience in great detail before we parted ways. A month or two later, when my son cleared his Xth Board exams with flying colors, he was one of the few among my friends, relatives and acquaintances who was profusely happy with my son's academic feat. Way more than feeling happy about it, he took immense pride in it, a gesture even the supposedly near and dear ones were found short of.
And then, a couple of days ago, news came that he is no more. A chapter had closed even before it could begin. He was detected with blood cancer, we learnt from his family, that caused the untimely demise in fifteen days. Certain exits leave you devastated and no sermon on the fickleness or impermanence of life can ever seem convincing. Every morning as I look out of my window, the image of a tall, dignified and cheerful man walking towards his car at a leisurely pace assumes center-stage in my mind's eye. The parking lot, the historic venue of our last sojourn, is now a cherished landmark. Hemant Kekre sir, you will be sorely missed.