Sometime in late 1987, I remember sitting in an APSRTC bus with my maternal grandmother, going to Gadwal. My grandma asked me to suggest a name for her newest grandson. I was 7 years old then and my the then best friend's name was Keerthi. So I said "Keerthi". I don’t remember anything else of this trip apart from this short bit of conversation. I don’t remember seeing the new born baby. I don’t remember Gadwal. I don’t even remember returning back to Bangalore. But in the months that followed I was told that my cousin was named "Pradyumna".
The next thing that I remember about Pradyumna was that he was one of the cutest little toddler-babies that I had ever set my eyes upon. We still have his photo with a hat on and he looks oh-so-adorable. Unable to resist his cuteness, my mother once got him to our home (South Bangalore) away from his parents (North Bangalore) for a night. Next day, my mother said Pradyumna never slept the whole night as he kept searching the house for "Mamma" and "Pappa". I felt sorry for having kept his parents away from him for one whole night.
Pradyumna's father - the same uncle who drives like an artist - had a job that made him stay in one city (or in some cases, village or a town) for only 3 years at a stretch. So the next thing I remember about Pradyumna is him being in Nagamangala. A small village with a handful of houses. All of us cousins used to go to Nagamangala during summer holidays and had so much fun playing so many newly invented games. I being the "oldest" among the lot used to take classes on Mathematics and act pompously as if "I-know-it-all".
During summer of 1993, I visited New Delhi for the first time with my mother and another uncle. It was the longest train journeys that I had ever been on - lasting over 40 hours. I got out of the train onto the platform and my uncle and Pradyumna were there waiting for us. The first thing Pradyu whispered in my ear as I met him was "There is a serial called Derrick that comes on DD Metro. We watch it daily. It is great!" I was amused that the first thing he told me was about a detective serial which he - I am sure - hardly understood. But it also showed how innocent a 6-year-old mind is. Sure enough we watched Derrick throughout the summer holidays and I went on to become a great fan of Derrick.
Pradyumna and his parents used to stay in a 3-storeyed building on the 2nd floor in New Delhi. The owner was a - if I remember correctly - garment merchantman who never seemed to work. Whenever we saw him, he was lying on a bed watching TV. His door was always open and the bed was right opposite the door. Sometimes Pradyumna used to go to his house, rather shyly and watch TV in his house. The only Hindi words he had learnt back then was 'Mein Chal' - a rough translation for 'I will leave now, bye' to the owner. Snippets such as these, for some reason, I never forgot.
There were million other moments that I remember sharing with him. During his upanayanam in Mulbagal Mutt (family was then in Srinivasapura), he cried like hell for cutting his hair short as part of religious custom. He was then a high-school-going boy and hence was becoming increasingly conscious of looks and fashion. I saw 'Hum Aapke Hain Kaun' with him and his family in a theatre in Secunderabad and absolutely loved the atmosphere. I remember going with him to the daily Sanskrit-sloka reciting classes in the nearby Mutt in Lingampally, Hyderabad and what fun we had trying to memorize those tongue-twisting God-praising words!
Then in 2003 he asked me to help him with a C program for his college assignment. Just because people work in a software company, there is always an impression amongst non-IT folks that IT folks will be able to solve any software program in any software language. I was able to save my face by successfully programming it although I was never into coding in C in my the then new IT job. I think on that same day his father asked him if he wanted to study his masters in US. I remember him clearly saying that he would go to US on his own account and not with his father's help.
As the years passed, we got busy and the interactions decreased. Once a while we used to meet in some family function or during festival gatherings. Brief though these meetings were, it was built on the warmth of the foundation years of our relationship.
I remembered all these on that fateful day on Jan 21, 2012. Sitting in my Nashua, NH, USA apartment, numb and helpless with what I had just heard, I continued staring out on the falling snow. Snow always makes the world look surreal. I realized that he had never seen snow in his life nor now ever would. There were so many things in this world that he could have seen and experienced and yet....
I being a father of a year-old daughter can understand how the news would have hit my uncle. Only a parent will know about all those immeasurable sacrifices that are undertaken in bringing up one's child...
If only he was alive today, he would have been 25 years.