It was 5 AM when Ma called me on April 1st last year.
I knew the news couldn't be good because when I picked up the phone, all she managed was a wail and the words Mama*. (*my maternal Grand Uncle)
Valiyamama, as we fondly called him, had been ill. Age was finally catching up with the evergreen bachelor.
I met him for the last time 20 months ago, just before joining Yahoo!
He always welcomed me, or anyone else for that matter, with a honest, cheerful smile and a predictable question: "What wild animals did you see on the way here (through Nagarhole National Park)?"
The answer was always the same. "Deers" and the rare "Elephants" or "Bisons". And for his sake, I wished we spotted more exotic animals occasionally.
Valiyamama was a fabulous father & grandfather - though he had never married or had kids of his own.
He dedicated his life to the coffee estate run by his sister's husband, my Grandfather. All his good years were spent on the fields or in the go-downs and estates.
An early riser, he started his day with a cuppa - authentic filter coffee, with beans sourced from the very land he had worked on.
Valiyamama never grasped the idea of sleeping-in. We city-bred folks love our weekends and vacations where alarm clocks hibernate. But for Valiayamama, each day had to begin with the sounds of chirping birds, the misty surroundings and the impeccable fresh air.
To say he was organized, would be an understatement. Everything in his room had a defined spot. An inch here or there and it would catch his eye.
He dressed well - in crisp shirts and mundus when travelling. If he ever saw me go to town in a pair of shorts, he would exclaim "You are going in that?!".
Shorts, for him, was uniform. Something that he wore religiously for his inspections around the estate, supervising coffee-picking or the sowing of paddy.
When he was younger, he lit up a cigarette every now and then. But as he grew older, he saw reasons to give up that vice called Wills.
Beer and Brandy, however, were his best friends.
After a morning of work, he would unwind with a beer before lunch. He liked to sip the brew talking about the work or the workers, with my Grandfather and Uncle for company.
As kids, when any of us cousins walked past this beer drinking session, we would be jokingly offered sips of the refreshing, bitter beverage.
Post lunch, Valiyamama fancied a siesta - which lasted no more than an hour. And if anyone disturbed his sleep, he/ she was bound to get a earful.
After the siesta, more work followed.
His evenings were spent reading newspapers. By his own admission, he had never formally learnt any English. But he picked it up himself, often commenting on global current affairs with informed ease.
Valiyamama loved Honey Bee - the Brandy brand. For him, it was the perfect cure for easing stress, headaches and even a fever.
Dinner with him was always a little eventful. A little tipsy after a few pegs of brandy, he would turn temperamental. On a good day, that would mean lots of laughter around the table. And on other days, 'pin drop silence'.
He would retire to his room and one could hear the the faint, familiar strains of music from All India Radio, for a wee bit, until sleep took over.
I have been to Kutta twice since he passed away and I miss his curiosity, enthusiasm and the 'little pocket money' he handed me lovingly all my life, despite my insistence later on that I had a well-paying job. Now when I look back, that was just a bait for us to seek his blessings - with a respectful touch of his feet.
Was he lonely? Did he ever wish he had a wife or a son or a daughter?
If he did, he never ever said it. Nor did he let it show.
For him, each one of us, was his own. Always.