Sunday, September 25, 2011

Uncle Bharat

The word came late last night with a startling phone call.  My dad's best friend and a man I have known as Uncle Bharat since I was six had passed suddenly.

The last time we talked was on Eid when he called as he has for the last four decades.

Uncle Bharat knew Islam better than most.  He quoted the Qur'an and the hadith often and he did so as a devout Hindu.

In late May this year I visited him in his home close to Mayfair in Johannesburg.  It was a cold day and he was sitting in his favorite chair wearing a warm beanie.

He looked tired but not very different from the resilient man of great humility and wisdom I have known almost all my life.

I remember the day he entered into my consciousness because moms still reminds me of the fuss I kicked up in his shoe store.

I was there to be fitted for a pair of black school shoes and I refused several before moms made the decision for me.

Uncle Bharat convinced my dad to open his own shoe store in Kimberley and gave him a hundred pairs of shoes to start his business.

My dad opened a shoe store in Kimberley called "GiGis" (moms named it after a movie).  The year was 1970.

Over the years that shoe store became the meeting place for clandestine PAC meetings and Robert Sobukwe used the back office to hang his court cloak and store his legal files.

Uncle Bharat remained a constant figure in our lives.

He never failed to offer words of advice and support through difficult times.  Times grew hard but Uncle Bharat never changed.  He never blamed anyone and was always more concerned with those around him than himself.

Every conversation with him had elements of philosophical insight.  Our last day in late May was no different.

Uncle Bharat looked at me for a couple of silent moments after we talked about life and its struggles and he said:"You don't get what you want in life.  You get what you deserve.  I accept this because it is not my decision.  There is greater meaning in all of this than just the things of life."

Before I left he gave me yet another book.  This one covers the life of Indians in South Africa and he thought it important for me to read.

"Oh I can't take this.  I will return it when I have read it," I said.  "No no I got it for you a few months ago.  I thought it would be important for your research," he said.

And that was the measure of this great humble man.  He was always thinking about others and their welfare.

Just before I climbed into my car I asked Uncle Bharat to call on me for anything.

"You were my father's best friend and you are my father too," I said and he smiled warmly.

"Don't worry about me I am doing well and don't need much these days," he replied.

What a beautiful and humble man he was! 

My heart is with his family this sad day. 

Uncle Bharat may be gone in physical form but he will never be gone from me.  I owe him many lifetimes of gratitude and love for giving me and mine consistent kindness.

May his soul be recognized for transcending the material and the mundane.



Erica said...

Beautiful tribute. May he rest in peace.

Anonymous said...

so sorry to read this ridwan.


Kweli said...

Great man indeed.
The struggle continues.

Ridwan said...

Erica, Lauren and Kweli thank you for remembering Uncle Bharat with me here.

I called his family late Sunday evening. Uncle Bharat was cremated around 2pm and the family are drawing close to honor his life into the next.

May he rest in peace.