It was one of the saddest Sundays of my life. My driver Ramesh Bahadur died very young. He was in his mid-thirties when a fatal brain haemorrhage claimed his life. I could not overcome the pain and shock to make it to his funeral. I sat by a blazing bonfire in the campus whispering my parting lines for him. The grasp of fire, like the eyes of the law, turns everyone into an equal. A fire turns all the branches and twigs of a tree and human flesh and bone into one uniform heap of ash. There is no telling whose ash it is.

Father of a child of five years and his unborn second child still in the womb of his wife, Ramesh left behind a lot of unfinished businesses. Death does not matter anymore to the one who is dead. It matters to those who survive their dead for some time. It is strange but true that death has consequences for the living and not the dead! Every religion has rituals through which the living mourn the death of their dear ones. Mourning is nothing but accounting for life. Through mourning, we reconcile the balance sheet of life. We credit our virtues and debit our vices. We pay special attention to those virtues of the dead like love, sacrifice, a commitment that make our lives profitable.

I recognized that mourning gives us an opportunity to slow down our mental processes. Mourning enables us to allow time for deeper reflection on the meaning of life. Through mourning we recognize that a human being’s ultimate quest is peace. We eventually have to make peace with all our losses and all that is unexpected in order to move forward. Peace is more empowering than anything else that we can think of. Peace is like the depth of the ocean of life. The turbulent and distracting waves of events that play on the surface of life hide the very depth of the ocean that is quiet and peaceful. One can go on to say that peace is our default deep state.

Ramesh Bahadur was, what one would describe as a multi-tasking Michelangelo of our management school. He was easily the best driver we had in the IIM. Besides, he was a skilled carpenter and a painter of sorts. He could arrange flowers in Onam with aesthetic precision. He could cook a meal and answer parliamentary questions with the same zeal. He learnt computing and could work with complex machines with utmost ease. I have never heard him saying no to the demands that I often made on his time and his wide range of skill sets that included building a house for cats. Ramesh was studying for his graduation so that he could shift to a desk-bound job away from the rigours of driving on treacherous Indian roads. In short, he was in the process of reinventing himself when he was taken away.

Pondering on Ramesh’s untimely death, a question that arose in my mind was: what happens to our unfinished business when he die? When we have unfinished business of life a part of us keeps hanging in our memory even as life has moved on. Grief, regret, repressed anger —all these emotions and more indicate that we still have to resolve our unfinished story. A friend and colleague of mine at Harvard, Hugh had studied terminal patients of cancer who had only a handful of days to live. Almost all these patients had stopped bothering about the physical pain that precedes death. What was difficult for them to bear was the condition of their minds full with the unfinished business of their lives. One patient with a terminal tumour inside his brain told Hugh, ‘I can’t cope with the demands that my mind is making on me about the work that I have still left undone.’

Ramesh Bahadur’s story was about human potential that was not fully realized in his short life span. Ramesh must have been awed by his own capabilities and his multi-faceted talent. He yearned to grow in many dimensions. When he was frustrated, he sought refuge and escape in alcohol. That was his weakness, his Achilles’ heel. I recall reminding Ramesh several times about how he was squandering the promise of a high potential life by drinking too often. I personally took an interest in his life and career and hoped he would graduate someday. Now, he leaves me with an unfinished business: his five years old son Bhujan has to complete graduation on behalf of his father. I hope I live to see the day when that happens. For now, Ramesh Bahadur: Rest In Peace!

© Debashis Chatterjee, 2015