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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Ben rests easy

Saturday, 23 December 2017 17:43
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Late Bendangtoshi Longkumer Late Bendangtoshi Longkumer

Monalisa Changkija

I still feel that Ben will come home for the weekend from Kohima, where he was posted for four years or from his numerous tours and trips within Nagaland or elsewhere ~ although as I write this on December 7, 2017, it is exactly a month since Ben passed away at 2:24 p.m., on November 7, 2017, at Delhi. It will be more than a month when this gets published.  

It’s not easy to write about someone who has departed so unexpectedly, so suddenly and so recently ~ and about someone I have shared the better part and the best parts of my life. It also isn’t easy to write about the life we shared since we were 18-19 when we started going steady before we got married. He wasn’t even 25 when we exchanged our wedding vows on October 22, 1985, at the old Ao Church, Khermahal, Dimapur. 

We had the best of times; we had the worst of times. We had our highs and lows ~ as all couples do, and as most couples, we also stopped knowing where one of us began and where the other ended ~ and we didn’t want and need to know that ~ probably because we actually grew up together to become what we were becoming and became so far. Yet, we never lost sight of our individualities, our own lives, our individual dreams and visions, our professional aspirations, obligations, responsibilities, commitments ~ our family and societal duties.

It is not easy to write about someone so dear and near, who passed away so recently simply because Ben too had so many dimensions to him ~ as a son, brother, lover, husband, father, uncle, nephew, grandson, Government servant, colleague, friend, classmate, etc. And all these dimensions emerged in the numerous condolence messages of individuals and groups of individuals that mourned his demise. Yet, he was so much more than what was seen in him, perceived of him, heard of him, appreciated in him and respected and what was said of him ~ perhaps sometimes even vilified for who he was, what he believed in and what he stood for. While I will not make a saint of him because he wasn’t one ~ and thank God for that, he was essentially a good person with a generosity of spirit ~ a very rare quality in today’s world. He had a great capacity to forgive, to give and a strong sense of responsibility, which were often taken advantage of. There was nothing small, petty and mean about him, which ironically didn’t prevent smallness, pettiness and meanness directed at him. Yet, he rose above all malice around him, was extremely focused and went about single-mindedly shouldering his responsibilities and doing what needed to be done. 

Ben lived life king-sized and he enjoyed all the good things of life, especially food. He was an excellent cook and loved cooking for anyone who relished good food. He loved reading, movies and music ~ inarguably, his tastes were eclectic ~ not surprising because he was open-minded about life, people, situations and everything that came his way. His zest for life was matched by his penchant to take of it as much as possible, to make the most of it and give back in equal measures. Yet, he was also full of human failings, deficiencies, limitations, weaknesses and shortcomings that not only evoked annoyance, frustrations, impatience and exasperation ~ often even indignation and anger, but not without much absurdity and hilarity. He would often rile well-meaning souls, who advised him about having at least one son, with the reply: “I have neither a Crown nor a Kingdom to pass down”, as much as he would annoy our daughters and me when he would be impatient and rush us to be on time for occasions, which inevitably started late ~ causing much foul mood amongst us. Or, when he wanted to join in our girlie gossips when we wanted to have a girlie time.         

So, I feel that a “mandatory” Acknowledgment in our newspapers would not only be so woefully inadequate but would also invalidate the person he was and the life he embraced, loved and lived so passionately and compassionately. Till the end he was mentally alert, full of humour, uncomplaining ~ except about feeling hungry and craving Pork. Till the end, he never ceased worrying about work, family and other responsibilities as well as his responsibilities and commitments towards his village, Yaongyimsen. Till the end he didn’t stop being the providing husband and father he always was. The last thing he asked me, before he consented to being put on the ventilator after he developed respiratory problems, was “Money?” I assured him we were fine and wanted to remind him that I am the original Lily of the Valley but stopped myself because despite the oxygen mask he was on, he started breathing labouriously. 

We also had no reason to worry because so many of you stood by us through your prayers, support and help through cash and kind. To all of you, we are grateful and remain indebted. As I said during Ben’s Funeral Service, although our daughters and I am thankful to all of you, I will name no names because you stood by us not because you want to see your names in a “mandatory” Acknowledgment. I also thank those of you, who gifted our daughters and me your precious time, visiting us, spending time with us, bearing with us our tears and other emotions we openly displayed stirred by situations that arose after Ben’s demise. Thank you to all of you who spent days and nights with us for almost a month helping us clear up and clean out our house, cook and take care of thousands of things that needed to be taken care of. Thank you to all of you who are still helping us sort out the numerous paper works that must be taken care of after a death in the family and when the family is still immersed in grief and unable to cope with the blow that hit it. Besides, I’m not really known to do the done things. Incidentally, on June 29, 2017, I wrote this poem titled Done, of which I now quote two lines:   


Please understand, I’m done with doing the done thing.

The done thing doesn’t do for me anymore.” 

Ben would expect no less of me. And, you might notice by now that Ben was extraordinary to have loved and lived with a Feminist like me, which I was even before we first met way back then in the late 1970s. What made Ben doubly remarkable is that he was also a Feminist in his own way ~ ardently believing in the equality of all human beings and in equal opportunities for all. 

Ah, but there were times when we talked about splitting ~ seriously at times because of our human foibles, eccentricities and idiosyncrasies ~ and sometimes because of serious differences though we didn’t reach the irreconcilable stage but that was also something that kept us gainfully occupied after we ran out of topics and issues to discuss, debate, disagree and diverge. But neither of us made any moves to actually split and celebrated our 32nd Wedding Anniversary on October 22, 2017, a fortnight before he passed away ~ albeit he was in the ICU. As the song goes “… any place is alright …” (In the Misty Moonlight, Jim Reeves). 

Ben rests easy in his grave ~ because as our elder daughter Tasungtetla said at his Funeral Service ~ Ben was a Mountain to us that didn’t eclipse but a Sentinel that bolstered, sustained and privileged our individual growth, every which way. He rests easy because he knows that we are okay and we can differentiate the wheat from the chaff and discern the lip-service, the done things and that look in the eye that waits to see another tumble and fall ~ even the accompanying manipulations, plotting and scheming to effect the fall. Because we are a family with very strong views and opinion and didn’t mince our words with each other, today though Ben is no longer with us, we remain strong ~ indubitably with the ceaseless prayers and the enormous support and help from all of you. Indubitably, that makes Ben rest easy. But I concede we miss him terribly and still feel that he will walk in anytime and ask us: “What’s up, girls?” 

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