“He’s coming from Delhi. He got a job here, so he’s going to stay with us. You will learn a lot from him”, said my mom to the grumpy 15-year-old me about my cousin “Raj Bhaiya”. The grumpiness was thanks to having to either a)share my room with him, or b) hang out in another room giving my bedroom to him. Not a happy outcome for me either way.
He greeted me with a hi and a bag of goodies – some chocolates, some sweets from Delhi and some other “stuff”. Early Diwali, nice.
I might like him after all, I thought. My sister and I liked Raj bhaiya right-away. He was a very effective counter to our dad, who would not let us watch more than an hour of television each week, with his “Mama, this match is very important” – to every match that was shown on TV, regardless of the sport.
Raj bhaiya stayed with us off and on for a couple of months, before he left for Mysore. The next time he came over was when he hurt his hand badly injuring himself when a machine tool “came in my way” – not the other way around apparently. When he returned, there was more cricket. Now, however, he was earning money, so the endless trips to the Iyengar bakery for buns, cakes and puffs were a welcome relief for me. He loved his food, so he fit right into our family. Cricket came first, then food, after that everything else – there was much to like about Raj bhaiya.
Mom liked him as a motivating older influence on me. He was an engineering graduate, high achieving and conscientious, all of which she wanted me to be.
Cricket, tennis, soccer and football brought us together. Most of all, just cricket. He would go far and wide to watch live games, including random minor league games in the small city of Mysore, telling me how he would be able to scout the next Dravid.
During my time at Mysore, he had moved to the US and we kept in touch mostly via email. He got married in Bangalore and I remember being at his wedding still trying to catch a cricket match while he kept asking us for the score every so often.
He made you feel like when you were with him, you were special. He was a rare individual who sang your praises in front of you, not behind. He was lavish with his praise, very rare for us in our family. Even when I met him a few weeks ago, he was keen to point out to his nurse, the doctor and anyone that listened that I lived “less than 3 miles from Jeff Bezos’s home and was a neighbor of Bill Gates” even though I live in the neighboring village.
Throughout the last 30 years I have know Raj bhaiya, I recall him making trips to meet me, Vinita and the kids. How unfortunate that I did not take the time to go and meet him regardless of how close he was. Yes, to my selfishness, he was the paragon of generosity. That’s maybe why my mom and he were close – her mirrored her giving ways more than anyone I know.
There are 3 distinct memories I have of my bhaiya.
First, he called me when India played and beat Pakistan in 1998 in a World cup game, played in Bangalore. He knew I was in San Jose, but called to ask me how many people I knew in the crowd. He wondered loud if there was anyone with a poster that said “Mukund, come back Bangalore misses you”. He made you feel like you were more special than others to him. I am sure other folks have the same stories about him, but I know I was more special than others were.
The second time he came home to visit, asking me for some “investment advice”. He wanted to invest in bay area startups. This was little before the dot come bubble. When I told him I knew many startups but they were all expensive, his response was “Yeah that’s why I am asking you. I will tell them I know you, so they should give me a better deal”. When I asked him why that would be so, he replied with “Simple, he is Amaloo Athai’s (my mom – his aunt) son – he has to be just as good as her, so you should assume he is as well. He was lavish with his praise and knew how to make you feel better about yourself.
The last time was when he would come home to see us in Seattle. He would continue his tradition of being the bearer of gifts, each time getting the kids of us something that we would certainly remember him with. If he did not bring anything, he’d gift us a bunch of money. Generous.
Raj passed away yesterday at 5:05 am EST after a battle with brain cancer. He was an awesome brother, a generous soul, a friend to cherish and one of the good ones. His wife and 2 daughters are in my prayers as is his sister and parents.