He was an Austrian. Proud of Vienna. I first knew him almost a decade back when I was working for a company whose sister concern marketed castor oil. He was our contact for Eastern Europe. I wasn’t directly involved in that business. But perhaps we were destined to meet.
Ernie was like any European. He was tall, Handsome and with a great sense of humor. He had visited Pakistan numerous times and his favorite city was Lahore. He knew about the tension between the two countries and ribbed me a lot. I couldnt shout enough that my neighbors in Manchester were all Pakistanis and we got along well. That we met regularly in the local gym or the pub or that we exchanged foods too. Sadly he had never visited India. He kept promising that he would the next vacation. Unfortunately that vacation never came.
I remember we used to chat a lot. Slowly the chattting drifted from business to personal. He kept inviting me to Vienna. I kept promising him that I would take a schengen visa and travel to all the European countries covered by it.
After 9/11 , I had returned back to India. Probably if things had worked out, I may never have gone back. But the distillery which I went to head was owned by a very arrogant management who considered the workers as their enemy. Things didnt work out. But in those few months, I got some beautiful christmas presents. He was always proud of the Austrian Wines. I received a beautiful set of fine Austrian wine. In return I sent him an intricately carved Nataraja and a carved Cigarette case which was his proud possesion till he died.
I am proud to say that this tradition once started never stopped. I went from one continent to another. But Ernie searched me out and my gift would be waiting for me. I used to complain that it was difficult for me to find a suitable gift. He used to joke. “ It’s easy. Send me the air ticket to India. “
He was the happiest when we started the Pizza corner. He promised me that now he had run out of excuses. He HAD to visit India. But before that he had to visit Pakistan. It was an official visit. One last visit before he retired.
Business got me busy. There was no time to chat any more. Besides I had removed the Internet from my apartment. He wasn’t much of a Facebook addict. It is not something I am proud of. But I had almost forgotten Ernie. Till I received this email from a stranger, his girl friend.
Ernie had died in Pakistan in an accident. He had remembered me and promised that he would visit India in his next birth. Losing someone is always painful. But death is inevitable. However, it isnt easy losing someone to a bomb explosion. That is a manufactured death.
My mind raced back to a similar incident that happened almost twelve years back. I was in London then and was going for an urgent meeting.
One youngster who had worked with me in a previous company came online and said that he felt like chatting with me. I apologised and told him that I shall get back to him whenever I am free. I soon forgot about him. He never came online. I had not given him an opportunity to even tell me that his days were limited. That he wouldnt be living long. I came to know about this almost after a month. I remember he had some heart problem although he was just 27. I had helped him in getting admitted in a Mutli specialty hospital in Hyderabad which was owned by a friend.
Many times in life we are constrained by our exigencies. We do not mean to be heartless or insensitive. But tragedies have a way of waiting in the dark and striking when we least expect. I am not sure if chatting with these good friends would have helped. They would still have died. But at least perhaps it may have eased the pain.
Often we are lazy to tell our loved ones how much we love them. We take it for granted that they would know. Why don’t we show our affections more. A simple hug to a doting mother. Or a kind word to your hardworking Dad. An appreciation to your thoughtful friend. Simple gestures but at the right time.
Rest in peace Ernie. I promise you that you shall forget Lahore once you visit us!