By Harsaran Bir Kaur Pandey February 2008 A personal account of a man whose life and death enriched and transformed the writer In some ways I feel that the two key persons in my life, my father, and my husband, were both preparing me to face life after the sudden loss of a loved one. My father, one of the country’s top psychiatrists, was also a deeply religious man. Many of our discussions since my teens, were around the power of God, the issue of free will, and the way to live life. And then Ishwar Pandey, my husband, came into my life. This six-foot-two-inch ‘gentle giant’ loved people. He could easily empathise with another’s plight, and stop to share their experience. Squatting on the floor of a roadside dhaba, he would talk to the villagers about their lives, sharing a smoke and a chai. But he was equally at home in the first world capitals, raising a toast to life with film-makers and intellectuals in London, Zurich, Paris, or wherever his career as a documentary film-maker took him. On his sudden death, the renowned scholar, Professor S Mukherjee, said, “Ishwar Chandra Pandey was head and shoulders above the rest of us on the media campus. He was taller and more impressive than any here, but much loftier were the qualities of his head and heart…” To know Ishwar was to love him. He was my husband, soulmate, and a touchstone for all. In today’s rushed world, Ishwar, or IC, as he was fondly called, always had time to stop and smell the roses. Sitting under the chikoo tree, he befriended the squirrels and birds whose antics he watched with delight as he sketched or filmed them. He was concerned that rapid urbanisation was robbing them of their habitat. Ishwar was a raconteur, a katha vachak par excellence. He observed life minutely, and friends would sit late into the night, listening to stories of his adventures. Some stories were hilarious, some touching, but all were endearingly about the human condition. Ishwar had been on the path of spiritual search since his college days. Born into a traditional Brahmin family, and having lived in Kenya till his college years, he had an independent mind. He was never confined by constraints of formal religion. When he needed divine solace, he would stop at a favourite roadside Hanuman mandir. At home, we had a common prayer room. Since I come from a Sikh family, I had established the Guru Granth Sahab, and felt the blessings of the Guru’s presence. Each year at Diwali, Ishwar placed a new set of beautifully carved statues of Laxmi and Ganesh. The first Diwali after we got married, I imagined that the ‘pooja’ would be a formal event. The prayer was short but came from the heart. It went something like: “Dear God, we seek your blessings. Hey, man, we have tried to live life doing well. Please help us to be better humans, and to help others, and never hurt anyone.” Religion was never an issue between us. I visited Bangla Sahab Gurudwara frequently, accompanied by our two sons, Sidharth and Arjun. I urged Ishwar to also take them to a temple so that they would imbibe the best of both religions. The boys and Ishwar often talked together about life, people, and aspirations. Ishwar taught them the pleasure of working with their hands. He believed that each person we encounter could teach us something, and we must learn from each other. There was always a sense of joy and laughter in the house. In retrospect, both sons have grown to be fine human beings. Untrammelled by any doctrine or prescribed religion, they live by the principles of being good humans – with a healthy regard for all life, and a belief in an Almighty power. Ishwar had practised a Buddhist form of meditation for many years. His years at the Benaras Hindu University in the late ’60s-early ’70s, coincided with the heady years of ‘flower power’, when hippies flocked to India for instant salvation. Living among the holiest Hindu traditions, while studying Science and Geology, enabled Ishwar to search for nirvana while leading the life of an enlightened scientist. As media persons, we were once privileged to film some siddhi and meditation sessions at the Rishikesh ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, renowned as the guru of the Beatles in the ’70s. We watched spellbound when, in a room lined with thick mattresses, people, sitting cross-legged, would suddenly rise in the air, and in what can be described as ‘long hops’, would move forward many feet, still in a deep meditation. What really impressed was the Maharishi’s discourse on TM – Transcendental Meditation. Maharishi taught that the ego held each human being as a separate entity. TM helped to quiet the inner dialogue, and took us deep within ourselves to a point where there was immense peace. The soul connected to the universe, and received an immense power-surge, what he called ‘nature support’. All of nature, thereafter, conspired to support our individual beings. Both Ishwar and I received initiation from the Maharishi, and for many years we continued to meditate. In the ’80s, before Pranic healing and Reiki became so popular, my friend Hope, Ishwar, and I learnt Pranic healing, and later, Reiki. We all continued using Reiki and Pranic healing on ourselves, and on those who needed it. Both of us were drawn to a number of books on healing and on the purpose of our lives. Gary Zukov’s The Seat of the Soul said so many things that we had understood intuitively. I understood that while each human is at a different place in their spiritual development in this life, all will get there eventually. Ishwar and I would read aloud interesting parts to each other. More and more wonderful books just appeared in our lives, like Shakti Gawain’s Living in the Light, Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, Mitch Album’s Tuesdays with Morrie, Brian Weiss’s Many Lives, Many Masters, and Deepak Chopra’s many books. They reminded us that this life is but a small journey between one place and another and that each life is for learning specific lessons which our souls had chosen prior to birth. Death seemed to have lost its sting. I don’t have any particular faith in soothsayers but like most Indians, if I meet someone who claims to read hands, I enthusiastically hold up my hand to have my future told. Two different soothsayers had implied that I would only live till my early 50s. My main concern was that my wonderful husband was so totally unworldly, how would he manage after me? I would remind my sons to look after him when I wasn’t around anymore. From his earnings from making documentary films, Ishwar happily shared with anyone who needed support – like the time when he replaced his old Peugeot car. Akhtar, who often repaired the Peugeot, is a wonderful, principled man who sought perfection in his work. One day Ishwar decided to ‘give’ the car to Mr Akhtar, as a gesture of gratitude for looking after it so well. There was no question of selling it. Ishwar just handed it over! The year 2000 was to be momentous in more ways than I could have imagined. As the world stepped into the new millennium, our family took its first proper holiday abroad. Ishwar was uneasy about taking long holidays, because when working on a project he really gave it more than his 100 per cent. He was a perfectionist and clients loved his films. Most were surprised at the high quality that he provided, despite the rather small budgets for documentary and educational films. For this BHU gold-medallist, making films was his love, and giving his best, his duty. We spent memorable days in Bangkok and in Koh Samui. Ishwar loved the rest, the beaches, the Thai people, and the food – even the shopping. On our return to India, I heard my three men giggling, and making plans to go back to Thailand again in December for another holiday. However, that was not to be. The government commissioned Ishwar to make a film advocating the use of iodised salt. Ishwar and his crew were driving to Gujarat to meet the Salt Commissioner and to film the process. That morning when I said goodbye, Ishwar appeared preoccupied. Later, at office, my son, Arjun, called and said, “Mom have you heard about the accident?” My heart stopped. What accident? He told me that Ishwar had met with an accident, and that his brother Mike had been informed, but that he was all right. My head spun. I held on to the table. My legs did not belong to me. My voice came from a place far away, as I informed my office about the accident. The journey home, to Gurgaon, took about 40 minutes. I planned to leave immediately for Jaipur. Arjun again called to reassure me that Ishwar was stable, and on his way to a trauma centre. I was rapidly contacting my near ones on phone. I was anxious, but the worst scenario my brain played out was of an injured Ishwar. He was driving a Land Cruiser, and you do not get a sturdier car. Ishwar loved driving, and loved his Land Cruiser. As I drove to the house, both my sons were standing outside. They hugged me and then, to my horror, I realised what they were saying, “Mom, papa is no more”. My bag and papers fell to the ground as we held each other tight. I think I wailed out aloud. All I could say was, “What are you saying? This can’t happen. I was the one slated to go first.” I actually do not remember what happened in the next hour or so. People started to fill the house, neighbours, my father, and friends. I was in a daze. This was my soulmate, my husband. I wanted to look over my shoulder to see who they were consoling – surely this was not happening to me! My office thoughtfully sent across my Japanese colleague, AK, to accompany the family to Jaipur and fetch Ishwar. Suddenly, on the way to Jaipur, AK started to cough. He apol
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