“Hello, I’m Behram, and I was the first man to see this girl naked.” That’s what he used to lead with, every time I introduced him to any of my friends, or anyone I was seeing (much to their amusement and my discomfiture). And it was true, for he ‘delivered’ me unto this world. Here’s the thing about Behram uncle: every single person who ever met him – whether they saw him once or knew him all his life (or their lives) – will have stories about him; tales occasioned by the fact of his presence. I was fortunate to’ve known him from the moment I was born. This is our story, because that I came to be at all is because of this man.
My mother was a very tiny woman. She stands at (just about) five feet, and weighed less than I do now when she was pregnant with me, full-term; but wait, I get ahead of my-‘self’. Being so tiny, she was told by her gynaecologist – a stupid woman whose name escapes me now (which is for the best, really) – that she’d be unable to a) conceive, or on the off-chance that she did, b) give birth to a child. Wonder of wonders, my mother found that she was pregnant. A few weeks later, aforesaid doctor told her that she would “self-abort” or they’d have to induce an abortion because her foetus (an incipient H) showed no signs of life. Distraught, my mother returned home in tears. She spoke to my grandmother about what she’d been told, and being the veritable force of nature that she was, Bacchu granny prevailed upon her to go seek a second opinion; to go see Behram uncle (whose mother, also a gynaecologist, was responsible for my father seeing light of day – another story for another time).
This transpired in the sleepy town that was Ahmedabad in ’81, just so we’re clear about the context. There were no sonography machines back then. Hospitals looked and felt and smelled different from the sanitised – anaesthetised – versions we live with today. Full of trepidation, my grandmom took Ma to the Anklesaria clinic in the heart of the old city. Behram uncle, with his easy charm and ready wit, immediately set her at ease. He proceeded to examine her, iterating that she hadn’t been pregnant when she was first told she was by the other doctor. Instead of three months, his guess was that she was five weeks pregnant at best, which explained why that woman hadn’t been able to detect “growth” and life in the primordial goo that eventually turned into me. He told her she would bloody well be able to keep this pregnancy. And she did; with his help and under his constant supervision. Both Mel and I are C-section babies: we’re part of the agglomeration which is fortunate enough to call itself ‘Behram’s Babies’ – in so many ways, we’re all monsters of his creation.
Behram uncle knew his classical music better than anyone I’ve ever met. And he read. Everything. This made him a joy to talk to, and when he turned to look upon you? For that brief moment, you became the centre of the cosmos. The sun, around which all other astral bodies dance to the music of the spheres, shone directly and roundly upon you. I was fortunate enough to have Behram uncle and his wonderful family be a large part of my childhood and formative years. My aunt Persis remains one of my favourite people in the whole wide world, and every time I see her, I remember why I’ve loved them so all my life. He died – heartbreakingly suddenly – a couple of years ago, and to-day I grieve for him again. Afresh.
His daughter Ava called me over to their old house this afternoon – the house where Melody and I were born, for it also doubled up as his hospital. The family has moved to the new city since Behram uncle died, so this was one of the only times I’ve been back to this place in two years. It’s a house every corner and nook of which is filled with the smell and tastes and sounds of my childhood – I’ve spent ages poring over books there, seen my first ever computer (Sarosh’s Mac) there, imbibed some of the loveliest (and love-laden) meals of my life there, heard my first aria and concerto there, and all this in the company of the giant that was uncle Behram. Aavul is trying to find his books and prodigious collection of music a new home now, and it was to do with this that she asked me over. We went over all this stuff – his stuff, their stuff – and it dawned on me that this might well be the last time I ever get to “go home” to the place of my birth; the place where the idea of me changed from possibility to reality. And I missed him. I missed him so much, my heart broke. I’ve carried him with me these past couple of years, every time I went to the Opera or took in a symphonic recital – we’ve been to Vienna and London together, like this – and I suspect he’ll stay with me till I live and breathe.
I can’t remember the last time I felt such a pressing need to write, but as I pulled away from that place to-day, I felt like I would burst if I didn’t. I can only imagine how much of a struggle it must be for my darling aunt and his children – he might have belonged to the world, to us all, but he was theirs first – to deal with this Behram-shaped absence on a daily basis. I also realised that while it *is* the people who make a place, if you live, if you love in one long enough, it takes on elements of you – a trace residue – which it is impossible to diffuse. So despite the fact of the barren rooms, and carton-ed books and LPs and cassettes, he was everywhere. The terrace-garden I’d played in as a child (it’s where I first touched a ‘Touch-me-Not’ – an inkling of the contrarian to come) has now become a veritable tropical jungle. His tomes will find new takers, and his music will delight others, but this place and what it meant to us each and all fortunate enough to know the singular phenomenon that was Behram Anklesaria will live inside us – within us and without us. The King is dead; long live the King.