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Mourning the loss
I am grateful to God for blessing me with Gift's friendship. I have several friends; I cherish each of those friendships. Each is different. Gift's was different in the sense that his friendship with me, as was his friendship with everyone else, was an evolving one. There was no stagnation or idleness in it. Each visit with him was a new experience. Friendship with him advanced not merely chronologically but in quality and refinement.
During the more than 25 years we had been friends, he touched my life in several ways. I cannot say which of those was big, which small, for he approached each one of them with equal seriousness, sensitivity and sincerity.
I remember, when I was a research student here, I was once ill. I had to take a tablet at five in the morning. It was vacation time and there weren't any students in the Hall. I was not sure if I would wake up on time to take the tablet. Gift knew of my predicament. I went to sleep hoping I would get up on time. What seemed the middle of the night I heard a knock at the door, I stumbled out of bed groggy. It was five in the morning. When I opened the door, Gift was there with a thermometer in hand. He checked my temperature and administered the medicine.
With care and precision he went through my research papers. He was by my side in the Church when I got married.
He was always willing to enrich others' lives. I remember too, once at the faculty lunch room he, with usual enthusiasm announced the arrival of a comet. Comet Kahoutek, if I remember its name correctly. When we heard, however that it was visible only between 3 and 4 in the morning our eagerness waned. The following morning Gift woke me up early and pointed the comet to me. As I was looking at it I heard him wake up someone else a block away.
When my children and others ask if I had seen a comet, I boast that I have. The one Gift showed me more that 20 years ago.
Whenever I approached him to discuss a topic of interest it can be in any field, he would approach the problem from the scratch. Even in the field of Indian sculptures, an area in which both of us could claim some knowledge, he would start at the basics. I would get impatient, but he would patiently guide my line of thought. It is this basic, fundamental, non-snobbish approach that made him establish the value of the often ignored obvious in fields ranging from archaeology to ornithology.
He never embarrassed me by assuming knowledge I did not possess; he never overwhelmed me with his. He did not suffer under the weight of his scholarship, nor did it blunt his sense of curiosity.
Whenever I used to see the man light as a feather; fresh as the morning breeze, and clear, as clear as a note from this organ when Arul plays on it, I used to think that he must have gone to sleep each night with a clean conscience, his desk cleaned. And he must have a supportive and affectionate family.
This past Thursday I saw a bird sitting on the banyan tree near the guest house. It had a small curved beak, black wings and chestnut breast. The books I had did not aid me identifying it. I missed Gift, I missed him because he had added a dimension in my life. I will miss him more, I am sure, for he had made my life richer.
As I was coming to the chapel I heard the coppersmith's calling as he jumped from branch to branch. Addressing the Biology Department at Davidson, Gift postulated that it was the coppersmith's way of establishing their territory. This morning as I heard the incessant call of the coppersmiths, I heard him.
I said he must have gone to sleep each night with a clean breast. Well, having accomplished much, much, much more than what people would aspire to achieve in three score and ten years, Gift has gone to sleep early.
He has left a void in my life and I will miss him. But I will not cry. For I know, the watch is short and I will see him in the morning.
Job Thomas (Alumnus, Curator, Madras Museum, Alumni and Public Relations Officer, MCC)
Currently: Professor, Head, Department of Asian Art History, Davidson College, NC, USA.