The Psalm and I are ecclesiastic offspring.
Both our Dads were Pastors. His Dad Rev NS Mathew was the Nirmal Missionary and a Methodist pastor who worked for years in the Medak Diocese in India. My Dad was an Anglican Canon who worked in the Diocese of Singapore and after retirement, voluntarily in the CSI, Chennai. We came from similar backgrounds, but we grew up in different continents. He went to boarding school at the age of 6. I never left home till I was 17. He was the eldest of 3 boys. I was a singleton.
Though I had known Sam for six years in College, I rapidly learned after we were married that we were as different as chalk and cheese. He went to bed early and got up early. I went to bed late and got up late. He loved breakfast, I skipped it. He loved all the local vegetables like the brinjal, the ridge gourd and the snake gourd. I liked the cabbage, the cauliflower and the cucumber. He liked rice. I liked noodles. Our palates were poles apart when we set up house.
One thing we both liked was talking. We talked about everything. All the time. Both Scorpions, we had strong views, diagonally opposite perspectives sometimes and we disagreed on many things .There are some topics we have never resolved. We agree to disagree about them , for the sake of peace and marital harmony. We laughed a lot together, often at the same jokes with the same foolish intensity.
Sam was hopeless with names but never forgot a face. I was hopeless with faces but never forgot a name. Between us we managed and together we forged a life of love and understanding that survived all the times we wanted to wring each other’s necks. Women get their way if they cry, I am told. Not with Sam. Crying always made the Sam dig in his most obstinate heels. I used to tease him that Samuel should be spelled Samule. If I kept quiet for half an hour it would rattle him enough to give in. This was an effective and smart modus operandi I perfected over the years, as he absolutely hated it if I ignored him .
Sam was deeply religious. Prayers and singing were a way of life to him. His warm and caressing baritone could be heard all around the house. I loved his voice except when he sang silly songs to irritate me. If we were waiting at the station for a train that was running late I would get fretful and would sit there in the heat mumbling and grumbling. Unfazed, Sam would watch me in amusement and improvise to sing.
The choo-choo is late,
The train is late,
Or something equally stupid to some popular pop song to irritate me, till finally we would both collapse giggling. He always made me laugh defusing many sticky situations.
He was called Mr. Noisy at home, as he filled the house with his singing and his loud laughter. He would regale us with the anecdotes of his adventures. We got to see the world through his eyes, traveling on his ticket. When he left on his travels the house would shrink and go quiet on me. When he came back, it would reverberate. Even if he landed at 3 in the morning , we would sit up for hours for him to tell me all that happened on his trip, when he wanted my undivided attention.
We had music on all the time in the background in the house, be it the kids pop music when they were growing up at home, or the retros we loved on FM Gold Lanka on 93 or 93.2 FM in the empty nest years later. Sam would start jigging around MTV-style to irritate our growing teenagers who would be mortified and acutely embarrassed. Rekha would rush to draw the curtains worried that the neighbours would see her Dad playing the fool. They thought we should act our age like other parents did. To the world, Sam wore his serious face and most people never knew the lighter side of his personality. To some the frivolous side of Sam nature would have come as an absolute shock. When he came home he hung up his work face at the door and relaxed.
He loved his home and was happiest when he was home. He would travel the world over and live in the best hotels for conferences and meetings only to come rushing home. He thought there was no place like his home. No bed like his own bed. No pillow like his own pillow. No bathroom like his own bathroom. No food like his home food. He loved to travel but he was happiest pottering around at home.
For all his travels and exposure, Sam was the most infuriatingly conservative person I have ever known. I love him dearly but he still qualifies as the single human being who can irritate me to homicidal levels. If something new appeared on the scene I would be rearing to try it out. Sam on the other hand, with his research background, would need to have everything evidence based, time tested and true. He did not believe in Use and Throw. He believed that things could be repaired and reused. Where and How , was anyone’s guess. He was deeply suspicious of newfangled gadgets that hit the market. He would become his pessimistic worst and analyse it with fifty reasons why it would be inappropriate and possibly fail. Most times he was right. Frustrated, I would give up and lose interest. I could never do anything that he vetoed as it went against the grain. He was the cautious one in the marriage. I was the gambler. Together we made a great team.
He hated change of any sort and hoarded everything he owned. I hated clutter of any sort and would go on a cleaning rampage systematically. What I threw out of the window, Sam would collect and bring back to reinstate. Eventually I smartened up and did the changes whenever he traveled.
We had an old car with a mind of its own, an old Ambassador, a tippler that guzzled petrol indecently. Old Betsy played up only in public when she knew that we were in the middle of peak traffic and the center of attention. It used to embarrass us immensely. Whenever I spoke to Sam about putting her out to graze and getting a new car, he would go into his well practiced deaf and dumb mode. Finally one day when he was away on a trip, I sold Old Betsy over the gate and got a new car. Sam was very pleased with the switch and took to the new car like a fish takes to water. He just could not bear the effort, or fuss and bother of change. Or thinking about change. He did not like moving away from comfort zone. I used to wonder aloud if he took pride in being conservative.
This spilled over into house improvements. I see everything in colour and 3-D, with audiovisuals. When you tell me that someone streaked on the football field, I can see it, in my mind’s eye, even as you speak in HD and in slow motion. Sam cannot. He cannot visualise any thing in 3-D. This only compounded his fear of change. He does not mind it when it is all finished and if he is spared the effort of chopping and changing. I finally understood this after several anniversaries and I have fine-tuned it, to save us hours of me whining and him going mute.
He disliked anyone touching his things or tidying his desk. He swore that he knew exactly where everything was in the mess. He was always misplacing his keys and would spend hours looking for things.
Susie where is my this-thing?
Susie where is my that-thing?
If I did not read his mind he would get impatient. Once in prayers he did a list of God blesses.
God bless this one,
God bless that one, till he stumbled on a name. Without opening his eyes, he said God bless what’s-his-name, Susie?
We were both fiercely independent but leaned on each other emotionally in many ways. I did not lay out his clothes after a bath or chose his clothes for him or do any of the wifely things that some of my cousins did. That would have driven him completely insane. he did not like anyone, even me, rummaging through his things. This is a gene that he has passed on undiluted to our elder grandson Ashish, who like his Grandpa, keeps all his earthly possessions neatly and securely under lock and key.
We rang each other up a hundred times during the day much to the amusement of his office staff. Just to keep in touch and to ask advice as we really valued the other’s opinion and advice. When he traveled we connected through emails.
Sam was passionately interested in the world around him and would read the crisp newspaper from cover to cover every morning. This was a sacred ritual with his morning coffee. He would fill me in on all the current affairs and politics. He would scan the Obituaries and tell me who had left us the night before. He is extremely well read and his knowledge about current affairs is huge and impressive. He would tell me all about that he had read and I used to miss his updates when he traveled, especially when I lived in Nepal and Bhutan in total oblivion on the top of the Himalayas.
Sam had enough drive and ambition for the four of us. He despaired that I did not have an ambitious bone in my body. He could never be still, as his mind always raced faster than the spoken word. He was still only when he was sleeping. He could talk to anyone, dustman or duke, about any topic be they young or old. He was never shy about accosting absolute strangers and starting conversations while the kids and I watched in fear, trepidation and secret admiration.
That is how he met Dr. V, P. Das, the former Secretary for South East Asia, of The Leprosy Mission. They were both attending a conference in 1963 when they shared a Dormitory together. At the end of the conference, Sam was impressed that a person of Dr. Das’ stature and extraordinary people skills was so humble . Dr. Das in turn, was most impressed with Sam’s enthusiasm for life and living. When they said goodbye, he gave Sam one of his visiting cards.
Let me know if you ever think about doing medicine, young man, he said. We could sponsor your studies.
At that time, Sam was doing his BSc at the Madras Christian College. He was deeply involved with the Student Christian Movement and was seriously considering making that a full time commitment in the SCM and possibly pursuing a course in Theology like his Dad. A chance meeting with Dr. Das changed Sam’s life and career options. He wrote to Dr. Das when he completed his BSc and was sponsored for medical studies by The Leprosy Mission at the Christian Medical College in Vellore.
Sam is the most loyal human being I have met in my life. If someone is kind to him, he will never forget him. He will follow him to the ends of the earth if need be. If someone does him a favour, he will never forget it and will do a hundred in return. It does not matter if the same person hurts him later in life. He cannot and will not see it as a deliberate act or betrayal. Once he accepts someone as his friend, they stay his friend for life.
Loyalty has many faces. Sam’s is one of them