Death has always been something distant to me. During my short twenty years alive, a few relatives, teachers, people I’ve known and a few people I’ve worked with have passed away. However, I managed to put this great distance between myself and the dead person and by doing so, I managed to not feel sad about their death. It sometimes hit me how these people are no longer alive, I suddenly miss one or two people, but besides that, their deaths haven’t affected me in anyway.
I was happy with my way of dealing with death. I avoided funerals and I regarded death as an unavoidable thing. All those who are born, have to die. Deal with it.
Then Rukshan passed away, and everything changed.
Now I haven’t written a single blog post about Rukshan, and this isn’t because I didn’t love him or care about him. I did. I do. The reason I didn’t write about him is because I felt no word I could write would do justice to the person he is. As one of his relatives said, I didn’t know him for a long time. Just more than one and a half years. But during that time Rukshan made it so easy to be friends with. We have rarely spoken about personal matters, we weren’t those kind of friends. He was a photographer, and has accompanied me during assignments.
During these, he didn’t only do his job by taking pictures of the event. No, I remember him seated in the front seat of the van, with his camera on his lap, ready to take a picture as we traveled to our destination. In his soft voice, he would talk about recent incidents, people, various assignments he has been on and ideas he had about cover photographs. He pointed to where he lives and told me how it feels to live there, the environment and weather. He would bring his son to office, and he introduced me to the little boy as, ‘Shailee Aunty.’ I told him I was a bit too young to be an aunty, and Rukshan laughed and reintroduced me as Shailee Akka.
He advised me about how to deal with people. He warned me about certain people. He took care of me during assignments, making sure I was okay and had everything I needed. I haven’t worked with many photographers, but those I have worked with are not even close to being the person Rukshan was. He always kept in mind the pictures we would require.
We planned a two day trip to Galle. We had many assignments planned out and needed two photographers. On the first day, a Sunday, five of us went to Galle. We had a photographer with us. I had spoken to Rukshan on at least two days before the trip explaining why I needed two photographers. The other two at office weren’t available, it had to be Rukshan. And to be completely honest, I wanted it to be Rukshan. He was an amazing photographer.
We had an argument on Sunday. He had planned another assignment for Monday. I told him to do whatever he wanted but I needed another photographer. The next day, there he was. He never mentioned how angry or mean I had been. He couldn’t even recognize me, because of my new haircut. When he did recognize me, he smiled and said he had taken a good picture for the cover of Free. He unintentionally said something that just sounded wrong. We all laughed. The picture was amazing.
That day, we stopped at my place for dinner. The whole lot of us. This was in April.
Later, when I visited him in hospital in October, he recalled that day. And even though he was the one on a hospital bed and it was I who should have asked him how he was, Rukshan asked me how my mother and grandmother were. He was that kind of person. He cared about people.
He called me Sailee. He would walk to my desk and say something like, ‘ah Sailee.’ Every Tuesday, he would come to the editorial with his mug of tea or water, read the newspapers, read aloud the bits of news he found interesting, and discuss that week’s Free cover with me. He complained about how the color had changed, and promised some unique cover pictures.
He made jokes, he laughed, he smiled. He was Rukshan and no one will ever be as good, kind, gentle and soft-spoken as he was.
I don’t believe in god or some higher power or presence. I have never had a better reason than Rukshan’s death to completely erase whatever doubts I had about the possibility of the power of prayer. How could such a good man die? Karma, that explains it. The bad deeds of a previous birth, because in this life, Rukshan didn’t harm a fly. He was a good man.
So when he died, the bitter truth that is death hit me in full force. Close to a month since his death, I haven’t spent a single day without thinking about him. Having known him for such a short time, my heart clenches each time I think about him. So I can’t even begin to imagine the pain his family feels. And now, life seems so empty. It’s like living in a house that was burgled. There is this emptiness that cannot be filled.
People criticize us for laughing and having fun even though it hasn’t even been three months since Rukshan passed away. Three months, four years, a decade, the time since his death won’t reduce how much we miss him. We don’t laugh because we have already forgotten him. We don’t have a mourning period because we will never stop grieving his death. And the Rukshan I knew, was the kind of person who would manage to smile even on his worst days. His mother told us that we shouldn’t cry. If he is watching us from somewhere, he wouldn’t want to see us feeling so sad. I agree with her. Rukshan wouldn’t want that.
His son believes Rukshan went to heaven. I don’t doubt this. He was too good for this world, too good for heaven too.