Illustrative image. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Everyone’s allowed to have favourites, right? You may have been the apple of one parent’s eye or a teacher’s pet or you may have your own favourite as a parent or teacher.

Luckily, I was spared the guilt of playing favourites in my tiny immediate family because we had just one biped child and one quadruped child — and I could lavish different kinds of “special” attention on each, satisfy them completely (I hope) and feel completely gratified.

With my nieces and nephews, it was usually on the lines of “You’re my favourite because you are here right now,” but I often slipped up and fussed more over the girls and in time, their girls …

It was different, however, with the extended family of in-laws and outlaws I was thrown into almost four decades ago. The five siblings argued incessantly and had more opinions than there were people — but dare an “outsider” question them or express a view that was not to their liking and they would all turn on him/her and speak with one voice!

Luckily for me, I found in their midst at that time, another “outsider”, who had got there before me and had managed to hold his own in this family dynamic. He rarely got involved in the conversations that raged around the dining table — but with a wink, a joke, a comic imitation, he would ease the tension and hard feelings were tossed aside and everyone moved on.

It was only natural for me to align myself with this other “outsider” and he soon became my favourite — and in time, I realised that he was everyone’s favourite.

With an enormous circle of friends and relatives, he remained constantly in touch with them — and that was in a time long before IMs and WhatsApps and other forms of instant “contact”. His was the old-fashioned way: he got onto his scooter if it was daytime, or into his car if it was evening, and he whizzed off to the club, to a friend’s house, to the community centre — and came back refreshed, rejuvenated and full of good cheer.

Even when he grumbled — to climb the stairs to someone’s house or to go all the way to the shops to discover that what he was in search of was missing from the shelves — he did so in a manner that made us overlook his frowns and groans and moans and remember only the grin that came afterwards.

You could not meet him and not be hugged or patted on the back or have some form of contact — and the pandemic and the distancing that was thrust upon all of us was especially irksome for him and for those of us who welcomed his warmth and affection.

Despite being well aware that he was my favourite, he didn’t spare me his quirks — one of which was his constant suspicion that I’d laced his dessert or the inviting cheese bake on the menu with cream, a strict “No” for him. Nothing I said to reassure him could convince him to believe me. If it looked gooey and creamy, he’d give it a pass: with a hurt frown in my direction that said he’d expected better of me!

As we aged and began to lose friends and family, it was always he who took up the responsibility of offering prayers for the departed, consistently attending services and being the bulwark of comfort for bereaved families.

He was everything for everyone he knew: caring son, loving husband, doting father, delighted grandfather, indulgent brother, loyal friend, favourite brother-in-law …

But he was also someone we could not say goodbye to when the swift cruelty of the coronavirus claimed him last week — and left us devastated and heart-broken, our only comfort the conviction that he is making some place else a brighter, better place.

— Cheryl Rao is a writer based in India