“Beam me up”, he said.

<Names altered to protect the privacy of the subject>

This afternoon, I attended the funeral service of my batch-mate (from BITS, Pilani), Arun Ramalingam. He passed away on Friday, April 5th, amidst the mountains of Snoqualmie Pass. He is survived by his young wife, 2 young children aged 8 and 4, his parents, 2 brothers and a sister.

The turn out for the funeral was large, his family, friends, colleagues… and then there was the local BITSian turn out as well as a few folks from around the country. Speaks for the wonderful soul he was. I did not know Arun either on campus or off campus. We moved in completely different circles. All these years in Seattle and I had no clue such a person existed and that he was here. Several times, the topic of BITSians has come up in conversation and I have combed through my rolodex to identify BITSians in the local area, but Arun’s name was nowhere in mine… and yet… there was a certain connected-ness I felt when I heard — BITS, Seattle, hiker, spirituality… just a good, simple, innocent soul (who had an appreciation for melancholy and yet spread happiness — all this I gleaned from the ceremony). I felt a draw (even before I knew all this) and contributed to his memorial fund as well as attended his funeral ceremony including cremation.

There were speeches and notes from friends, local and from afar. But when his father Mr. V.Ramalingam, came to speak, it just killed me. Such a simple man, clad in a simple shirt and veshti and a sweater, being from Chennai (and having flown at 2 days notice), so articulate, put together, grateful, humble and yet emotional and empathic to his daughter-in-law’s plight. My heart broke when he came up, and thereafter each time I saw him. Still does when I think of him. God bless him and the entire family with lots of strength, fortitude, reconciliation and peace in their hearts sooner rather than later.

This is the first time I have attended a funeral in my physical lifetime. I have experienced deaths in other forms, and deaths of elderly grandparents while I lived away from them; but this was really a first, well, I remember one other from a long time ago (a distant elderly relative by marriage, who lived in the same area I did growing up). And I am also no stranger to the concept of losing one’s child, from experience in my own family (I’ve seen my beloved late maternal grandmother lose her son, my beloved uncle). Maybe it was that knowledge and experience, that made me feel so much this time around, and yet it gave me new respect for everything she went through.

I later learnt, Arun was alone on the hike. It was a working day and he had chosen to work from home, but decided to go on a hike to this spot that he apparently frequented to clear his head. His body was found the next day, thanks to the signal emitted from his iPhone, who’s charge was still alive. His body was found in a spot that one could get to only if one had fallen off a ledge, which itself is off the path and couldn’t have been hiked up to. So no one seems to fully understand.

There is something about these souls. They are people who find themselves in special situations, unlike most others’ (in a spiritual sense), there is a certain inner sadness, perhaps from a certain realization, but they radiate happiness and invariably give comfort to others in so many ways. They are usually honest, sincere and funny. Their physical ends are tragic (to the rest of the world)…. but I almost feel that in that moment of decision, they are free-est and I like to believe they are in a better place.