“Charlie Bhai Sahib (aka B K Syngal — 1940–2022) — A Eulogy”
Sometime slightly more than two years ago, when the pandemic had first bared its deadly fangs and the world was in the midst of a series of deafening lockdowns, we had celebrated, in a somewhat muted manner (considering the circumstances) our dear Charlie Bhai Sahib’s eightieth birthday. I had also written a small piece feting him on the occasion. Little did I know that just slightly more than two years later I would be writing his eulogy. Our dear elder brother, known to the family as Charlie, and to the world as BK, passed into eternity on 9th July, 2022 after an illness which he fought bravely with a lot of courage, and (an adjective which he was so very fond of using) untold fortitude till the very end.
This piece is not meant to be a chronicle of his professional accomplishments and occupational milestones (of which reams of paper have been written — his contribution to the telecom sector — introducing Internet into India and his pioneering role as the “Telecom Man”) but about his intensely loving, caring and affectionate nature, the extraordinary length of sentimentality that he embodied and his incredibly high emotional quotient. Technically, for me and in fact for the entire extended family he was a cousin but God forbid his wrath, if in any conversation, we were to refer to or even make a passing reference to the relationship of a brother being diluted even mistakenly by the use of the word cousin. For the record, we were all brothers and the sanctity and purity of the relationship remained indelibly that way — of course, he fulfilled all the accompanying responsibilities with aplomb, unhesitatingly and completely willing. Mind you, considering the size of the extended family, the responsibilities were by no means small and a person of smaller mettle would have completed baulked at the sheer scale and extent.
In my case, while he was the quintessential elder brother, considering that I was the youngest and there was difference of almost twenty years between us, he threw in an adequate dose of undisguised and inhibited paternal affection to match his brotherly love. Of course, since I was amongst the youngest in the family, I was privileged to be doted kid brother of an entire generation of elder siblings — a privilege to cherish and appreciate. The external world may know him as an enfant terrible with a perceived explosive temperament, for those who knew him closely, and I can claim to be one who had that privilege, he was a man with the purest of hearts, matched with oodles of love and bottomless affection. I can tell you even when as the younger one, taking advantage of my young age, I indulged in the occasional banter and partook of some liberty he would invariably take it sportingly and react with that inimitable smile on his face, which, of course was invariably aglow with the deep-rooted intellectual aura that he innately possessed.
For me some of the most precious memories are the manner in which he would address his messages to me — which would invariably begin with Dear Kakku (my pet name) Chhota Bhai (younger brother) and end with “love, Bhai Sahib” (elder brother). He also had this habit of signing of his messages with “Syngals Nabha” — a reference to his paternal home town — an association of which he was intensely proud and extremely sentimental. Even on my birthdays he would wish me with the “hello Mr Equal day and night” or “Mr. Equinox” — a reference to the astronomical fact associated with the day that I had been born on and which only his scientific mind made me aware of.
Charlie Bhai Sahib was a virtual repository of the family history and could regale you endlessly with stories of the entire extended family. One of his projects, which was tragically left incomplete, was to compile the entire family history going back to several generations — an attempt to search for the roots. He was also planning to attempt to dig up records in Haridwar and Rishikesh before the pandemic and his subsequent ill-health intervened and put paid to his efforts.
I am sure that while God will open the choicest receptacles of heaven for him and accommodate him in the innermost and most sanctified corners of heaven, he would also be united with the entire family — my uncles (his parents) and the entire pantheon of Uncles, Aunts, brothers, sisters, nephews and nieces of the entire family, including dearest Nisha Didi (whom he most endearingly and on more than one occasion referred to as at the darling of the family) and continue his familial duties.
When someone close passes away, we always wish for him to rest in peace. While I do not wish to enter into a controversy as to how this fits into the Hindu Mythology of the cycle of Samsara where all life goes through birth, life, death and rebirth, and I leave it to the Theologists to argue on that and without meaning to sound heretical anachronistic, controversial or disrespectful — the restless person that Bhai Sahib was, can never rest in peace. One can only imagine him sitting on the edge of the seat fretting and fuming over the state of affairs trying to set up the internet in heaven, with the bulldozing attitude that he was so commonly admired for while pursuing projects with a missionary zeal in the various Departments and Institutions that he worked in and ensuring their timely clearance and execution, and if it was somewhat possible to set up a communication link between heaven and earth — so that all the nears, dears and loved ones are never separated from each other. Thoughts which are definitely utopian apart from being infinitely imaginary, but which resonate with his persona.
We shall miss you Bhai Sahib and till we run into each other again, shall envy the company of the large swathes of the extended family that you are now privy to.