Shiva looked comfortable. He was resting his back on a pile of bags and threw his legs on another pile in front of him, his foot going as high as his head on the other direction. With his head resting on his clasped palms behind him, and the face sporting an elaborate smile, he looked like he was resting on a hammock, and not a jeep full of people and things. Our jeep was loaded with stuff, after all, it was carrying the baggage of nine people who had travelled for a seven day trip to Rajasthan.
Two hours down the road I asked Shiva to switch places with me and he refused. Four hours later I persisted again and he refused. I then bullied him to shift places. I crammed in between the bags and the door was shut behind me. I realized that I barely had two inches of seat to sit on since bags were piled on them. It took me a few minutes to put my leg up and I wondered if even a contortionist would have been comfortable back there…but then, Shiva looked like a bird in its nest when I saw him there.
Barely an hour after I took the role of the contortionist Shiva insisted on getting back and gave the semblance of being comfortable. The jeep went through Madhya Pradesh recognisable for its bumpy roads and we travelled for 10 hours with him in that position for the bulk of the time. One could never say if he were uncomfortable given his never ending smiles and the chirpy conversation that he was indulging in. It was like him to insist on doing what was most uncomfortable.
It was difficult to believe then that I had known him for just seven days, and that he was a shy guy. But then, his smile was infectious and almost all of us in that huge gathering got to know him; and to know him was to like him: ever curious, sensitive to others, generous and overall charming. We stopped at Udaipur and travelled another ten hours to our destination in the Western end of Rajasthan to see some administrative innovations in the district. We decided to rent bicycles and travel around. My friend Reetika and I realized that Shiva was slipping behind constantly and at one point I tried the bicycle he was driving. It was easily the worst cycle I had laid my hands on. Being ever polite, he did not return it to the cycle shop to get an alternative bike; typical of him.
Three days flew past, and it felt like I had known him for a much longer time. It was impossible not to like him. He was soon on his bus waving goodbye, and I missed him. It looks like I will miss him forever now, and that we have waved our final goodbye. The charming Shiva passed away last week unable to recover from Malaria. It should never never never have happened.