Many of Hegou Thangeo’s friends were not informed of the news until this afternoon. His family was probably too shocked more than anything else.
He’d died on the 3rd of August, and the ceremonies were completed on the 4th.
An entire week has passed before any of his closest childhood friends came to see the message on whatsapp. Sandeep Paul recalls speaking to Hegou only a month ago.
Through the course of the day, we learn the details about Hegou’s life from the whatsapp discussions. He’d studied in Bangalore after he left our school, and then went on to South Korea to get his degrees in Theology. And once he returned to India, he served as a founding member and Pastor of a church in Guwahati. We learn that he got married in 2013, and is survived by his wife, his mother, younger brother (Satboi), his sisters and Judy (his sister in law).
Judy tells us that his mother’s broken.
Hegou’s younger brother – Satboi – is Judy’s husband. And Satboi and Judy have just returned to Delhi after spending a few days with their grieving family.
Almost every single one of his friends recounts happier days from childhood, evenings on the football field. Somebody mentions that Hegou used to be an athlete as well.
Words offer no comfort or assistance at moments of such great loss. Yet amidst the shock, and the listing of accomplishments on the playground, his childhood friends recount incidents, shed tears and embalm his childhood in the way that only words allow us to do.
The following is a compilation of words and photographs from Hegou’s dearest friends from childhood:
Billy: “Like most guys from the North East, Hegou was naturally strong. But he would allow his friends to tease and bully him. (And so everyone loved him.) He enjoyed the attention he was given, and let us have some fun as well.”
Billy is describing a photograph taken from about three decades ago. To be honest, the picture looks like a photograph of a photograph.
AJ (Andrew Jason) jumps in with some details about the day when the picture was clicked.
“On that day we were taking pictures in different places. It was after Sunday service, and this picture was at the boys urinals. Judson was making faces, and the boys were mobbing up on Hegou. Everyone was having a good time”
AJ then utters his next words – the most endearing words to fall on the ears of any boarder.
“Hegou used to share his pandam.”
We all knew what this meant.
The north easteners never had any visitors. They went home once a year, and saw their parent only in summer. And at boarding school all of us – boys and girls included – were perennially hungry. The sound of someone opening some plastic cover in one end of the hall was pure melodious symphony, detectable even in the dead of the night by the deafest among us.
Yet everyone knew that Hegou shared his pandam.
Billy compares the harbinger of pandam to sounds of salvation itself. And we know from experience that it’s not too bad a comparison.
The discussion that follows mentions “Disco” (a sweetened tamarind paste) and “sunflower seeds”, and other oddities from Manipur. And others pitch in to recount tasting their share of these from Hegou and Satboi.
There are other stories as well. One from during a Sports meet in the 80s, where the local making the announcement, called out “Hegou ThanGIAH” on the microphone.
Billy also mentions about Hegou’s parcels of sun flower seeds and disco from Manipur.
“His Dad would send him these parcels. In one of the sunflower seed packets his dad would stuff in a Rs. 50 note and leave a message in Manipuri mentioning the amount he’s kept. Hegou and I used to frantically search for it in the parcel. What a joy it was when we finally found the treasure. Money was contraband, and that’s what made it all the more of a treasure.”
“Whenever Hegou went out for sports events, he was kind enough to get some pandam back to the dorm and of course he’d look out for the likes of Andrew and me to share it with”, Billy continues.
“There was one more connecting factor between the 2 of us – we both hated the same teacher. That added to our bonding.”
Getting caught in the act of petty crimes, the punishments, the angst that followed, the shared experiences of making memories – all of these are shared.
Judson narrates an incident from the exam hall, the subject was the dreaded hindi, that Hegou detested. So naturally, answer sheets were exchanged from one hand to another, and as it often happens on such occasions, the teacher turns out to be a sleuth in disguise. Hegou was caught, and very innocently pointed out the route map that the answer sheet had travelled.
Billy recalls a third connection between Hegou and himself – they flunked Hindi together in their 9th STD.
There are other stories too, stories from seniors, words offering condolence, words expressing concern. The conversation is also intercepted by seniors trying to get a better picture of Hegou. And occasional trivia about how the old photograph of the boys was clicked by Samrajan Sir using what’s most likely the first color capturing camera the school ever owned. Johnson, Timbo, M Karunakaran, Sandeep- all of them share memories, respond to questions and add to the stories.
Using only words, we walk down memory lanes – sharing stories and laughter, offering prayers of comfort, shedding tears.
Words are of very little help at such moments. Lincoln captured the frailty of words in his Gettysburg address by saying, “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”
Memory – that’s all we have to hold on to. We will not forget.
Billy finishes his eulogy with the following words – “Hegou – my friend in joy and pain, I will miss you mate. The good die young but memory remains! Meet you on the other side.”
I am reminded of the last scene from Macbeth where Ross has to inform old Siward that his boy has perished, and after delivering the message he adds,
Your cause of sorrow
Must not be measured by his worth, for then
It hath no end.