CHENNAI: Having stayed away from his family for two months, Gunalan* wanted to pay his wife a surprise visit. On March 29, he boarded a flight from New Delhi to Chennai, but was alarmed to find some of the passengers looking sick and coughing without masks.
"When he was just five minutes away from home, he called me and told me that he was coming home. My happiness knew no bounds,” Gunalan’s wife said. The entrepreneur had worked in Delhi for 15 years, visiting home once every two months.
“I prepared all of his favourite dishes for lunch that afternoon. He told us about his flight and said he wanted to isolate himself for 14 days," she said.
The next day he developed a sore throat and mild fever. On the fifth day, officials asked him to take a Covid test. He tested positive.
"We admitted him to a private hospital in the city and were certain he would be fine as he did not have any comorbid conditions. But 20 days later, the hospital authorities called and told us he was no more," she said, pausing as tears ran down her face.
"He left a huge void in the lives of my daughter and I that we will never be able to fill. We did not even know how to deposit a cheque in the bank. He took care of each and everything in the house,” she said, her voice breaking.
“We were left shattered. He was 56 years old and we were married for 23 years. In all these years, not once did he make me do any work."
Describing him as a loving and caring person, she said he was always ready to help a person in need.
“Even when he came down for a brief visit, if there was a call for blood donors he would rush off to donate. Perhaps it is because of all his good deeds that the rest of us are at least healthy today," she said.
As Gunalan's death came soon after the row over Dr Simon Hercules’ burial, his funeral was held secretly. Officials transported his body from Vanagaram to a burial ground near Tambaram and picked up the family from Kelambakkam. "There were only two of us at the burial. A man who gained the love of scores departed in the presence of only two people," she wept.
Their daughter, a Class 11 student, wears her father's shirts and cries for hours in her room. "Every year on Father’s day, she would gift him something handmade. This year, she just held his shirt and cried. Nothing can replace his love or care and we both are unable to come in terms with that," she said.
Gunalan’s death has also had a financial impact, with mother and daughter struggling to make ends meet. Their family has helped them pay their rent but they are now planning to shift to their home in Nagpur. "That was where I last saw my husband happy and healthy,” she said, adding that she is dismayed to see people still roaming around without masks or social distancing.
“It is important to stay safe. For death leaves behind pain for lifetime."