Friday, September 04, 2015

Baldev "Touchi" Sehgal: August 14, 1953 — August 31, 2015

Baldev Krishan Sehgal was born in New Delhi, India, to Satya Wanti and Jiwand Lal Sehgal. Baldev had six elder brothers: Jagdish, Mitter, Mangal, Mohan, Rajesh, and Ved. Baldev was affectionately called “Touchi” by his friends and family. Baldev studied Hotel Management, graduating in 1971 from the Pusa Institute of Technology. 
When he was only twenty-one, Baldev interned in Zürich, Switzerland, after which he worked in Bahrain for four years. In 1979, he emigrated to the United States, working various jobs in Atlanta, Georgia, before receiving degrees in Hospitality Administration, Computer Science, and Business Administration from Georgia State University. Baldev then began a twenty-two year career in Enterprise Information Services at the Georgia Institute of Technology. 
Baldev married Lalita Kulkarni in 1992 in New Delhi, India. Settling down in Gwinnet County, Georgia in 1993, the couple became active with the newly-formed Greater Atlanta Vedic Temple. Their daughter Khyati was born soon after in 1996.  As a family, the three traveled to Morocco, India, Jamaica, Canada, and across the United States. Always known for his humor and friendly nature, Baldev is survived by his wife Lalita, daughter Khyati, two elder brothers, Mangal and Rajesh, and the loving families of all his brothers.

Sadly, I've gotten too used to funerals and all they entail.

Growing up, I didn’t know as much of my family overseas, especially on my Dad’s side. Touchi uncle, as we called him, was the only relative of my Dad’s living in the US. We lived in Montgomery, Alabama, so Touchi Uncle was always only a 2.5 hour drive away.

While I've gotten to know much of my extended family on both sides over the years,  Touchi uncle was the most consistent extended family presence for my sister Mandi & I as kids. He was just another member of our family who stopped by often, for holidays, special occasions, and just for the weekend. He would always visit us in Alabama, driving his “green machine”, which i think was a Toyota Corolla? He usually slept in my room, which meant i had to sleep on the floor because I was the youngest. I didn’t mind. My uncle was cool. And i didn’t even know that he lived in Switzerland and the Middle East back then. Cool Touchi Uncle from Atlanta.

Recently, I learned that after my mom was married in India, she had to stay with my dad’s family. Dad was in the US working on her immigration paperwork, but Touchi Uncle was still living in New Delhi. So he took care of my Mom, who had never lived in India. He hung out with her and showed her around. I think that’s when they became fast friends. And over the years, more than in-laws, but true siblings.

In our house we have 2 dining tables - one in the kitchen, and another in a more formal living room. Touchi uncle always used to give my parents - especially my mom - a hard time that he never got to eat at the fancy table. It became a bit of an ongoing joke.  So one weekend Mom made a big dinner and we all ate there like we were important.

Growing up, we also made frequent trips to the big city of Atlanta. Naturally Touchi Uncle was our tour guide. I remember Waffle House and the Dekalb County Farmer’s Market. I remember the Quick Trip near his apartment, and all the Danish furniture places my dad made us wander around in. And far too many indian restaurants and shops.

I’lll always remember my first baseball game. As a little kid, Touchi Uncle took Mandi and i to see the Atlanta Braves. I don’t even remember who they were playing or who won, but I do remember Touchi Uncle pointing out all the positions and players. Again, my uncle was pretty cool

One day we got to meet our new aunt - Lalita Auntie. All of a sudden our cool single uncle wasn’t single anymore. He went from an apartment to a house. As a little kid, that was so weird! A few years later his daughter Khyati showed up. Watching Touchi go from “our uncle” to a husband and father was neat. Even though he was our elder, we were watching him grow up. But somehow he stayed cool in his own way. As someone who’s been recently married, I hope I can keep my own kind of cool like he did. Being a family man suited Touchi Uncle well.

It was always great having Touchi Uncle and his family nearby. Diwalis, Christmases, and Thanksgiving were more special occasions when family could come visit. And Touchi uncle and his family was always there for graduations, pujas, and weddings. That’s a big deal for a kid whose relatives are all thousands of miles away.

Over the years, as family tragedy seemed to persist back in India, distant uncles, grandmothers, and family I vaguely knew passing away,  it was always Touchi Uncle who was there - accompanying and helping my dad through difficult times. The loyalty between the two brothers during those  times was comforting. I know my dad was always—and still is proud of everything his younger brother did, and who he became.

I last got to see Touchi Uncle on a visit to New York last year, when him and Lalita auntie were visiting Khyati in college. He was older than I remember, and it was clear that his condition had advanced. But to me he was the same. Questioning things, making unintentional jokes along the way. I actually think I’m the one that became different, older. It’s funny how age does that. But at the same time, we remember people how they best were.

For me, it's been a strange separation ever since.

My dad said something at a close friend’s funeral several years ago. It was about the concept of everything "getting better." It’s a common misconception that the hurt goes away. It doesn’t. We just get used to it, and it becomes a part of us. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Because that’s what memories are. Our experiences and remembrances gained from those we once knew make us stronger, better people.

As I’ve been in town this week, i’ve driving up and down the highway back and forth to the airport. Staring out the car window - the same way I did as a kid in the back seat - watching all the buildings, lights, shops and cars. Because of my years knowing Touchi Uncle, I can’t help but remember my cool uncle from Atlanta.

We won’t just miss you Touchi Uncle, we’ll remember you.

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