On July 3, 2010, Wing Cmdr (Retd) Joseph Henry passed away leaving a large void in many people's lives.
How does one describe Henry, as we called him, even though we should actually have called him Joseph? A friend, philosopher, conscience keeper, one man social service organsiation, patriot, straight shooting critic of anything he found worthy of criticism and at the same time capable of large hearted, generous praise when something or someone deserved it? He was all that and more. He was someone most people would be proud to call a friend and eventually thankful that he was their friend.
When Henry joined our team, his name facinated me. What better name for an electrical engineer, I wondered.
When I met him first, his tall straight lean figure, excellent manners, wonderful smile attracted me to him right away. I thought that he looked like Omar Sheriff. I was, however, disappointed that the he did not respond warmly to my friendly overtures. He was distant and that disturbed me. I make friends easily and here was someone who was not willing. I left it at that. Later, I realised that it was a key to his personality.
I was at that time in some kind of managerial role in our team. I had no fancy title or anything. Henry, however, viewed me with suspicion or he did not want to be seen as being close to the management figure! Either way it was a key to what he was. He thawed and became a good friend later, when I no longer had that role. Then on, he was a whole hearted friend.
We spent many a coffee break together - on an average two a day. The conversation was always warm and interesting, thanks to him. He was deeply fascinated by Hindu mythology and philosophy. He was full of questions about it and trying to answer and satisfy his curiosity I learnt a lot more about it than I would otherwise have.
I said that he was a one man social service organisation. He was always at hand at occasions related to innumerable people - good, bad, sad - whatever the occasion may be. All the retired air force officers in Bangalore were practically his extended family. He would unhesitatingly go all out to help them in their hour of need. In his typical way he often referred to "vishwakutumbam" and in that spirit he was a citizen of the world.
He was a patriot in the larger sense of the word. Not the jingoistic kind. Petty regionalism elicited utter contempt from him. So did petty religious divisions and false claims of superiority because of caste and such. If he called someone a "fraaaaaud" you knew where the man stood in Henry's estimate.
He was a proud Malayalee proud of his non malayalee_ness - never wore lungis, for instance.
This is an unfulfilling attempt at describing and mourning a friend, a colleague and a good man. The last is a description that Henry richly deserved and would be truly happy and proud about.