Probably the only good thing about dying young is that you go out in a blaze of glory, accomplishment and the promise of great things still to happen. Nobody is tired of you yet; you have not become a burden; you have not begun to repeat all your stories; you haven’t grown old and cranky.
When Pawan Jain died last week, many of his friends felt that way about him: He left too soon. He still had so much to do. There was still so much of life ahead of him. He was so much fun. We hadn’t had enough. We wanted more.
Pawan Jain died at the age of 52. He was struck down by a mysterious illness which eluded both definitive diagnosis as well as effective treatment; for the last 18 months of his life he was in bed and completely dependent. His wife Bharti devoted herself heart and soul to his care, leaving no stone unturned in her search for a cure, or, failing that, some relief from his suffering. Her unswerving commitment to his care was an example of selfless love.
That is about his death and his final illness. But this article is really about his life and the inspiration he was to so many.
Pawan was an architect. Our organisation (Latika Roy Foundation) had hired him to build our campus back in 2013, not long before he fell ill. To us, he was a fellow traveler, a person who spoke our language, but in a different cadence. We are all about children with special needs and including them in our lives; he was all about the practical, concrete ways to make it happen. We dreamed dreams; he took those dreams and designed walls, ramps, arches and windows to surround them, give them substance and shine the light on them as they grew.
The combination was like magic. My team looked forward to meetings with Pawan as they might to a party. He was funny (hilarious!), he had a story for everything and he knew exactly what we meant before we had even finished imagining it. His mind worked like that. He understood the inherent contradictions in what we said and figured out an architectural answer to take care of them. Like our kids needing both safety and open spaces; simultaneous predictability and room for their imaginations to fly; variety and colour yet not too many distractions.
He got it. He listened carefully, he did his research and he put his mind to the design . We knew without question that we were in good, safe hands and that he would give our dreams the structure and the foundations they needed to last, to stand, to shelter the children we served.
And of course, it wasn’t just us. Pawan Jain could work with almost anyone: from politicians (he built the Chief Minister’s residence) to criminals (he built a part of the Tihar Jail) and don’t think he missed the chance to connect the dots between the two . . . he built educational institutes and private homes; commercial enterprises and offices for non-profits. He worked on low-cost housing in disaster areas, donating his time and expertise most notably after the catastrophic landslides in Uttarakhand in 2013.
One of Pawan’s abiding passions was education. He was scathing in his critique of our current school system and fearless about expressing his opinions as well as turning them into actions. We run a regular lecture series on Education and Inclusion in Dehradun and Pawan never missed a single event, nor did he pass up the opportunity to stand up in the audience to share a new idea, a reference or an innovative way of looking at the same old problems.
He took his responsibilities as a citizen seriously and he did whatever he could to make his community a better place. He was a thinking, caring person in a world where selfish mindlessness is more and more the order of the day. His death is an irreparable loss, of course and without question, to his loving family and friends; but it is also a loss to Dehradun, to India and to the world.
He died before completing the plans for our building. We have found a new architect now (he knew and admired Pawan) and we have begun again – because life goes on. But the beginnings were with him and the new building, when it comes up, will contain a little bit of his magic, his charm and his humour in its foundations.
Because architects live on in their creations.