With Dad in the ambulance and the four of us in a car that followed, we started our journey back home in the scorching mid afternoon heat. We settled down in a comfortable silence. Not because we didn’t have anything to talk about. We did have a lot to talk about, but I guess each one of us wanted to delve into our hearts and search for memories of Dad.
Dad always remained unattached, and yet he managed to have people attached to him. He wasn’t a peoples’ person. He liked booze, music and his life. He was the kinds who could sit all day in front of the TV and watch a cricket match whilst someone else at home could be dying. And yet, he managed to create such a large number of well-wishers at his work place. It struck me as odd actually.
I began to wonder whether it was him, or us who possessed anti social behaviours. Well, I didn’t feel like debating on that subject in my mind, so I reminded my Uncle that the following day was his daughter’s birthday, to which he didn’t say much. His only words were, well, it seems like we’re not going to be able to celebrate it et el.
My Mom and Uncles began a conversation about Dad, and the past, and got into an animated discussion about the characteristics of Dad, his habits and behaviour. I was quiet all along. My mind was running in several different directions. I kept reminiscing memories from the past. I actually tried to search for a happy memory I may have had with my Dad, but to my own chagrin I couldn’t find any. Most of my memories with him were either painful, bitter and indifferent.
I was an only child. In spite of which I don’t remember him ever exhibiting any kind of affection towards me. This always hurt me beyond words, but I kept my feelings to myself. I would look at my Dad playing with the neighbours’ kids, or my Uncles’ kids, but he never played with me. He would teach me and help me with my homework. And for some reason, if I didn’t learn quickly, or made a mistake, he’d hit me ferociously. He had a habit of throwing his slipper at me or kicking me when I didn’t listen to him.
We stopped on the way to refuel and to get some water because all of us felt parched. After our stop, we changed places. I looked at the fields and villages we passed by trying to divert my mind from memories of the past. But my Dad’s face kept appearing before my eyes.
Daughters’ are supposed to be “Daddy’s gals”, but I’d never experienced such a thing as being my Daddy’s gal. I’d seen all my friends in school rave about their Dads, or get them to school for some function or the other, but I’d never taken my Dad, ever. I was always so petrified of him, and though I tried to figure out why, I never really got an answer. He would always be aloof, and the more I tried to impress him to get closer to him, the farther he moved me away.
I remembered the last time we met. And my throat went dry. I was so angry at him that I swore I would never see his face again for the way he behaved. Fate seemed to have granted me my wish. I didn’t get a chance to see his face again whilst he was alive.
It’s crowded, and the repugnant smell of phenol drills its way into my nostrils. I see several of my relatives around, and seek my Uncle Dominic amongst them. I find him sitting in the ICCU on the stool next to my Grand-Mom’s bed. He looks at me and says, “Your Father is here, did you meet him?” I shake my head. “I didn’t see him as I came up or in the waiting area!” I say. “He must’ve gone to eat his lunch I guess.” He replies. “How’s she doing Uncle?” I ask him, and he shakes his head, with a far away look in his eyes. Instantly, I know, my Grand-Mom, whom I so lovingly call “Nana” isn’t going to make it.
I walk up to her bed, and hold her hand in mine. The feel of her skin is so soft. The feel of her wrinkled skin always comforted me in ways I cannot describe. When I look at her lying there, looking so tired and frail, it hurts to see her like that. The matriarch of our family, she has always been an iron lady who ruled with a heart of gold. I know she’s tired and wants to leave us all to move on to another world. During our last conversation, she’d said so, in so many words. But just the mere thought of losing her makes me feel like an orphan, and so I try not to think of it. I look into her eyes and see her weariness.
We all know that she has been forcing herself to live to see her eldest son, my Dad. He has always been the black sheep of the family. The only thing he’s been famous for, is running away from situations. I’ve seen my Grand-Mom get humiliated so many times because of him, by my Aunt, my Uncle and even me. And yet, she always loved him, and protected him in her own special way. I know for a fact that every time she prayed, she said a special prayer for him. Though she never exhibited her feelings in front of us, I know that not a single day of hers has gone by without thinking of him.
And now that she’s seen him and met him, it is a matter of time before she’ll let go of her life, and breathe her last.
I rub Nana’s hand gently, and kiss it. I look straight into her eyes and tell her, “You better get well soon. We have to celebrate your 84th Birthday in two weeks time.” She shakes her head. This says it all. She doesn’t want to live anymore. It breaks my heart to see her like this. She, a woman who’s never sat idle for a moment, who has been cooking and cleaning at the age of 84, till the day she had this attack and stroke. Seeing her lay there, telling me she doesn’t want to live anymore! I feel as if the one person I love is slipping away from me.
I put her hand down gently on the bed, and step aside. I ask my Uncle, “Why don’t you take a break whilst I wait here for a while?” He shakes his head wanting to be with his Mom as much as possible before she leaves. I touch his shoulder lightly and nod. I sit on the empty bed across the room. I keep looking at her, and trying to fathom a life without her. And honestly, I can’t imagine one. She is my anchor. Losing her would mean losing everything.
I am deep in thought when I see my Dad open the door of the ICCU and peep in. I look up, and say “Hi Dada, how’re you?” “Fine!” he replies. I get up and go out, in an attempt to talk to him for a while. “So when did you come?” I ask him. “At four o’clock.” He replies. His monosyllabic responses make me wonder if I should continue this conversation. It’s almost as if he’s read what’s going on in my mind. Therefore, in a attempt to continue the conversation he asks me, “When did you come?” “Oh, I came last night. Minu had called to say that Nana is serious, so I left by the next flight to Mumbai.” I say. He nods and asks me, “So, how’re you doing? You’re in Bangalore, right?” “Yes!” I reply. I am about to go on, when his cell phone begins to rings. He takes it out of his pocket, looks at the number and walks out of the waiting area of the ICCU to take the call. That signals the end of the conversation I'm having with my Dad whom I've met after six years.
At sharp 8 o’clock that night Nana passes on to another plane. We are all there. We are mentally prepared for her demise, but that doesn’t make her death any easier on us.
I let a few tears slip from the corners of my eyes, but regain my composure quickly. There are too many things to do, and the night is going to be one helluva long one.
The night passes with me sitting next to my cousin and then my Uncle looking at my Nana, and talking to her in my mind, saying “Sorry” for all the times I’ve failed her and hurt her; saying “Thank You” for all the love she’s given me whilst my parents fell short.
I can’t get enough of her, as I sit there, and look at her, I realise that this is the last time I can see her in flesh and blood, and so I don’t move an inch from there. I sit there; staring at her because I know that there will be no tomorrows with her again.
All members of our immediate family are at home, with Nana, praying for her soul, and talking to her before she will be put to final rest. All, but my Father.
I see him walk into the drawing room of my Nana’s apartment at 9:00 a.m. in the morning just in time for a photo session and before Nana can be taken away for burial. My anger knows no bounds. I am furious with him. In my mind, what he’s done is the most callous act of a lifetime one could do. That’s when I decide I am never going to set my eyes on him again.