“You look occupied”. He had said. And then added, “You must take time off from work. Spend time with all of us. Read. Drop your computer and office. Write your book..” and almost as an afterthought added, “don’t keep peering into your phone so much”.
I laughed. For all his illness, he had the knack to pack a punch into every feeble statement that escaped the stiffness of his lips. I looked up from my phone that I was peering into and smiled.
I was in a playful mood too. “For how many days should I follow that routine”, I asked. “Seven”. He said. “One week”. The “At least” that he said after the ‘one week’ didn't quite translate into sound. But by then I was used to getting by with the occasional capability to read his lips when the movement of his lips didn't translate to sound.
I smiled. Put the phone aside. His message had reached my head. That was on Christmas day, 2013.
Monday last. I am making a few notes and planning the week ahead. The mobile rings piercing the stillness and breaking the silence of the early hours. The clock silently speaks as the eye darts to catch it says: 4.31 AM. It is my brother on the line. A sundry thought assortment race up and down as the simple ringtone sounds shrill and tears into the morning. Perhaps, an accidental touch of the redial button or the nephew’s playing some game. I think.
I pick the up the call to what seem like muffled sobs. And then the sobs erupt in victory, beating the vain attempts to muffle them. He says in-between the quiet sobs, “Appa is gone”. My dad was no more.
Tears. Almost like a cloud burst triggered flash-flood, flow down my cheek. A sudden cold envelops my body. In less than ten seconds I shoot a set of rapid fire questions. “what are you saying?” “How is amma?” “How do you know” and such else.
He composes himself and explains. In a short time, we quickly regain composure to discuss, as two pragmatic adult men would, the practicalities of getting to Madurai as soon as possible. Before hanging up, he says, “You take care. And you don’t get worked up.”
Since that moment, life has been a fast whorl. Dad was central to our lives. If there was one person who I could look up with awe, regard and love, he was gone. If there was a purpose to the spirit of the daily fight, it was deflated. If there was an over encompassing hand that would soak all our troubles up and then set us free with energy, that hand was missing. If there was a compass to our lives, it needed resetting.
Born into a rural family with a dozen brothers and sisters, the rich beats of rural traditions were close to his heart even as a quintessentially modern outlook stayed as his most preferred lens. For the longest time I can remember.
The last week has been an emotional roller coaster ride. The only seat belts we have had on us have been memories of earlier times, unconditional love from family, relatives, friends, well wishers and lots of people who I wished I knew better. At least their names, for a start! My phone and mail box reek of condolence messages and calls (several that went unanswered). All loaded with love and peppered with care. If there was a lifetime of debt that I was to carry, well, this is it!
It may just be me. When the plot or a protagonist reaches a point of inflection, in a book that is well written, I pause the reading and put the book down for a bit. Chewing and digesting what the lines say and what the spaces in-between them mean, invariably resisting the ever so compelling urge to turn to the next page and get on with “what happens next”. So, I pause. Most times, reflect. Sometimes read passages all over again. See meaning that had escaped me. At other times, I even write, just to express what is running on my mind.
That is a habit my dad held dear. And amongst the stuff that I inherited from him, that habit stands tall. Amongst the most practiced!
In that spirit, there will be a few blogposts this time. Not eulogies. But more descriptions of what happened since that call at 4.31 AM on a fateful Monday morning. Maybe an incident here. A story there. Memories all over. And maybe from it all, there will be an inference or two. About our times, our cultures, of recalcitrant sons and a very different father.
Truth be told, it is just my way of dealing with his death. Of loss. Even as peaceful sleep remains elusive these will be attempts to make sense of all whats on my mind. The struggle to piece our lives together and limp back to its regular rhythms is only matched by the acute awareness that our lives will remain inexplicably changed.
And so, we consign his body to flames that very Monday. Our heads tonsured, barefoot, our dhotis dripping wet, garlands around our neck, we walk back to the car. The result of death taking him and we letting a rich paraphernalia of rural customs and traditions flow, and take charge of us. A relative from our village walks close by in company.
He hisses in my ear. “As part of our customs, you can’t go out of home or do your normal activities ‘like computer’ and so on..” I turn to look at him in surprise and he understands my question before I ask it. “For seven days” he says.
And then adds “at least”. I hear the ‘at least’ loud and clear.
My dad always had his ways. Only this time, it needn't have been this way.
PS : The last time I wrote of him is here. And I think it was better written!