As far back as I can remember I was always my dad’s pet. When I was little, he loved to apply artistic “bindis” on my forehead. When I was 7-8 years old, I remember my dad feeding me dinner with his own hands as I had a habit of dozing off at sharp 9p.m. with my dinner untouched most nights. That was also the age when I was struggling with Maths at school – especially fractions. Sundays were then spent getting the concepts right from an old class3 Maths textbook, even though I had moved to class4. Once Dad joined Air-India and was away on flight duties, he always made sure that there was something for me in his suitcase when he landed back. Much to the chagrin of my brother, the clothes that Dad brought back for me always fitted me perfectly whereas the ones bought for my brother invariably ended up being the wrong size. On Dad’s first international flight (which was to Hong Kong) he promised to bring me a doll, the kind whose eyes could open and shut. He kept his promise even though he had to pay a heavy customs duty for doing so. Innumerable moments that seemed ordinary back then, have gathered sheen with time. Memories of times gone by that I now want to hold on to and prevent from slipping and getting lost in the crevices of my mind.
There never seemed to be a need for the spoken word when dad and I were together. We could exchange a quick glance and empathise with each other when Mom was being overbearing. We could listen to Mehdi Hassan ghazals endlessly, Dad educating me on the nuances of the ghazal.
There were however two episodes in my life when our so called telepathy failed, creating a silence between us that was palpable with tension. One was when I chose not to take up medicine as a career and my father was hurt enough to say “You sabotaged me”. The second episode involved his choice of a groom for me and my feeling hurt that he had not considered my point of view while doing so. We made our peace after each of these episodes, again in an unspoken sort of way. My son, his first grandchild and the apple of his eye, mended the path for us, as only little children can do. My father found occasions to say “I am proud of you” which I took as his way of redemption. By finding happiness in my marriage to the groom of his choice I found a way of saying “All is forgiven”.
My annual trips to Bombay where my parents lived were always full of days planned with Mom as is mostly the case with mothers and married daughters. Dad was always around to take care of his grandchildren, whom he just adored. He was as connected to their childhood as he was to mine – aware of their friend’s names, their interests, their silly games. He would book tickets in advance for movies of their interest – Batman, Harry Potter, Stuart Little. But there was always a pall of gloom on the day of my return journey. It was always the same: he would not leave his room and when I mustered the courage to enter, I would find him seated on his chair staring into space with a sad expression on his face. I always got the feeling that he wasn’t sure if he was going to see us again.
The news of his having contracted cancer came as no surprise to him or to me. He had been losing weight and his pancreas had been malfunctioning for quite some time. He struggled with his chemotherapies with a lot of grit and stoic, taking all that the disease entails in his stride, not giving up hope. That year I was working in a new job and could not be with him as much as I, and I am sure he, would have liked. And that has been my biggest regret to date. Why did I not take a stand in time and be there for him, when he needed me? Why did I not sense his unspoken need for me? Having let him down will be one of the crosses I will have to bear for life.
I spoke to him 3 days before he expired to wish him for Holi. He asked me when I was coming. I said the earliest that I could make it was by the end of the month and he said that was too late. And true enough, it turned out to be too late. He had slipped into semi-coma the day after Holi, unaware of anybody’s presence around him.
I would like to think that he knew of my presence by his side even when he was in that state; that he lay there and blessed all his family, thinking of and blessing each one of us while he lay there motionless. Maybe I can even dare to hope that he forgave me for not living upto all his expectations.
I can never know for sure but I yearn for a message from him each moment, looking to connect with him in our very own “unspoken” manner.
But most of all I miss his hand on my head, a gesture that reaffirmed my belief in myself, a gesture that said “I will be there for you always, no matter what”.