The vivid memories of my early childhood are those of my father helping us out in the kitchen. Sometimes, he would pile up steaming idlis on our plates or apply jam and butter on slices of fresh bread so that we could have our breakfast at 7.30 a.m. and take our packed lunch to school. My mother, a teacher, also made sure that I and my brother got the best meals.

My dad's next routine was to take each one of us on his bicycle to the bus depot and see that we were safe and sound on our way to school and then drop my mother too at the bus depot. He would then travel for two hours to reach his workplace. I have always remembered my father as a pillar of strength and even when my mother was terminally ill with cancer, he was by her side. When we were assailed by fears or doubts, he was there to hold our hands.

All these were 10 years ago until he was struck by Parkinson's disease. The drugs he took caused hallucinations. It was pathetic to see him afraid of unreal images, and it became a daily chore for me to reassure him that they would do him no harm. He suffered frequent bouts of depression and even suspicion turned against the members of the household. My husband also took care of him.

The strong hands, which had once cuddled me and held me affectionately when I was a child, became weak and frail after years of toil. The hands that cleaned all the mess that we made when we were young found it difficult even to lift a glass of water. My dad, who always made sure that we were safe on our way to school, frequently lost his way from the living room to the kitchen. Sometimes, I was apprehensive what would happen if he outlived me. (My father has since died.)

(The writer is Assistant Professor, Sacred Heart College, Tirupattur, Tamil Nadu. The writer's email ID is rosalinebosco@yahoo.com)