Life & Style

What my father gave me

Summer scene with all terrain vehicle.  

There was nothing extraordinary about the day my father died. We woke up, went to college and left our parents to their work. It was February, and the air had that crispness that made you want to stand still and just breathe. I recall coming home from college, and finding an empty house; my friend pulling up in an auto-rickshaw, saying “Hurry up, your dad’s in hospital”. In the days before mobile phones there was no other way to get the news to me.

By 4 pm that day, my dad had died. He was only 45. I watched from outside the ICU’s glass doors as nurses desperately tried to save him. He was in a coma, a result of him being admitted for ‘routine’ tests. The doctors said it was a heart attack; we suspected medical negligence. My mother and siblings huddled with me. My friend was still with us, along with a priest from the nearest church I had managed to get for the last rites. I vividly remember disturbing him from his siesta, apologising for my father who was dying at an inconvenient time. I remember the tears coursing down my cheeks as I pleaded with him, incoherent, trying to make him understand that there was no time to waste. All that was forgiven, as we watched my father die.

I was 18 that year, the oldest of three siblings. As a self-obsessed teen, I don’t remember having long conversations with him. Maybe my memory fails me but my mother was a more present, constant figure while daddy was the fun guy, easy going and laid back.

Despite my wayward teen years, I had a great childhood. My dad’s penchant for good food meant lots of house parties. Food was an integral part of my dad’s happiness. After Sunday mass, we’d pile into our white Ambassador and drive to a nearby Sindhi restaurant. There, we’d order dal pakwan, chole with greasy bhature or piping hot ragda pattice and bring them home for brunch.

After my dad died, did we continue the Sunday brunch tradition? I can’t recollect. My grief in those early years was all-encompassing with no room for anything else. Everything brought back his memories; everything made me cry. I remember running to the window when we heard a jeep rumble outside, the words “Daddy’s home!” almost tumbling out of my mouth before reality slammed in. Grief shows up in unexpected ways. I mourned my dad by wearing his cologne, the dark squat bottle still on the dressing table. When I was not weeping, I took to writing poetry.

Now at 47, I have outlived my dad. He never had a chance to go grey or retire. He didn’t see his children grow up, do well, have families of their own. I don’t have videos of him, the sound of his voice lost forever. As coronavirus devastates families around the world and in our own neighbourhoods, I can’t help but think of how we coped when we lost a parent suddenly, without warning. That trauma makes me determined to have a plan in place in case something like that happens to us now.

Naive that I was, I could not have been prepared for the gut-punch of sorrow that hit me that February afternoon when I returned from the hospital and stopped by neighbours’ homes to tell them that daddy had died. The bruise from that blow stayed with me for weeks, months, years. It’s almost healed now — my throat rarely clogs up on his anniversary and we’re able to remember him without tears. But grief is a shape-shifter. You never know when it will wallop you and leave you gasping.

With time, though, the pain eases and the good memories return. The music of my childhood — Jim Reeves, Engelbert Humperdinck, Jagjit and Chitra Singh — finds a place in my own home now. They were the soundtrack to my parents’ lives. And on trips to see my family in Mumbai, my brother and I make road-trips at dawn to the Sindhi restaurant, now all spiffy, where we order breakfast and raise a glass of lassi to the man who taught us how to live large.

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Printable version | Aug 1, 2021 2:25:15 AM |

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