I stood there with my little niece, at the very end of the street, unable to believe that the men disappearing far away around the corner, had on their shoulders, my father. And that I will never again see his toothless smile for as long as I live. There is no going back!! With an aching heart, listening to the child’s babble of my niece repeating innocently, “Thaatha ookkuu poitta.., thatha thetthu poitta.., thatha kulichuthu oorkku poitta..” I turned and walked back through the main street of my native village.
Lost in thoughts, I didn’t notice the woman who was walking towards me until she planted herself firmly in front of me and said, “Hey, do you remember me?” She looked at least ten years older to me. For the life of me I could not recollect the face staring at me. And then she said excitedly, “I am Ammu, Ammu, don’t you remember, We studied together here in the corporation school” An image of a tiny little girl with tearful and accusing eyes staring up at me flashed before me. I asked her pensively, “Were you the one in whose face I threw my lunch??!!” She laughed and said, “Not only that, the next day you got your father to my home, made it look as though it was all my mistake and man, did he fight with my father tooth and nail?!”
Fresh tears sprang to my eyes at the memory. That was my father. Fanatically devoted to the daughters! While he might hit me out of bursts of anger, for as long as we lived in that village no one dared touch a hair on our heads with reason or none, or sometimes even if we were the villains. He would fight anyone, outcaste anyone who dared to make his daughters unhappy.
On our birthdays he used to dress us up identically and the three of us will march proudly to the temple at the end of the only street in our village. At the age of six me and my sister became officially, the first women to wear churidar in our small village, still remember him marching in the centre and both of us in our new attires stumbling along like little body-guards panting to keep pace. He came home one day when we were about eight years old with a copy of every children’s monthly available at that time. Because we fought as to who read what book first, ordered two copies to be delivered for a few months. The wretched habit of reading which began then continues till today as an obsession:when there is a book in hand we don’t pay attention even if a quake were to hit. I don’t remember what I spoke to Ammu, must have been some nice words since she seemed happy as she left and I resumed my walk with a turmoil of scenes out of the memory lane.
Somehow, this very same street was much wider and longer in the scene that I remembered. I was running like wind as though the very devils were after me, every time looking around to see if my father had caught up with me still. He was giving chase without tiring and I realised I had little chance. Then, in what must have been a brainstorm to a seven-year old, I remembered a big old box lying in a dark room in one of the houses that we used to play in. At the speed of thought, with a dexterity that Rajnikanth fleeing the bad fellows would have envied, I stormed into the house, ran to the box and literally dived into it, closing the lid after me.
I lay there in darkness for about half an hour or so with my heart panting in fear, as I listened to my father bellowing around searching for me. Finally a traitor who used to play hide and seek with me, found me for him and lo and behold, the next thing I knew, I was whirling over my father’s head and flying through space and hit the ground with a thud!!! The scene looks comical now, but a tragedy to me then, which I did not forgive for a long time.
Yet this was the same man who has never ever, in all his difficulties, refused me anything that I have asked, be it within his means or extravagantly out of it. The same went for my sister as well. I must have been in my ninth standard or even eighth standard then. We had recently shifted to the big city and the trauma of fitting into a english-speaking school was too much for me. My sister was always the diplomatic one in my family and I guess she didn’t get much into trouble because she had the sense not to let her mouth run. I on the other hand was much teased for my country-bumpkin-ness. Then one day I saw an ad for the launch of a small modern moped “Mofa” as it was called, and took it in my mind that I wanted it. May be I thought having the moped will make my friends like me more. The family was in severe financial crunch with all the city living. On a sunday morning, I told my father that I want it, not even in a serious manner, just casually said, “I would like to have it,” That’s all! My father was thoughtful for a minute and said ‘ok, we will surely buy it.’
What I did not expect was, within an hour he would have convinced our house owner that he will pay the rent a month later, came back home, took the rent amount and me, borrowed some more and went to a showroom at Anna nagar. He actually purchased it for me. I was flabbergasted to say the least. Only after we had the vehicle in our hand did we realise that both of us had no idea what so ever, as to how to ride a moped! Can you believe, we took turns wheeling it all the way home to Ayyavoo colony in MMDA in the hot sun, me with my face breaking into a gleeful smile every minute or so, and my father with his eyes sparkling in extreme pride looking at me happy, and asking me in what would have been about a million times if I was happy!
Until the very last days this has been his attitude, the fulfillment of desires of the daughters and in the later years it shifted with the same fervor to the grandchildren’s, before everyone else, including him and his wife! His favourite slogan was always, “Buy yourself the costliest! Only that is good for you!” This is not to say that he was perfect or that life was easy with him. My parents had their own issues with themselves and with the world around just like anyone else. My father, if I have to say without any prejudice was not a perfect husband. But as a father, I don’t know of anyone to whom the daughters’ whims and fancies mattered as much as it mattered to him.
Now as I return to a home in which his presence is not there, as the fact painfully sinks in day after day that I will never again see him waiting for my arrival, waiting like a child to see what food item I would have got him, which he can defy my mom’s authority and relish, I wish with all my heart that, if there is a God, If there is a heaven,if there is another world which we go to after death, or return to this world in another form… may God receive him directly, and fulfill each one of his desires, just the same way as he did ours, may he be treated as specially as he treated us whichever place he goes! Rest in Peace Father.