As I set my alarm for the next day morning before hitting the bed, the date on the screen caught my eye. It was the 5th of March. “God, its the 6th of March tomorrow”, I thought to myself and immediately I felt a lump in my throat. I quickly switched off the light and went to bed. I closed my eyes but the sleep which was engulfing me a moment ago had vanished. I lay awake staring at the ceiling. The date had opened the floodgates of memories which came rushing in. Tears started streaming down my eyes without any control.
6th of March – my dad’s birthday. This would be the third year without him but the pain his memories bring are still raw. I remember vividly the way we used to celebrate his birthday – it would start with a rice kheer in the morning and end with a temple visit in the evening followed by a dinner at hs favourite restaurant. Though parents never differentiated between their children, I enjoyed a special status with him more than my two elder brothers. They used to come to me for getting permissions from dad for watching movies, sports etc. Dad always took me when he went to get vegatables from the nearby market. We used to walk and talk about lot of things – his office politics, national politics, my school and related issues, sports and the neighbourhood gossip as well. The central government department he worked for conducted regular suditions for selecting artistes who would propogate the govt’s welfare schemes and other health awareness issues to the rural public through songs , dance and skits. I used to help him prepare the final scorecard of all the participants, usually around 30o in number.
He was a wonderful singer and a lyricist and a composer too. Music was his passion. He was always learning something or the other in Carnatic Music. He used to write a lot of devotional songs and sometimes wrote social awareness songs which he would use for his work purposes also. Once he gets the initial lines for the song he will sing it for me and ask my opinion on it. Not that I am a great singer nor an expert in languages but he always usd to ask me. If I suggest any changes the first time I hear he would get upset. There was a pattern in which the suggestion had to come from me. First I had appreciate the song then I have to put it casually to him about alternative words or tune. I will have to make it appear that the suggestion actually came from him. I loved playing this with my dad.
He loved travelling and has taken us all around India during his leave period. He loved visiting temples and the distance and the location never deterred him from taking us there. He was an excellent raconteur. He used to regale us with stories of his childhood days, his early work days and interesting incidents with his brush with celebrities. At the same time, I often ended up in tears when he used to tell about the tough time and the difficult situations he had to face when his fatehr died when my father was just 12 and dad had to bear the responsibilty of his siblings and his step-sisters , he being the first son. In addition to guiding his brothers he also had to sheild his young and beautiful mother from the villagers who were too eager to help. He completed his education with the help of some good samaritans in the village. He got himself a job with little or no help from relatives due to which he had to move out of the village. He used to send half of his salary back home and manage with the other half. After a year he got a better job and brought his mother and 2 younger brothers with him. In the meanwhile, he married off his sister and took care of her deliveries as well. In spite of all these difficulties, he completed his post graduation and rose to the position of a Deputy Director in the Central Government.
After running constantly from a tender age of 12, all he wanted to do after retirement was to write songs, do bhajans and visit temples. He was the happiest when I got married. I saw the child in him when I delivered my son. The enthusiasm with which he used to play with his grandchild was unparalleled. But unfortunately, that was the phase when he started getting uwell quite often and had to be hospitalised a couple of times too. I still remember him waving me goodbye from the gate when he saw me off to Bahrain alongwith the baby. He was recuperating from another bout of illness and could not accompany me else he would have come with me all the way. It is so fresh in my memory because that was the last time I saw him alive.
After fighting his multiple organ disorders bravely, he succumbed to a heart attack five months later. This was my first brush with the loss of a loved one and what a loss it was!!! Everything that happened after it was a blur. Everyone thought I was being brave but I know I was not. This loss has been gnawing my heart ever since. Its been 3 years now but the pain is still fresh. I miss him terribly and I cry at times. I can still feel his hug when I am down. Everytie I speak to my mom over the phone its with great resistance that I dont ask whats dad upto.
At this point, I begin to sob and not wanting disturb my husband and my son. I came to the living room. I washed my face nad drank some water and just whenI was about go back to the bedroom, there was a white light. Curious, I went turned to see what it was. I got the shock of my life when I saw my dad sitting there in his trademark dhoti and shirt. “Appa”, I said , “is that really you?”. “Yes Ammu (thats how he calls me), I came to tell you something” he replied with a smile. Intrigued, I asked, ” what is it , pa?”. “Ammu “, he said in a tone which he usually took when he was trying to explain something to me whenever I have been stubborn, ” I know its been really difficult for you after I passed away. I can relate to the sense of loss you feel. I have been through the same too. But, Kondhai( meaning my child), you have to move on. I have lived my life to the fullest. I have fulfilled my responsibilities at the same time doing what I wanted to do. I was a good husband, good father and a good son. I did my work sincerely and honestly. I…” I cut him off there and said, ” But dad, you are not there to see Niranjan walk, talk and grow up. He will never know his grandfather. And what gives me pain is the amount sufferings you underwent.Whenevern I think of you lying in the hospital unable to speak I am reminded of the days when you used to give concerts in your bold voice. No dad, you went too soon and this is totally unfair on the part of God, or life or whatever that is”. Tears were streaming down my cheeks once again. “Kondhai,” he said, “we have no say in the grand plans of destiny. But the fact I have lived 62 years to the best of my ability. Celebrate my life, dear, stop mourning my death. Come out of your mourning and let go. Its when I will rest in peace.” I extended my hand to touch him but all I could see was my hand going through him. I called out to him, “Dad, dad…” but suddenly the room was dark again.
The shrill voice of the alarm woke me up. It took a moment for me to compose myself. I looked around to see my husband and my son still sleeping peacefully. I remembered speaking to my dad. Was it a dream or did it really happen. But whatever it was my heart was feeling lighter this morning. It was as if a huge burden was lifted off my shoulders. I was happy in the truest sense of the word after a long time. I looked up and said, “Happy Birthday, Appa. Rest in peace because I am going to celebrate your life today”.