Yesterday I performed my Appa’s last rites. He was eighty seven years old.
I guess it will take time to get used to his absence. We are all creatures of habit- my feet still turn left towards his room. every time I enter the house- after all it is only four days since he passed away….!
My earliest memories of him are rather vague. Unfortunately there are not enough pictures of him with me. But I do remember him as a tall man with a stoop and a soft voice. I can almost see him in the back yard of “Chhaya” our old house seated on an armchair under the mango tree reading a book. I recall how I used to be fascinated by all those books in his room. Every time he was with a book I used to climb up on his lap and ask him to “tell the story”! Surprising, but he managed to tell me something about anything that he was reading. I guess that is where I draw my love for books from. He introduced me to the classics- Jane Austen, The Bronte Sisters, Mark Twain and so many more! People used to find it strange that I did not read the usual children’s version of these stories. I used to read the original – initially very laboriously but soon very fluently!
Amma was always in awe of him. She was afraid that I may be disturbing him while he was working. She used to try and take me away from him while he was reading or writing. But he always asked her to let me be! It was surprising but none of my two brothers seemed to share the same bond that I shared with him. He used to find their crying and antics very annoying. He also used to get annoyed when Amma wanted me to help her in looking after them.
As I started growing up, I found people around the house looking for opportunities to keep me away from him, his room and our conversations. You see, there was always work in the kitchen for a girl.
Going to an engineering college was his idea. I wanted to be an English Professor like him. But he recognized my potential around maths and ability to “fix things” around the house. I was very apprehensive when I joined the IIT. There were hardly any girls to be seen around. But it was Appa who encouraged me on- it was he who told me never to think of myself as a girl but as a person with capacities.
They – that is my mother and my paternal grandmother were completely hysterical when they found out about our IIT plans. “Nobody will marry her now” Prema paati wailed!! Amma was equally apprehensive. But she dared not voice it because of what had happened between her and her mother in law! She was facing the consequences of her own battles! However, Appa was firm and I remember him sitting on the front row with a smiling face when I received my degree.
I did not want to go abroad for studies but his faith in me gave me the courage to cross those seven seas.
When I decided to marry Javed all hell broke loose. My brothers made nasty allegations about him. They threatened to cut me out of our family property and severe all ties with me. But nothing could stop me. I went ahead and married him. There were just two others who were with us when we signed those papers- his cousin and of course Appa!
Somehow, I seemed to have lost touch with Appa after that. We were abroad for a while and even when we came back to India we did not hear from my family. I suppose my brothers were carrying out their threat of severing links with me. It therefore came as a shock to me to see Amma’s obituary in the newspaper!! I was not even informed about her death!
When I confronted my brothers about it I was told that I had “died in their eyes” and in their mind they had already “performed my last rites” ! It was probably the most hurtful thing that anyone had said to me. Just as I was storming out of the house, I happened to set my eyes on Appa! The sight of what he had become was enough to bring me back from “death”! He was shrunken and neglected and most importantly he seemed to be suffering from a severe case of dementia. Nobody objected when I decided then and there to take me home with him!
Javed, I must say was most supportive. After Javed’s death last year, I found caring for Appa difficult. Sana was married and living in Hong Kong.
It pained me to see the man that he had become. He was very disoriented, he could not continue his reading and he constantly asked repetitive questions. More importantly, he had a tendency to wander away from home without being able to find his way back. There were so many occasions when kindly neighbours had brought him back home.
He often behaved like a child, asking me when I was reading something to “tell me the story”. I am sorry to say, I did not have the patience to “tell him the story” the way he used to tell me so many years ago! But yes, there was a routine to our lives. I fed him his breakfast before I left for work. When I returned, he complained to me about Lakshmi, his caregiver who did not allow him to eat sweets or made him eat a bland diet. At night, he threw tantrums until I added some pickle to his curd rice. He wanted his daily dose of “chocolates” before bedtime and of course, I had to tell him his bedtime story before he drifted off to sleep.
When he had that cardiac arrest last week, I rushed him to the hospital. The doctors worked very hard to keep him alive. But his systems seem to be failing him one by one! He was pronounced “brain dead” and doctors advised removal of life supporting systems. I called my brothers but they refused to take my calls.
So here I was alone faced with the decision of ending his life! I remember those tubes going through him and his immobile form. He looked so small..!
I was not sure if I could legally or morally take the decision of ending his life. The doctors told me it was the most humane thing I could do. The dilemma was becoming too much for me to handle. The non response from my brothers to my messages was getting to be too much! But Appa being the man he was took that final decision by himself.
On that fateful Sunday afternoon, he suddenly opened his eyes, focussed on my face and murmured “Radhika” before he finally closed them forever. I did not feel the need to inform my brothers about his demise.
Though I feel lonely in my grief today, I cherish my memories of him. A man far ahead of his times, he had married a widow with a young daughter and loved her like his own.
I Radhika Javed do not carry his genes but I carry something that genes can never encode- his core values!