Editor’s Note: Often times, when I decide to spotlight a fellow blogger, it’s easy to select a piece to feature. In Sailaja’s case, the choice proved to be more of a challenge. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read of her work, with considerable admiration for the rich fabric of imagery she weaves, but I wanted to find the right story to set the new reader adrift in Sailaja’s sea. I hope I have found that entry in the following selection, a beautiful and honest reflection on the life of her father…
There are no stereotypes, but those of our making.
No relationships, but those that thrive by our definition.
Many things accepted as right, the way they should be.
My world, not etched in convention, is made brighter despite it all.
Roles had never been defined, are still not defined, and in all probability, shall never be defined.
My father was human, with all the follies and foibles of humanity.
All around me, perfect fathers taught their children how to live;
while I learned how not to, from his imperfections.
Don’t get me wrong, I know he tried.
He was there, holding my hand while I was taking baby steps.
He helped me quench my thirst for knowledge.
Put me in the best of schools and colleges.
Got me books, even on a meagre income.
Laughed with me, cried with me, and sang songs to me.
Was generous to a fault.
The world got to him.
Hook, line and sinker.
He was susceptible to people.
Their opinion mattered.
People were his strength and his terrible weakness.
He was eager to please, the world mattered. The more the world used him, the more he tried to appease it. He gave away time and money recklessly. Those who were in dire straits knew whom to approach.
We, at home, were left with nothing.
Adulation from the world doesn’t last long. People have incredibly short memories and my father succumbed.
To betrayal, and the injustice of it all.
A broken man, he lacked the strength to rebuild his life.
He gave up.
He wallowed in misery.
We had no choice. We were there for him. But, we were not enough.
He wanted the world.
Capricious world! It was not meant to be.
Sinking into the depths of depravity, he taught me how not to be.
Not to let things matter too much.
To allow myself no illusions.
To be grounded in reality.
He would quote from Bunyan- ‘He that is down need fear no fall; he that is low, no pride;’
I was a good student. I learned quickly and never forgot.
Somewhere along my journey, in college, I read Kipling’s ‘If’.
Every word resonated within.
It was me.
It could completely be me.
I made a conscious choice.
I would be happy, no matter what.
When things threatened to overwhelm, I pushed them back.
What I could deal with, I took care of,
What I couldn’t I stopped thinking about.
I laughed a little more,
Reached out a lot more,
Pushed more than was possible
And when clouds loomed large,
I shut my eyes and waited for the storm to pass.
I learned to accept what was inevitable.
I changed what I could and left the rest to God.
Even from the depths of his hell,
He managed a few coherent words,
That stay with me even now.
‘It is better to go through terrible things than have terrible things said about you.’ He mumbled.
I shook my head, didn’t have the heart to tell him, ‘Things will be said, terrible or otherwise.’
Towards the end, he seemed to forget everything.
A glimmer of recognition flickered in his eyes when he looked at me and my daughter.
He smiled, a toothless grin of regret, I thought.
Tired, he closed his eyes.
My mother whispered, ‘The end is near.’
I could not stay there and wait for it to happen. Did not want to linger when the soul was about to embark on its journey.
I walked. The sunshine beat on my head. Everything looked greener than before.
It was over by the time I returned.
He had always said, ‘Bitiya, you have to light my funeral pyre.’ I declared, ‘Baba, I promise.’
The last journey was quiet.
He lay there, as if he were sleeping.
A smile on his lips, his palm still warm.
The trolley grated into the incinerator.
The iron doors thudded shut.
I held the lever
It was the end.
Of a dream unfulfilled.
I never stopped searching for my father.
I see him now, in my daughter, as she drives her car, completely in control.
The same smooth manoeuvring, effortless shifting of gears,
The same assured self-confidence-
Before he gave up.
I see him in myself-
My love of books, reading, travelling and writing
Mirrors his tastes till a point,
when just this wasn’t enough to satisfy his soul.
I see him in the stray dog that occasionally visits us for biscuits and milk,
Lays there patiently, expecting milk first and then biscuits,
Fastidious, never changing the order, never condescending to feast,
Till the door is shut.
I feel him in Kabir’s dohas, that he loved to quote,
Hear his voice in the ghazals that sing of unrequited love.
I see him in any thin, gaunt, emaciated person,
With a shock of silver grey hair, and skin- the colour of bitter burnt caramel.
My heart leaps at the sight of a beggar by the temple-
Hungry for love.
He bears an uncanny resemblance to a saint who sits pensive by the ever-burning fire,
Whose portrait by the threshold of my home wards off all danger-
I worship him.
My father deserves an epitaph that he always quoted from R.L. Stevenson-
“Here he lies where he longed to be, Home is the sailor, home from sea, And the hunter home from the hill.”
My Father…In heaven?
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