Your footprints on our souls
I woke up this morning to the feel of your warm, big hands in mine as you sat next to me and ran your hand on my head and smiled , that great , warm, loving smile of yours that instantly touched the soul.
“All will be well, my child,” you said and I felt like I was back home with you in that quaint house by the tracks where you spent Sundays in your beloved rose garden, singing your favourite Mukesh numbers , your well oiled muscles glistening in the early morning sun, as we hung around you- your four children- as excited as bees to have you at home.
I thought you would always be around, beloved father, as you were when I scraped my knees once, falling off the guava tree that stood in the middle of our walled courtyard . You picked me up and washed the wound with a kindness that has stayed with me through the decades since then. The sting of the dettol has long since gone away but what remains is your tender touch.
I discovered the world through you, achcha, even though you were not always around. The books that you brought home proudly opened my mind and heart to the world outside. Through your books I let my imagination take me to the inner circle of Russia’s aristocracy and into the skin of the gorgeous Anna Karenina. When I read The Dram Shop, it was as if I was transported into the impoverished working class area where Gervaise Macquart set up her home in Paris, fending for her children after being abandoned by her lover. The summer you got home Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, I lived with Tom and Huck in their town and was part of every adventure they had. I can never thank you enough, Achcha, for the copy of To Kill A Mockingbird , that every child in our family has read since then. You taught us to be humane and kind at all times and when we miss your presence, we reach out to that book because Atticus Finch reminds us of you. Your youngest granddaughter is the latest fan of that book and has taken possession of the cherished, yellowing copy of the book.
You books also taught us to laugh at life and at ourselves, achcha. I remember the hour-long train commute to and from college, back when I was a 17-year-old. I would read through one of your favourite P.G.Wodehouse books and laugh aloud at the idiosyncrasies of Lord Emsworth, Jeeves, Bertie Wooster, Psmith and Lady Constance and realised that the other occupants of the compartment possibly thought I was a lunatic to laugh all by myself.
I am not sure you ever knew, but I also read the other books that you had- dozens of James Hadley Chas , with stories of alcohol and cigarette –loving detectives, gun toting criminals and well-stacked blonde bombshells. The moment you and amma went out on one of your rare outings on a Sunday, I would sneak one of your books out and read it like my life depended on it. Your elder daughter, the one you thought was your sincere, rule-abiding child, was my accomplice in this mission.
Achcha, I don’t know if I ever told you but you were my hero and no man I ever met in all these years has ever measured up to the person you were. I tell your grandchildren sometimes about how my brother and I would beg to be put on your biceps, in place of the weights that you would lift and how delighted we would be when you obliged , lifting us up a couple of times. The little girl I used to be thought you were the strongest man in the whole world and till you passed away, exactly 365 days ago, you were still the strongest man in the world, in my eyes.
You travelled light in this world achcha, with nothing to show for your 83 years, in terms of a bank balance or material possessions. Our heart aches even today when we think of the day we had to break open your favourite briefcase and found your most precious possessions- a picture of my daughter, your first grandchild who you raised as your very own, a few old-world pens and a picture from your visit to Russia. That and a picture of you and amma, faded with age but tucked away in a little pocketbook you treasured.
Dear achcha, you must know that you left behind a rich legacy for us, a huge responsibility to follow in your footsteps and to do our best to help our fellow human beings. And each day, we strive to be the people you wanted us to be and make sure that we live with our conscience clear and our head held high in pride and dignity.
There is not a day when something does not remind us of you- the sight of a tray piled high with motichoor laddoos at Chitale, a nursery with myriad colours of roses, a song playing night late on bela ke phool or simply, the sight of amma, solitary and silent, the light in her eyes gone from the time you went away.
And yet, we feel your kind presence every day. Your eldest grand- daughter has become the entrepreneur that you always wanted her to be and makes delightful cakes and pastries that you would have admired endlessly. You will rejoice to know that your eldest grandson means to use his great education to teach children from underprivileged communities. And as for your youngest grandchildren- both the grandson and the granddaughter have taken to your favourite game- football- and are key members of their respective teams. I know you will be cheering them from the sidelines every time get on the football ground.
Be well, achcha, in the other world to which you have passed. We know you will be watching over us as we traverse this world.
Your footprints on our souls