“In Memory of Papa. 1929 – 2018”.
That’s what my Facebook update said a few months ago. That and a few pictures of papa is all I could conjure up at that time. This post has been in the making since then, and whereas I’m super quick at starting and completing my blogs, this one has just been so hard to write.
I really don’t know who I’m writing this for, or why, but I am. Perhaps I’m talking to Papa, perhaps I want my kids to know what he meant to me, perhaps I’m just dealing with my sorrow in this way. Whatever be the reason/s, I think it’s a good thing, to talk about an extraordinary human being.
As on the date of publishing this post, it has now been a few months since I got that ill fated call at around 11 am on January 1, 2018.
Post that day, through the few days off from work with family around in Bombay, there was sadness, but the magnitude of my loss, our loss, has begun to sink in with each passing day.
New Year Day commenced with a reeling mind, mixed feelings, a ton of sadness, and in general feelings and emotions that really can’t be described in words. On the one hand I was happy for Papa that he left, since he had really suffered these last six months or so, and on the other hand, I was steeped in grief.
I rationalized that for a man who was so active at a ripe old age, making that trek from our home in Bandra to our office downtown (most Saturdays included), not being able to move around was pure torture.
For years now, he had heart issues, coupled with a rare neurological condition, Myasthenia Gravis, and the only way to manage that was certain prescription steroids. These steroids were so strong that they caused acute discomfort, and an inability to swallow, accompanied with all its related complications. In the final stages the disease had spread affecting movement of other muscle groups, and caused severe restriction of movement. Despite the discomfort, despite the acute frustration, all he wanted to do is get back to his routine. Morning cuppa, papers, bathe, deep reflection through prayer, get ready (in no real hurry), go to work, back in the evening, bathe, prayer, dinner, TV with The Mother, sleep. Right until a few days before he passed.
Only those who have been through similar experiences personally or have observed loved ones go through such torture, can come close to fathoming what its like.
As far as I am concerned, his passing was no longer a matter of sympathizing or for that matter empathizing with someone else who has lost a dear one. This is as close to home as it can get. This is Papa. Papa was special. He wasn’t just papa, he was my friend. My friend is gone, and he’s not coming back, ever….
This seems to be the hardest part….it still feels, after all these months that he’s gone away for a bit, and he will be back. His photographs, all over the house now, are just so lifelike.
Apparently I’m not the only one who feels like this. Mama, Bhavna, Krishanu, Shruti, Keertana, Kartikeya, no exceptions.
Now I’m not one to dream a lot while sleeping, or rather I seldom do. But he’s been visiting me in my dreams fairly regularly, but then he would, he’s my friend.
Despite the fact that in my heart of hearts I had always known that this would come to pass, despite the fact that I was in constant wait for that call, saying that papa is no more, I wasn’t really ready to accept the inevitable. Papa and I have spent so much quality time together, as co-workers, as father and son, as friends, that this was difficult to deal with.
When I was in college, I would drive him to his office, then attend college, and in the afternoons would go and work at his office, learning the ropes of his business of metal fabrication, exports, imports and trading. Whatever, I learned at an early age, is experience and knowledge I have acquired by being around Papa, his business associates, his staff, his Chartered Accountant and a family friend and well-wisher Dushyant, his lawyer Mr. Purohit, who was not just a lawyer, but also an old time stock broker, a philosopher and a lawyer par excellence. I learned documentation pertaining to exports, imports, book keeping and the like, under the watchful tutelage of these associates and friends. That was but natural, I was supposed to inherit his business at some point. Some of his associates called me Prince. But for various reasons, beyond a point, I exited the family business and ventured out on my own.
But the lessons I learned working for Papa, all stood me in good stead throughout my career.
Nothing, believe me, nothing can prepare you for a loss of this magnitude. no amount of preparation, no amount of knowing….. nothing prepares you for this. The words, which I have said to so many others, “I’m so sorry for your loss”, mean nothing, as well intended and comforting as they are intended to sound.
You now begin to really understand things like, “from ashes to ashes, from dust to dust”. A living and breathing human being and at the end, we end up like this! This is stark. This is harsh. And then once you’ve immersed the ashes in water, even the ashes and bones are no more.
I am no stranger to death. I have seen a few, have even had a couple of close calls myself, have lit a few funereal pyres. My Nana, Naani, an ex-bosses wife, Bhavna’s mother…. Especially Bhavna’s mother, who literally passed in my arms.
There was emotion then, but this is a whole different level. This is when you realize that life is but temporary. Now you see him, now he’s gone. This is when you realize that this is going to be you, sooner, later, who knows?
I have read in scripture, the moment a person is born, he or she begins to die. This is when that naked truth hit home, no mincing of words there.
The sadness and pain just don’t go away. People say time heals everything, everything will be fine, but this one seems to buck the popular belief. As one of Shruti’s friends, Anvesha said to me a few weeks ago, “Bhai, people say the pain will ebb, but they say that just to console and comfort you”. She lost her dad several years ago, and says that it still feels the same. She’s so right. It’s been a few months, but this feels like its a permanent state on sadness, of emptiness, of helplessness. He’s gone.
As a person I don’t rattle easy, but when things were spiraling beyond a reasonable ability to deal with stuff, the only person who could give me respite or comfort me, during those weak seconds, was Papa. All I needed to hear was his saying, “Bete sab theek ho jayega, tu Bhagavan pe bharosa karta his na? Voh tereko sambhalenge”. Son, all will be well, don’t worry. You have such firm faith in God right? He will take care of you.
Of course, he would be deeply concerned, and I have caused him the deepest of concern through some of my decisions, my actions, my circumstances. I would see him sit in his armchair late into the night, not say a word, just reflect and chant on his chanting beads.
I’ve always believed and continue to believe that we learn something new each and every day. However, this is learning that causes permanent sorrow, permanent loss, and creates a chasm that cannot be filled. These are scars that don’t heal.
One morning several months ago, The Mother came to my room…maybe it was about 8.30 or 9 am. Shes worried, her face says it. Papa is unwell and asking to be taken to the hospital in an ambulance. Papa asking for an ambulance!!! Incredulous! Unheard of! For those who knew my dad, he was a tough old man, with rare strength, with rare….. well, everything. This sent shivers down my spine!
Waiting for an ambulance was just a pain, and so I took him by the hand, down to the car and we were in Asian Heart at BKC shortly thereafter. They had been prepped, and alerted to his impending arrival, and as per their exemplary service standards (and the fact that his old time friend and well-wisher Dushyant was associated with the hospital), he was rushed to Emergency. As The Mother and I waited outside, we feared the worst.
Then the test results start coming in, his heart function is less than 50%, down to 30 odd %. We are informed that he needs immediate surgery.
I wasn’t exactly pleased with this, simply because my gut told me that he was far too weak, far too old and as such I feared that he would not survive a surgery. Therefore, we didn’t rush into taking that decision, and it was the right thing to do, as validated by several well wishers including my Mami, who is as astute a Doctor as are around. Then there was Dr. Pandit, my friend Neha’s father, who by listening on the phone, to my descriptions of Papa’s condition, and the report results, was spot on in his diagnosis and his advice as well. Don’t operate.
En route to the hospital, my infallible (almost) gut, told me that he would not last too long, and despite my wanting to be the eternal optimist (like Papa), in the deepest recesses of my heart, I knew that it was merely a matter of time. I guess we all knew. Shruti Mama and me. Whereas my sister and I, we spoke about this quite openly on our video calls, its not something you can really discuss with you mother.
How can you tell your Mother, a woman who has had only one man throughout her life, sailed the most turbulent oceans with him, overcome every hurdle together, that it is merely a matter of time, that her one and only man, is soon to depart? A formidable couple. Not seen these days.
Still, I am the son, and it falls on me, and as things are, I’m pretty much the only person who can have these difficult conversations with The Mother. She loves me to bits, and therefore I usually get elected to break unpleasant news, or then, to calm her fiery temper, or smooth over some hurt that may have been caused to her. Even Papa would come to me from time to time, when he has tried his luck reasoning with her, and got his rear chewed out.
In jest and out of affection as well Bhavna calls her “The Higher Authority”. When we were younger Shruti and I called her “GOC Commanding”, or “General Officer in Chief – Commanding”. The Mother is not to be messed with, though I mess and get away with minor skirmish evidence.
And so, given that I have this special bond with Mama, I did broach this rather delicate subject …. indirectly, and from her reaction, I knew that she knew as well.
From that point on, he was in and out of hospital quite a few times, the last stint being the week of Dec 25, 2017, when he was adamant to be treated for his neurological condition at the hands of a Doctor who had advised him a course of injections through the week. You will run once you undergo the treatment, he said, and papa being Papa, was adamant and go himself admitted. He called me on Sunday, and we spoke about this. I’m going in my head, Papa don’t do it, but he had made up his mind, and there was no further debate.
He was discharged on Saturday, Dec 31, 2017 and chose to leave his body on New Year’s Day 2018.
Shruti, my baby (mother of two) sister is in the US. She cannot reach until 36-48 hours later, and so we agreed with her not to wait for the last rites, and chose instead to do this as soon as my eldest son Krishanu and I landed in Bombay later that night.
During the last couple of years, Papa who normally would never ask me, when I would be back, when leaving for a business trip, always would ask. It hurt like hell, because I knew that he wanted a son around since he was growing old.
I’d been trying to go home each weekend but new job, new challenges, new responsibilities, startup environment, I postponed. He actually asked me a couple of weeks before he passed, “tu kab aa raha hai”, when are you coming? I said, Papa, next week. That next week never came, and he was gone. He left waiting to see his son, his friend. This is the single biggest regret of my life, and I have a few! This one…..well…..
I reach home to a packed house, with several familiar and often seen faces, but some familiar faces, but seen seldom and usually on such occasions. If I didn’t really acknowledge those seldom seen faces, it was not out of disrespect, but due to my mind having switched on auto-pilot, just capable with dealing with the fact and nothing else.
I didn’t shed a single tear, I didn’t emote, and I’m pretty sure several thought that odd, or even drummed up some silly stories of Papa and me not being too close, and quite honestly, I don’t give a flying f@#k! Mi Padre and I were OK, and I really don’t need anybody’s opinion on that.
After sending off so many on their final journey, I am now doing the same for my own dad. I can’t quite describe what I felt, how I felt, or even the thoughts that ran through my mind.
We followed all reasonable tradition and rituals in sending him off, and I hope we did it right.
If it wasn’t textbook, it was heartfelt, especially considering that many had many opinions on the exact nature of rituals and ceremonies. I finally laid down the law, and followed the way he would have followed, leaving people to their own opinions when in disagreement.
Through all this, I was particularly reassured to have my kids around me, and I think this is the first time I have ever felt the need for that kind of moral support. Perhaps its what Papa had been feeling, and that is why he kept asking me how long I would be away for?
Papa has touched so many people, helped so many people, earned the trust and respect of so many people. Even people like Divya my friend, a sports therapist, who came home to attend to his movement disabilities, who knew him for the shortest possible time, even Jitu his day nurse, who knew him only through his illness….they all commented on just how much he touched them.
That was Papa’s nature, his persona. He exuded joy and happiness and love. Our smallest successes pleased him no end, and he was always in the mood to celebrate. Sweets, flowers, cake, dinner at the club. Govind!!! Would go The Mother, expressing her displeasure at splurging a tad too much. Keertana describes and imitates this best.
It is no wonder then, that when we had a prayer meeting in his honor, and in memory of Papa, so many old friends and business associates showed up.
I can’t help reflecting, introspecting, have I been a good son? Good perhaps not, but being there when he needed me most, a debatable yes. It is an equation that won’t balance, the LHS > RHS. Period.
In ending, all of you out there, who have old parents, treat each day as if it may be their last, and make the most of whatever time you are able to spend with them. If there is history, bad blood, let it go. its not worth it. Don’t end up like me, living in regret that however justifiable the reasons, I didn’t realize that Papa was saying, come see me, I’m not going to be here much longer.
I miss you Papa, I wish I was able to say all this to you, but you and I know that this is what it would take for me to say what I needed to say. There is much to talk about, there is much to reminisce. I hope that this reaches you, I just need you to know….