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Another distant horizon

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It was with a sense of foreboding that I reached for my phone that Sunday morning. I had spoken with him the day before and although he did not say, I could sense he was tired.

“See you in a few weeks,” he said as he signed off, “and I’m especially looking forward to seeing the boys.”

It was not to be. Twelve hours later, a missed call from my brother Kedar and the message:

“Dad passed away about an hour or so ago…”

The rest of the day passed in a blur of travel arrangements and Things that Had to Be Done Before Leaving. My dear wife eased my way through the day.

I flew out that evening.

–x–

A difficult journey home. I’m on a plane, surrounded by strangers. I wonder how many of them are making the journey for similar reasons.

I turn to the inflight entertainment. It does not help. Switching to classical music, I drift in and out of a restless sleep.

About an hour later, I awaken to the sombre tones of Mozart’s Requiem, I cover my head with the blanket and shed a tear silently in the dark.

–x–

Monday morning, Mumbai airport, the waiting taxi and the long final leg home.

Six hours later, in the early evening I arrive to see Kedar, waiting for me on the steps, just as Dad used to.

I hug my Mum, pale but composed. She smiles and enquires about my journey.  “I’m so happy to see you,” she says.

She has never worn white, and does not intend to start now. “Pass me something colourful,” she requests the night nurse, “I want to celebrate his life, not mourn his passing.”

–x–

The week in Vinchurni is a blur of visitors, many of whom have travelled from afar. I’m immensely grateful for the stories they share about my father, deeply touched that many of them consider him a father too.

Mum ensures she meets everyone, putting them at ease when the words don’t come easily. It is so hard to find the words to mourn another’s loss. She guides them – and herself – through the rituals of condolence with a grace that seem effortless. I know it is not.

–x–

Some days later, I sit in his study and the memories start to flow…

A Skype call on my 50th Birthday.

“Many Happy Returns,” he booms, “…and remember, life begins at 50.”

He knew that from his own experience: as noted in this tribute written on his 90th birthday, his best work was done after he retired from the Navy at the ripe young age of 54.

A conversation in Vinchurni, may be twenty years ago. We are talking about politics, the state of India and the world in general. Dad sums up the issue brilliantly:

“The problem,” he says, “is that we celebrate the mediocre. We live in an age of mediocrity.”

Years earlier, I’m faced with a difficult choice. I’m leaning one way, Dad recommends the other.

At one point in the conversation he says, “Son, it’s your choice but I think you are situating your appreciation instead of appreciating the situation.”

He had the uncanny knack of finding the words to get others to reconsider their ill-considered choices.

Five-year-old me on a long walk with Dad and Kedar. We are at a lake in the Nilgiri Hills, where I spent much of my childhood. We collect wood and brew tea on an improvised three-stone fire. Dad’s beard is singed brown as he blows on the kindling. Kedar and I think it’s hilarious and can’t stop laughing.  He laughs with us.

–x–

 “I have many irons in the fire,” he used to say, “and they all tend to heat up at the same time.”

It made for a hectic, fast-paced life in which he achieved a lot by attempting so much more.

This photograph sums up how I will always remember him, striding purposefully towards another distant horizon.

 

Written by K

January 14, 2019 at 8:05 pm

Posted in Personal

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