Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Daddy's little girl

Everyone has always told me I resemble my father and my sister is a “photocopy” of my mother. This has always been a put-off. I resemble a man, how is that a compliment? But the aunties would reply, “But your father’s a good looking man”, as if that makes it better!

So, ever since I was born, I have been this hairy little girl with apparently a manly face, with my father’s stubby fingers, and his thin lips, fortunately minus the moustache. Supposedly, a physical reflection of my dad, my sister is the one who has really taken after him. When my dad’s not around, she is truly the man of the house.

My external beauty is a birthday gift from dad, but my inner beauty comes from mom all the way.

I have loved my dad for as long as I can remember. I loved him, for all daughters love their fathers. There wasn’t much of an argument about it really, we love each other because that’s how the Gods intended it to be. He looked like the legendary actor Dharmendra when he was younger, but I am pretty sure I would have loved him had he looked like the legendary villain Pran. He could look like Sunil Shetty for all I care! He’s my dad and I love him. Period.

We have some wonderful memories together, we are family, you know, and families always make for wonderful memories. I have lived for twenty one years now and I have seen many faces of my father. In his one life, I often feel my dad has lived many. He’s the cat with nine lives.

In retrospect, I wouldn’t expect anything less eventful from him. He has always been the adventurous kind, never doing things the traditional way. I get that from him I guess. He is quite the traveller, a gypsy of sorts. And so his life has been one journey after another. He has conquered many mountains only to find himself tumbling down and then climbing up again. I have rarely seen him fear the unpredictable terrain life has to offer. Every day is a winding road and the destination is rarely insight, but his book of life surely reads character.

He has never been a traditional father. I don’t remember him telling us to study ever, in fact he would try his best to deter us from anything academic. They definitely had my dad in mind when they coined the phrase ‘daddy cool’ because he is, he is as cool as they get.

In August 2005, he was diagnosed with cancer. What followed was an endless series of hospital visits. He went into surgery on August 5 and came out with one lung less. I was in school the day of the surgery and I remember the day well, because I was singing a solo for the first time on stage. I don’t think I was very nervous about the song or the result, what I feared was what would follow.

My dad was fine after surgery, weak, yes, but he was a big man, and one operation wasn’t enough to take him down. The hospital was flooded with familiar faces that day. All well-wishers, taking responsibility for papers, finances and what not. It didn’t make much sense to me, to be very honest.

He’s a born entertainer, my dad. He might have lost a lung, but his will to amuse was very much there, and so was an audience of sympathizers. Every detail of the surgery was narrated to the listeners sat wrapt. They laughed when he did and wept when he told them to. The man was meant to be an actor...and just when you thought it was over, there would be an encore.

Few weeks after surgery dad was taken for his first chemotherapy. That was the real test. Within weeks he shed 30 kgs. The strongest man in the world for me, was now barely a skeleton. Chemo had hit him bad. He wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t sleep at night and the side effects of chemo had taken a real toll on him. What was to be a cycle of six sessions, was stopped at four, for his body just couldn’t take it. Dad had always been a big man and seeing him like this was as good as seeing someone else.

Fewer visitors would now come to see him. Reasons varied, some, I figured, couldn’t bear to see him like that, others came to be entertained and got nothing, so stopped coming and still others got busy with their own lives. But this had become our life. This had become my father’s life. A perpetual struggle for survival. A constant battle with pain. While we watched him suffer, writhing in agony, begging god for mercy.

Certain days were particularly painful to witness. Chemo combined with his migraines used to take a heavy toll on him. It appeared to be a kind of a ‘cruciatis’ curse, from Harry Potter. He spent nights on end making a plea bargain with god, while all we could do was pray.

But he bounced back soon enough. In 2007, dad was cancer free and working, the only year that has happened since the disease was diagnosed. With one lung less and a head sans hair, he devoured the streets of Chandni Chowk for my sister’s wedding preparations and got her married in 2009. I kid you not, my father was the most handsome man at the wedding. The wedding was one that will be remembered for years to come and he made sure all my sister’s wishes were granted. With that, he successfully inaugurated a new chapter in the book of the Puri’s.

Tragedy struck again. Soon after the wedding dad’s cancer returned, this time in his spine. The dreaded chemo began again, but the rockstar that he is, dad sailed through the sessions. Between 2005 and 2010, he has undergone a total of 36 chemotherapy sessions. Mention that to him, and he’d probably joke about it.

Dad is five feet-eight-inches tall, has one lung and so an uneven shoulder alignment, barely any hair on his head, but a healthy moustache. He smiles every time he sees me and his eyes sparkle every time he sees butterscotch ice cream. He is now fighting brain cancer. He is in a daze often and is unable to walk at the moment. Something in him never lets him give up and every time he sees me, I know what it is. My heart sings with joy on days when he sends me a flying kiss and sinks when he doesn’t remember my name. He fights with us because we feed him. He fights this disease because we love him. I could just say my dad’s a fighter, but that won’t be enough.

He is a father.

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