Chapter One: Birthdays
It’s Dad’s fifty-fifth birthday today. Everyone seems to have forgotten. Except Mom, who doesn’t seem to want to remember.
He left us quite abruptly, though on-lookers would disagree, exactly five months and seventeen days back after a five-year-long fight with cancer. We were unprepared, but then again, who is ever prepared to face death?
Everyone says we have handled it well, but I wonder what the criteria for that is. Yes, we are alive and yes we are living. But is that enough? My mother, sister and I, are a whirlpool of emptiness. That has to count for something.
Death wounds you in a way that everything else becomes secondary to its pain. Much like what chemo was to Dad. The sun rises and sets but the wound smarts the same, truly unaffected, like the reality of our very being. Much like what the reality of cancer was for Dad, and subsequently in our lives.
What’s funny is that not in my wildest dreams had I thought he would leave us, which is strange, given his condition. But, I guess, such is the arrogance of the human mind, believing it is invincible. And such is the innocent love of a daughter, who believes in her father’s immortality and her mother’s ability to endure everything. Yes, innocence and perhaps ignorance, is a wonderful thing.
Here comes Mom, morning cup of tea in hand, blissfully unaware of my thoughts. She sits on the chair next to mine and sips her hot tea and drapes her shawl on her knees. Both the cup and the shawl are Dad’s. “Have you had your tea?” she asks me while tilting to see my empty cup. She doesn’t wait for an answer. “Should I get you breakfast? Garam garam methi ki paranthi hai...with homemade white butter!” she adds, with her usual I-am-tempting-you-with-good-food look. She loves that look, like all mothers, I guess. “Nahi, Ma. Not yet,” I say, playing the role of the spoilt sport to the tee. “So, what’s your plan for the day? Any meetings?” I ask Mom as she scans through the headlines. “No...not today...” “When, Mom? You need to restart your work. What will you do all day? You really need to get back to work...” “I am not ready yet. Just let me be. Give me time. Don’t force me.” The same old argument. I soften my tone and say, “I don’t want to force you, Ma. I just want you to keep yourself occupied... I am sorry, okay? You take your time...We’ll go out for a movie today when I get back, alright?” To this she nods and I know this plan won’t materialize, it’s more to lighten the mood. “I am going to go get ready for office, then.”
And I exit the verandah, leaving Dad’s memories suspended in the air. A woman can only endure so much, I tell God as I cross the puja room on the way.