Saturday, January 16, 2010

Dear Dad

I’m sure you remember that it’s mom’s birthday today! I know you do. You have never yelled “Happy Birthday!” on any 16th January, but since childhood I have noted that a gift would invariably be there on your hand when you came home from work on the 15th. For as long as I can remember it would be a cardigan because she loved collecting them, discarding many before winter visited us again. You never questioned their utility, like you never questioned any other aspect which received her stamp of approval. I noticed how you would pass on the TV remote to her even as you were on the edge of your seat, watching an intense cricket match. I didn’t forget how you would eat anything that was put on your table, knowing that she is not a good cook. How you could do it unfailingly over the ages, I don’t know. But I learnt lessons by observing these little gestures which kept petty quarrels at bay.

Quarrels! That’s something that you never picked with anyone. Neighbors, relatives, strangers, all of them either agreed to you or you agreed to them. I have to be honest here that sometimes it got on our nerves. Mom and I used to talk ill about you. We used to laugh at you. We used to mock you for being such a yes-man. But we also held a grudging respect for you because people seemed to love you for being what you are. There were so many mornings when I woke up to find neighbors thronging our house, asking you for help and advice. I was more strongly aware of this when the entire neighborhood was at our door the day you died. I couldn’t look at anyone in the eye. I shrunk away in my cocoon lest they expect I’ll be what you were to them.

You were gone before I could be there. I curse myself every day for being so tired as to oversleep that fateful morning. I don’t presume that you would have said a lot of things before you bid farewell to me. You were never a man of words. My guess is that you would have asked me to take care of mom. So that is my priority now. I’m trying to do what I can to make sure that she doesn’t feel lonely. But I seem to be fighting a losing battle. I don’t know what to do when she smiles to hide her pain only to make me feel that she recognizes my effort. I don’t know what to do when I see her arrange those pens you loved a thousand times, tidy up the room you lived in every other day and move your clothes from one pile to another, not knowing where their final resting place will be- somewhere out of her sight but someplace close to the heart.

Both of us are looking for that balance in our lives after your exit. There are so many things we hide from each other because we don’t want to hurt one another. But we are so dreadfully aware that there is a pall of gloom that won’t be dispelled. We have both failed you somewhere down the line. We have wronged, misunderstood and accused you. We take consolation in the fact that you are not someone who would hold a grudge. And that makes us feel even more concerned that you had to leave this way, away from us, in a desolate, solitary hospital bed, isolated and bereft of what you radiated with effortless ease- love and warmth. You never allowed me to touch your feet, let alone apologize. It was as if you are embarrassed yourself that someone is apologizing to you. So asking for your forgiveness now is not the proper way to express my gratefulness for everything that you have done for me and everything that I could and can do for myself because I had you. I can make that have, can’t I?

I know you love tinkering with the internet! I’m sure you will find a way to read this. I couldn’t bring myself to write this earlier, and now that I have decided to put it down, I can’t bring myself to stop. You see, I had a lot of things to say as well…

Saturday, January 9, 2010


It’s not without a lot of hesitation that I have decided to write this down. By the end of this post you may find yourself cringe, you may feel guilty; you may also find your sensitive side violated. This is the expression of what I have observed over the years on public transports, bus terminals, government offices, and even in educational institutions like schools and colleges. There is a thick fog of apathy hanging determinedly across all these places, enveloping them in a maze of indifference, the walls of which would not thaw or dissolve.

Let me relate an experience that I go through sometimes on my way to work. There is a girl, about twelve years old, who gets on the same bus as me, with her father. She’s dressed in school uniform, wears spectacles, and has a white gauge of bandage firmly taped over her left eye. It’s obvious that she has sustained some sort of injury. The bus is generally crowded then, being peak office hours. I have noted with horror that no one offers this little girl a seat. She sways to the rash driving of the bus, latching on to the edge of the seat to prevent herself from falling over.

The bus is so packed with people at this time that she or her father can’t move beyond a particular point. I generally sit on the last seats. I tried to call her over and offer my seat, but she couldn’t even begin to reach me. Too much of jostling was something that she couldn’t afford with an eye in bandage. And I could sense the others seated near her, shifting uneasily in their cozy seats. They were feeling unsettled that someone far away from her could offer a seat while they couldn’t bring themselves to do that. Some looked out of the window fixedly, pretending they had no clue what was going on.

But I got my reward. The girl smiled sadly at me, as if to thank me for at least trying to help her.

What is it with us? What stops us from carrying out random acts of kindness? The other day when I was having tea at a tea-stall with a colleague, a beggar came with her child. She wanted to buy a cake which cost Rs. 3.50. She had only Rs. 3. The shopkeeper refused to sell it. I took out the cake and gave it to her. The other people at the shop stared at me as if I gave away my purse or cell phone to her. My colleague commented that they earn more than us! I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.