Sometimes, the stars, the breeze, the night and the silence are your best companions. When everyone else goes away, they stick to you, listening to the beats of your heart. They have been my best companions since childhood.
Tonight was slightly different. I had come to India after a long time. 17 years. My mother has not been keeping well. She is 62. My younger brother, Ajay and his wife have been taking care of her. My husband and I decided to have a long vacation at my home. And so here I was at my home , alone at my terrace wishing that my dad was here.
I remember what my mother said when she told me of her marriage story. ‘Aparna, as a girl, you always judge a man by comparing him to your father. Sanjay was a nice man. My father always gave me the best in life. So when he said that Sanjay would make a great life partner to you, I truly believed him.’ I remember that time quite vividly. Dad and I were playing chess. I wanted to know how they got married. Mom was folding the clothes. Ajay was playing with his toy soldiers and cars. But, when my mom told me those words, the world around us turned silent. We smiled.
I was my dad’s pride. Back in the 70s, Indian society frowned upon girls. More than they do today. But, that was not the case with my father. I was his pride. I loved him more than my mother. He loved star gazing. Every Saturday evening, my paternal relatives gathered at our house. This is something missing these days. Family Time. I used to play hide and seek with the younger cousins. The elder ones played cards or carrom board. After the evening fun time, we had dinner jointly prepared by my mother and my aunts. The dinner was always followed by Antakshari (an Indian singing game) where we sang our favourite songs. When all that was over, my dad used to take me to the terrace. He made time for me. It was our time. We gazed at the stars. We spoke about school. We spoke about neighbours. We spoke about life.
I remember one particular Saturday night when I had won a 100-metre dash at school. Girls were never meant for athletics was the Indian mindset back then. But my dad saw it differently. I was good at academics and got the top ranks always. But to him, the 100-metre race medal was his treasure. He hugged and kissed me on my forehead that day saying, ‘You know, I am so happy because of you today.’ He showed that medal to every neighbour, every colleague in office and every relative of his. I was just 14. This was just a race at school. Nothing big in my opinion. But my father said, ‘people say athletics are not meant for girls. No. I want my Apu to shine in every field. You must show the society that ladies are courageous and they are competitive.’
Sundays were a little fun too. It was the day meant for housework. My dad had bought a Maruti 800 then. It was 1988. Not many had cars those days. Therefore, we were suddenly the reason behind every neighbour’s envy. My father used to wake up before sunrise to make coffee for mom and milk for us. Mom used to wake up at dad’s time. Dad would have a bath and cook food. Mom would clean the car. I don’t think I loved dad’s cooking much but I loved the way my parents loved each other. Ours was a small, happy and humble family.
Then, tragedy struck. My dad received a call that one of the workers in the team he supervised, had been grievously injured in a fatal accident and needed B negative blood. My dad being B negative, rushed away in his car and I never saw him again.
Newspapers reported the next day as to how my father lost his life when he crashed his car into a speeding truck that was trying to overtake another on a blind curve. My mother did not want us to see his body. I never saw her smile again or as she used to. She loved him as much as he loved her. My younger brother was around seven or eight. An age when you are too little to even begin to make sense of what life was all about. Added to that was the fact that as per Hindu rituals, a son was to do the funeral rites. He could not take it.
His absence was evident in our house but not our memories. There, he was very much present. My mother began writing diaries. Every day, she would end in her private journal with a letter that began ‘Dearest Sanjay’. My mother ensured that he was very much a part of our lives. It was like, my dad was working abroad and it would be long before we got to see him.
Suddenly, as I was thinking of this, I got reminded of the movie, Interstellar. The scene where Murph tells from Earth in a video to her dad in space, ‘ Today is my birthday. And it’s a special one because you once told me that when you came back, we might be the same age. Well, now I’m the same age that you were when you left… and it’d be really great if you came back soon.’ I looked at my phone. It was December 27th, 2014. My 40th birthday. The age when my dad died in a tragic car accident. Tears began flowing. I wanted to hug him and say, ‘I love you, Paa’. But he was nowhere around.
Suddenly, I felt hungry too. I went to my fridge, took out the malai kofta and heated it. It was my dad’s favourite dish which he had with roti. I came to the terrace with 10 Rotis, Malai Kofta and 2 plates. I placed 5 in each. Served more malai kofta on the plate I was not going to have. I could feel his presence strongly. I could smell the perfume he always used. I began telling stories of my life since his passing away. As I finished my plate, I felt good. I felt he had been listening to me all the while. Then, I looked at the stars and closed my eyes. I took my index finger, started connecting the stars to make my dad’s face. When I finally made his face and looked down, I noticed that the other plate was empty. There were no rats around. My family was deeply asleep. It was eaten just the way my dad used to. There was still some gravy left.
Now, I don’t believe in ghosts. But I love my dad and I believe him. To the world, may be, he was nowhere to be seen. But to me, he was now here to be felt.
I took my iPod to listen to some music. It was on shuffle mode. A song had ended and my dad’s favourite singer, Karen Carpenter began that lovely song , ‘It is a new day for those good old dreams..‘. I am sure it was.
*Malai Kofta is a popular North Indian dish consisting of paneer balls afloat a creamy gravy served hot, accompanied by Roti (Indian Bread)