Continued from Part-2 of the four part Mini Reading Series (MRS)– “The Unrequited Love Story of a Father & a Son.”
Within the next few hours, our house began teeming with people. Some of them were our neighbours and the society residents. Others were relatives or friends. Some were confabulating and expressing grief to each other. Some just stood by trying to figure out how it all happened. Some were trying to console my Maa and grandmother. And, then there were some who were busy sipping the tea.
Amidst all of this hustle bustle, my Maa and I got lost. We wanted peace and to be left alone. We needed some time to understand what an appalling tragedy had broken upon us, and what it meant for our future. We needed some time to console each other and assimilate to the just changed and convoluted dynamics of our life.
But, we were devoid of that very basic and natural need. People kept flocking in one after another. Most of them had not been associated with us for prolonged periods extending to several years. They had already broken ties with us back when we were in a hapless and dire need of their help. And, to meet those masqueraded people and hug them was not helping me at that distraught hour in any way.
I was broken and deranged. I could not fathom much of what was going around me. After all, the course of my life had veered off towards an unknown and murky looking pathway. And, at such a time to have to deal with such unwanted people and feign love for them was not something that came naturally to me.
Then my head was shaved and I was instructed to touch the feet of everyone who would enter the house. I wished to be alone at that dire moment. I needed some space and time to calm down. Touching someone’s feet or getting my head shaved was not going to bring back my father. But, who would have cared to understand what was troubling the mind of this 19-year-old boy who had just been through the most horrendous shock of his life?
I was trapped and had no way out. That is what the law of the society assumed to be the right course. So, what could I do? Who could I complain to? My already distraught Maa who had been so virulently afflicted that her tears would just not stop debilitating her already miserable state!
So, I just played along. Just a few hours ago I had been bereaved of my hero, and here I was hugging and touching feet of the people who had left my hero mid-crisis long back.
All this time I had just one thought in my mind. When would I get to see him for the last time? Not him, but…. His body. Papa was to be brought from Kolkata to Faridabad via an air ambulance, I guess. I don’t exactly remember which airplane my uncles used to bring him back to us one last time.
It was then that my elders were discussing whether Papa should be brought home first, or be directly taken to the crematorium for his last rites. My Maa and I having not been involved in making this big decision enraged me. I immediately jumped in and ended the conversation with one simple point-
“Papa built every bit of this house as a baby of his own. And, he will not go anywhere else without coming back here. Maa and I also deserve to get one last sight of him. So, he will go anywhere else only after he comes to his dream home.” So, given my state, even the elders didn’t try to argue. And, finally hours later, the ambulance reached out society.
I have no clear memory of how we brought him up to our apartment. But, as soon as the wooden casket was opened and I saw his unmoving face, I understood something. A part of me died that day. It was my fear that died with that sight. I could never be more afraid than at that moment to see my indomitable hero lying unmoving and pallid. That was the last time when I was afraid of anything at all.
Then a few rituals were performed. Maa, I and everyone else paid our last respects. Other ladies of the house then took Maa and my grandmother back into the room. I then went in and told Maa, “I am going to the crematorium now. Love you. Please have something to eat as you haven’t eaten a thing since morning. Please take care.”
She didn’t say a word. She simply could not. Her love of life was being taken away to be burnt and never to return. What better behaviour could have been expected from her at such a time? Poor soul was put through the worst of her nightmares. So, I then requested one of my aunts to ensure that Maa eats or drinks something. Then, I left.
I was seated into the ambulance right next to the body with one of my cousins and an uncle. During the entire course to Nigambodh Ghat (Crematorium in New Delhi), I kept staring at his pale face trying to reminisce every joyous moment I had lived with him.
I cried without a pause looking incessantly at my man. At times I even chuckled reliving those cherished moments when the salty water from my eyes seeped into my mouth. And, this way I tried to live my last moments in my hero’s presence. And, then we finally reached the destination, the crematorium and we all got out.
A number of rites were then performed over Papa. He was put on a bed made of bamboo sticks and was bathed with water from the Yamuna river. I poured over him honey, ghee, oil and several other elixirs as instructed and provided by the elderly. I placed rose and marigold flowers over him. I then opened his mouth with my shaking fingers and placed some sweets in it.
And, then the workers came in with a pile of wood. I along with everyone else present there placed the wood over him. I wasn’t having a positive feeling about this. I was being made to light up my own father’s body. How could this do any good to my father’s soul? How would I live with the compunction of lighting up my own father’s body?
This and hundreds of other questions and doubts were cluttering my mind as my hands kept doing whatever my elders instructed. I was absolutely incapacitated. I today wish that I could somehow raise my voice and tell others that I cannot do this and I won’t let anyone else do it either.
I wish I could have just buried him in the ground with a tombstone over it where I could at least visit him once in a while. I wish I could change a lot of things that were happening right there and then. But, my voice was already dead and I could hardly even move my lips. And, thus while I was fighting myself in my head, my hands put the pyre on fire.
Within seconds the fire spread all over him and I stood right there crying over the grave folly I had committed. There was no coming back from it. I could not put off the fire anymore. I could not do anything but curse myself for the entire life left with me. This mistake I had committed by succumbing to the commands of my elders and the norms of the society was going to afflict me all through my last breath.
I stood right there staring. The temperature of the crematorium floor kept rising very fast. So, everyone drew themselves back to the seats along the wall far from the pyre. Most of the people went back to chatter and express grief over what an appalling tragedy had broken over the family. Meanwhile, my feet began to burn while I was lost and crying my eyes out.
I moved my lips staring at the burning pyre and said to Papa, “Papa my feet are burning right now. Won’t you come and pour some water over them or move me like you used to do when I was a kid and got burns trying to make chapattis? Please.” But, this time nothing happened. He didn’t come running to save me from the burn. He didn’t move.
And, it was that moment when realized-
“From now on, Maa and I will have to stand up for each other. The shield that used to protect us from everything bad and evil won’t be around from now. We will have to learn to be that indomitable shield that Papa was for us.”
That day I made the greatest mistake of my life. I executed the instructions from the elderly people in the entourage who I had not met in years or didn’t value much. Consequently, I lost my greatest gem into ashes, bones and smoke.
And, with that searing flame, I also burnt my past. The past which had been marred by mistakes, blunders, lies and my intransigence was now to die as it was time for me to own up. Time fleeted away as I stood right there with streams of tears running down my face and big decisions about my life being made in the head.
Every second I wished to hear him speak to me one last time, but that was not to happen. I wanted to tell him sorry for all the wrongs that I had committed till his last breath. I wanted to apologize for all the pains that were accrued to him by me, all the disappointments he had to meet with and the few instances when I had derided his faith in me.
But none of that was to happen ever again.
Updated on 18th Feb 2017: Part 4/4 of MRS released! : He Defied Death & Came Back To His Son!