Nature has its ways of balancing things. It balances day with night, scarcity with abundance, joy with grief, success with failure, like with dislike, love with hate, and of course life with death. Like each of our lives, mine too has not been untouched by this law of nature. While in the first twenty-two years of my life, I was fortunate of not having witnessed a loss, in the twenty third year it was balanced by loosing one of the most precious person in my life.
That night will always be etched in my mind: I had returned from work at around midninght and had found everyone awake. This was something unusual since both my brother and sister were in school then and were almost always asleep by the time I returned, mother was an early sleeper too. The only person I sometimes found up was father. Tonight not only was everyone awake, but also the house was engulfed in an eerie silence: my father's radio which otherwise plays non-stop was silent, so was brother's TV and sister's banter. Something was not right.
I remember walking into my parents bedroom to find my mother in tears and my father sitting silently. This again was unusual, my mother is not known to be emotionally weak and I can count the number of times I have seen her weep. Mama was serious and was in the hospital, my father finally disclosed. We had to go to see him early next morning.
I could say nothing, there was nothing to say. I went to bed, waiting for the morning and thinking of him. He was, and perhaps still is, one of the most important person in my life. To say that I had not known life without him would not be an exaggeration. He had alwats been there: picking us up from the station, taking us out, treating us to all forbidden food every now and then, buying the most extravagant stuff and giving us lessons in life. He is perhaps the only person I have ever idolised and will always do, just that he was nice to a fault, but that was him -- Amitabh, a true reflection of his name in every way.
He had been unwell for two years now. Exactly two years before he had had an accident in Calcutta. On his way to work one morning he had fainted in the bus when some people had taken him to the nearest hospital and informed his office. By the time we had received the news, in Lucknow, he was already in the ICU. The next few days had passed in a jiffy: the family had rushed to Calcutta where underwent a heart surgery to get a pacemaker -- he apparently had a weak heart. But he was soon up and about although with many restrictions. Anyone else in his place would have been disturbed and depressed by the bondage, but the man that he was, he didn't even wince. Two years had passed and he was now in Noida, trying his best to get back to a normal life (failing miserably though). On the face of it he was all right, but in reality he was dying -- slowly yet steadily (something I discovered much later, or maybe I never wanted to see it before).
Having lived around him all my life, it was more of a ritual for me to see him every second week, I spent almost almost all my weekends hanging out at his place and almost always cooking for him. It was quite an irony actually: a man who loved food so much had a wife who could hardly cook, not only that, he now had a system that forbade him from eating anything that he liked. My presence therefore was usually an excuse for him to indulge but all he could manage were a few bites.
In the last few weeks though, I had not gone to see him. With a new set of friends, and with long hours at work my priorities had changed, and in any case I could have met him any day, what was the rush? He seemed to be in a rush however. The next morning when we reached Noida, we realised he was gone.
The easiest way to tackle a difficult situation is to dismiss it, as if it never happened and that is what I did that day, I pretended as if nothing had happened. Being the older and the responsible daughter of the family, I quickly took it upon myself to take care of everyone -- cousins, grandparents, parents, guests all needed to be looked after -- for me it was the easiest way to keep my mind away from the truth, although the sobbing, wailing and crying around me was making it hard to keep my mind off him. And then came the moment of truth.
He had been brought home and after the customary bathing was now ready to see the guests who had gathered to bid him farewell. All this while I had managed to stay away, on the top floor of the house, but now there was no escaping. I refused to go down, I could not see him dead, I had never seen anyone dead before, but I was emotionally blackmailed into coming down: how could I, his favourite neice, not see him, they said. I went down hoping and praying that this turns out to be a bad dream, or a joke. But it wasn't. He lay still on the cold floor, wrapped in my mother's yellow shawl, looking more radiant and alive in death than he had in the last two years of his life, his face as peaceful as always, his trademark half smile intact.
My favourite man was indeed dead.
My favourite man was indeed dead.
It has been twelve years since, but even today I expect him to call out to Nupur -- that is what he called me -- and order her to make sabudana cutlets for him, health be damned.