Death Of A Dad!

“You look occupied”. He had said. And then added, “You must take time off from work. Spend time with all of us.  Read. Drop your computer and office. Write your book..” and almost as an afterthought added, “don’t keep peering into your phone so much”.

I laughed. For all his illness, he had the knack to pack a punch into every feeble statement that escaped the stiffness of his lips. I looked up from my phone that I was peering into and smiled. 

I was in a playful mood too. “For how many days should I follow that routine”, I asked. “Seven”. He said. “One week”.  The “At least” that he said after the ‘one week’ didn’t quite translate into sound. But by then I was used to getting by with the occasional capability to read his lips when the movement of his lips didn’t translate to sound.  

I smiled. Put the phone aside.  His message had reached my head. That was on Christmas day, 2013.  

Monday last.  I am making a few notes and planning the week ahead. The mobile rings piercing the stillness and breaking the silence of the early hours. The clock silently speaks as the eye darts to catch it says: 4.31 AM. It is my brother on the line.  A sundry thought assortment race up and down as the simple ringtone sounds shrill and tears into the morning. Perhaps, an accidental touch of the redial button or the nephew’s playing some game. I think.    

I pick the up the call to what seem like muffled sobs.  And then the sobs erupt in victory, beating the vain attempts to muffle them.  He says in-between the quiet sobs, “Appa is gone”.  My dad was no more.
Tears. Almost like a cloud burst triggered flash-flood, flow down my cheek. A sudden cold envelops my body. In less than ten seconds I shoot a set of rapid fire questions. “what are you saying?” “How is amma?” “How do you know” and such else.  

He composes himself and explains. In a short time, we quickly regain composure to discuss, as two pragmatic adult men would, the practicalities of getting to Madurai as soon as possible. Before hanging up, he says, “You take care. And you don’t get worked up.”

Since that moment, life has been a fast whorl.  Dad was central to our lives. If there was one person who I could look up with awe, regard and love, he was gone. If there was a purpose to the spirit of the daily fight, it was deflated. If there was an over encompassing hand that would soak all our troubles up and then set us free with energy, that hand was missing. If there was a compass to our lives, it needed resetting.

Born into a rural family with a dozen brothers and sisters, the rich beats of rural traditions were close to his heart even as a quintessentially modern outlook stayed as his most preferred lens. For the longest time I can remember. 

The last week has been an emotional roller coaster ride. The only seat belts we have had on us have been memories of earlier times, unconditional love from family, relatives, friends, well wishers and lots of people who I wished I knew better. At least their names, for a start! My phone and mail box reek of condolence messages and calls (several that went unanswered). All loaded with love and peppered with care. If there was a lifetime of debt that I was to carry, well, this is it!   

It may just be me. When the plot or a protagonist reaches a point of inflection, in a book that is well written, I pause the reading and put the book down for a bit.   Chewing and digesting what the lines say and what the spaces in-between them mean, invariably resisting the ever so compelling urge to turn to the next page and get on with “what happens next”.  So, I pause. Most times, reflect. Sometimes read passages all over again. See meaning that had escaped me. At other times, I even write, just to express what is running on my mind.
That is a habit my dad held dear. And amongst the stuff that I inherited from him, that habit stands tall. Amongst the most practiced!  

In that spirit, there will be a few blogposts this time. Not eulogies. But more descriptions of what happened since that call at 4.31 AM on a fateful Monday morning.  Maybe an incident here. A story there.  Memories all over.  And maybe from it all, there will be an inference or two. About our times, our cultures, of recalcitrant sons and a very different father.   

Truth be told, it is just my way of dealing with his death. Of loss. Even as peaceful sleep remains elusive these will be attempts to make sense of all whats on my mind. The struggle to piece our lives together and limp back to its regular rhythms is only matched by the acute awareness that our lives will remain inexplicably changed.      

And so, we consign his body to flames that very Monday.  Our heads tonsured, barefoot, our dhotis dripping wet, garlands around our neck, we walk back to the car.  The result of death taking him and we letting a rich paraphernalia of rural customs and traditions flow, and take charge of us.  A relative from our village walks close by in company.  

He hisses in my ear. “As part of our customs, you can’t go out of home or do your normal activities ‘like computer’ and so on..”  I turn to look at him in surprise and he understands my question before I ask it. “For seven days” he says. 

And then adds “at least”.  I hear the ‘at least’ loud and clear. 

My dad always had his ways. Only this time, it needn’t have been this way.  

PS : The last time I wrote of him is here. And I think it was better written!  

Prayers On A Pad

If you were born in a time when exams held their tyrannical sway over young lives, you could never forget those swarthy exam pads. The very sight of them used to cause me to quiver in my well worn Bata shoes. Scared frenzy propelled sweat would populate every conceivable pore. 

It was but logical, that I turned to invoking God on to my exam pad.  Over a period of time, a variety of stickers of every conceivable God on Earth were pasted across the pad. On my pad there were Gods with spears. Another on a tiger. All of them with myriad weapons and paraphernalia. Some with ten hands, dazzling crowns, halos around their heads. Jesus was there with blessings seemingly streaming from his palms. A picture of the grand mosque at Mecca. Buddha. Every conceivable God that you could think of was there. 

I couldn’t care less which of those Gods would lend a hand. I just needed a hand. Incredible things were reported of every single God. As a young lad who just needed to clear his exam, religious difference were silly.  

Two days before the exam, my dad spotted the God sporting pad!  Not looking up from the newspaper he was devouring along with his filter coffee, he let go of a suitably loud guffaw and said, ‘God is just an idea’. 

My head reeled. An idea? I mean, here were chaps with bows, arrows, crosses and array of mystical powers that debilitated enemies with precision, were paragons of kindness and generally oversaw the ways of the world. All I was asking was some help with the math exam. And my dad was calling it a giant hoax. Almost. 

He followed it up with “If you don’t believe in yourself, God isn’t going to believe in your prayer. He is a busy man. He sure has other things to do than solve your math exam. Don’t you think so?” 

That holiday, I remember taking walks with him. Discussing God. Man and most importantly, exams! He stood tall. Not in a physical way. Not even in a literal way. But in a shy, unobtrusive, middle class way where all change and soaking up had to happen by the dint of effort, respect and quiet fortitude. And any action remotely akin to showmanship without substantial substance was despicably pejorative. 

From him I learnt taking walks and sorting things out in my mind. By the time, I had come to my Board exams, the exam pad sported cartoon characters. I had come full circle. I had taken many walks. I thought too highly of God and a trifle too funnily of exams. That notion has stuck for life. 

His ways were woefully unobtrusive. There were times you would expect a clear answer and all that I would end up having, was a smirk. Or an arched eyebrow. A punctuated guffaw. Following which he would dive into his collection of books like a chef searching for the choicest of ingredients and return with two books. Or more. ‘Go read’ he would say. Sometimes with an afterthought, add, ‘The Dictionary is in the cupboard’. On hindsight, I should have  deciphered that code as as  ‘this-is- a-@*#%*$&-tough-book-to-read’

J.Krishnamoorthy. Shakespeare. Milton. Kannadasan. Biographies. Judgement copies. Constitution. Economics. Osho. The Gita. It was a time when not reading the Reader Digest was a sin only slightly lesser than daylight robbery. We argued. We questioned. Sometimes he would answer. Many other times he would just stay silent and say ‘think’. 

From him I learnt the indelible virtue in reading. A virtue that necessitated respect for multiplicity of points of view. He never insisted that I study any subject, save Math and Tamil. For which I remain eternally grateful. He had such a surfeit of generosity in his invitations to read and talk, that I would often end up playing cricket, citing difficulty to choose from all that he had to offer.  Or so I told him. And he would play along.  

Back in school, one fine morning, I was told I was going to be the next School Pupil Leader. It came with a few duties. One of which was to get on stage every morning and sort of compeer the prayer ceremony. Every morning.  This was the unkindest of blows to a chap who suffered from tongue-gets-pasted-to-lips-the-moment-there-is-a-crowd-in-front disease. 

No way was I going to do that. I made a deal with him. He would talk the school out of it and in return, I will work hard and come amongst the top three rank holders in school. I mean, that was the best I could offer, given the unbelievably studious chaps that I think could have out beaten Google! Or so it feels now. 

He thought about it and said, ‘deal’. I was happy as a blissful pig who found a new ugly spot to roll in. Even if you had offered me three ice cream Sundaes I wouldn’t have been happier. If you offered me four, well, that is hypothetical, and let’s not go there.  

He dutifully came to school and met the Principal. That evening over dinner, he was beaming. I was happy that this School Pupil Leader thing was put to rest. With a small portion of a dosa in his mouth he spoke. ‘They made me a better offer’. 

My world collapsed. It was a teenage moment when seething anger gives way to blinding rage at the injustice meted out to ordinary people. ‘AND WHAT IS THAT BETTER OFFER’ I thundered like a Tamil hero. (May I request you to please add an echo and a thundering background special effect sound as is the norm). He continued munching his dosa, nonplussed. Paused for a brief moment, and said, “They said, It will be good for you.” And that was that. 

From him I learnt ‘to persevere’ is more important than ‘to perfect’. From him I learnt that as long as you are still standing in the ring, you haven’t lost the fight. 

He used to come to the plays I acted in, but would never tell me he was coming. (“You should perform for the sake of performance. Not for who is in the audience”).  He never wrote a letter of recommendation. He insisted that we always lifted our own luggage from train stations and treat the rickshaw puller with respect. 

He wanted us to have an independent mind. Fiercely. Almost as though, being otherwise was illegal and would result in rigorous stone breaking imprisonment and sharing of a dark cell with hardened criminals with deviant sexual orientations. He didn’t say those. But looking back, that’s how it feels now! 

It was not as though he was perfection personified. He had his views, foibles, follies and some of them deeply impacted us. But then, so did we. I guess, it was who he was. To live life naturally. Without pretense. 

He would beseech us to ‘walk like a Jawan’ and in the same monotone say, ‘safety is most important’. With him by the side, language often took a new meaning. Silence spoke. Mistakes didn’t matter. Wealth was a corollary consequence. Virtue was in trying. Of course, treating people with dignity was important to be human. Love needn’t be expressed but it had to be experienced. We didn’t agree on everything. But that didn’t stop him from getting us to chat about everything. 

Today, at home, my mom hands over the same exam pad to the nurse. The same pad with cartoon stickers on them. My mom’s ways of capturing a piece of the present for future reminiscing, has ensured preservation of that thing from school.  The sight of the pad unlocks a dam of memories and a slight quiver runs through my adult legs. 

The nurse who has come home, records parameters. In a sheaf of paper clipped on. My dad lies there. In the same room. A shrunk shadow of who he was. But still fighting the disease that envelopes him.

In the evening I pray for easing of his pain. Thoughts bob like a balloons in a bucket of water. I wonder if I should revert to the original stickers on the pad. He would be livid. But, this after all is a different exam. 

And most importantly I am not him. I am not even a patch on him.  

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What does it take …?

I run my hands over many layers of bark. They are sharp. I didn’t expect them to any otherwise. The bark is dry. I look up.

For a height that seems insurmountable, the bark and the wood beneath extends above my head. I arch my neck.

Many feet above, there is green.

What does it take to stand tall ? Without being upset with the wind or whining about the sun ?

What does it take to take to the withering that time brings with ease?

How does it feel to grow leaves, shed them every year, and regrow every year.

What does it take to stand tall and provide shade to the child and to the wood cutter with equanimity? Without pausing to think of how much is there to be given.

When the height is immense and the vastness so mighty, how deep must the roots run ? How much grounding is necessary for the height to stay high?

How old yet so full of life. And hope.

Why must a tear form in the corner of my eye. As I run my hands over bark and arch my neck and try to look at its zenith?

Indeed, what does it take to stand tall?

Impromptu words that flowed from a borrowed pen on to a spare tissue paper. Chancing a tree in a deep wood and thinking of appa & amma.


Those medals. They hang from his chest. A chest that seems swollen from a distance. Medals that were won in the military. Many years of serving the nation. If these medals had a mouth of a TV newscaster, they would narrate battle tales. Perhaps.

Perhaps. Of war cries and hospital walks. Of wins of territory, and loss of limb. Maybe life. Of bravery amidst blood.

Retirement. An able body. A need for family sustenance. And a clutch of medals. These form a neat concoction that provides him employment as a security supervisor at the apartment complex. On special occasions, he wears those medals. And walks with a swollen chest.

Proud as he is. Of his past. For, every time he wears those medals, the second-grade son of the Vice-President who lives in Flat No : 202, insults him lesser.

These medals, awe.

In a distant small town, an array of medals, trophies, certificates, and plaques adorn an entire cupboard. They keep a lonely mother and father company. They were brought home with great joy by sons, long gone.

When these trophies were first brought home, they were brought with tremendous happiness.

Awarded for many reasons. Ranging from elocution to essay writing. From quizzing to tennis. From topping school to writing complex code. And other prolific stuff including ‘attending school without a days leave’ to ‘blood donation’ !

Each trophy was treasured. Polished. Shined. And till date, enjoys the attention of visitors. ‘These were brought by our sons’. They say, to people who care to ask, amongst the few that care to drop in.

Trophies, tell tales.

On another note. Big city living has trophies that are in vogue. From the air conditioner to the amplifier. From branded shirts to premium underwear. From the luxury car to Luxembourg holidays. From the digital thermostat to hand wound watches. From cat salons to the digital mouse !

The excitement of the acquisition always compensating the emptiness on usage. For, material trophies atrophy.

Simple living. Good health. Shared love. And building a collective future.

These perhaps are the trophies that count. These perhaps are the trophies that secretly awe lead runners and podium finishers of the rat race. These are the trophies that will spawn a million memories. Worth more than all the gold with the RBI.

And these perhaps are the only trophies that come, atrophy proof !


clicked at Madurai. Aug ’08

This is about a form of travel. Called ‘Footboard’ !

It principally involves having one leg…no. Perhaps one half of one toe on the footboard of a bus, and clutch any part of the bus with an intensity that would do a lizard in a earthquake ridden building, proud. Just hold on.

And gather all the strength from wherever. And of course, you are not alone. There are many others that are going shoulder to shoulder, toe-to-toe with you. Actually, that should be ‘any-body-part’ to ‘any-body-part’ with you !

And of course, there are accidents. Life and limb are lost.

And Tamil movies have eulogised this sequence as one where ‘love blossoms’ ! As the heroine exchanges love struck glances from inside the bus, and the hero stays suspended in air. The movies of course, don’t show the suspension-in-thin-air as a harbinger of what awaits the hero after the marriage. Of course !

You have had many classmates in college doing this routine. Every single day, commuting to college and back. Looking for the most crowded of the buses. To demonstrate how much they can stay suspended!

They ridicule you. For you would never do it. Telling you that you dont have enough courage. You know deep within, that they perhaps are true.

clicked in a village in TN. June ’09

And you meet some of them. Many years later, long after they married. To women that didn’t travel with them in those crowded buses. They are a balded. Have children. They earn a good living. And speak of ‘those’ days with affection riddled nostalgia !

And say. ‘We were plain lucky to survive.’ And one of them casually lets go. “As a matter of fact i couldnt do much with the meagre money my dad made. Life had to be lived. Heroism was the cloak to sport’.

You wince.

He smiles. And goes on. ‘See it made chaps like you envy us !’

You smile a weak smile. And think of your the parent lottery you won when you were born. To the folks that you were born to.

And you see change all around.

And you look at the buses now. And find that some sport a fresh tilt to them. Even now. And now you know, that the tilt has many reasons. Wooing was one. Just one. ”Living'” was the big one that you didn’t think of. Back then.

Living. Sometimes, at the expense of life.

Going Home.

The plane taxis off the runway & kisses the clouds. From up above, i see the Mumbai skyline. I am far close to the sea than i can imagine.

The plane continues to climb. The low cost airline has not been low cost exactly. But it did take off on time. And it did soar into the sky. There is a pilot with a distinct kerelite accent, asking announcing that we should be landing on time.

I peer through the window. And see the receding skyline of the city that i call home now. In about a hour and a half i will be touching down in Bangalore. A city that i used to call home until a year and a half back. For ten odd years.

The books that i have picked up at the airport lounge invite some browsing. Some habits stick. Most, like this one, make the missus sick. But she isn’t here today with me. So.

I am lost in my own world. Memories come rushing back. I think of the next few days. And i have so many things to do. Discussions to have. And just be present. The sun beats down the other side of the plane. God is kind. I think.

And look at the big mountains that appear far too small. Far beyond. Far below. There are announcements for refreshments. I can hear only parts of it. The other i leave it to conjecture. The handlers from Pakistan did a better job, i think. Of speaking into the phone, that is.

Refreshments are served. And charged too. This is a low cost airline. The middle class me, loaded with the guilt of having bought books, keeps me restrained. In the row, just ahead, a family sits. They order sandwiches and juice. Sandwiches and juice and hand, the air hostess announces, ‘thats Rs. 510/-, sir !’ The plane shakes a bit.

I look through the window. Into the mountains. Into a dried river in the distance. I think of the next few days. There is happiness. Anxiety. Purposefulness. Hope. And resolve. The pilot is back again. Announcing something. I hear parts of it. And don’t hear most of it. The air hostess is having a word with the passenger in front of me. In a distance, i see greenery.

Frankly. Nothing matters. For i am flying home. From the new home of Mumbai. To the old home of Bangalore. And then, home ! Home to Madurai.

Home. To amma and appa. Today, nothing else seems to matter. The sun continues to beat down. The other side of the plane.

A freedom struggle every minute

It was almost 15 years ago that I first looked up the word Parkinsons Syndrome in the dictionary. Appa had problems kick starting the Honda. We thought the problems were with the bike but then, I could kickstart it at one go. He would take 20 minutes. He had difficulty putting the buttons on and more difficulty in keeping a steady hand. The docs suspected Parkinsons.

It didn’t strike us a big deal. Those were not the days of the internet and our idea of Parkinsons was a disease that goes away with proper medication. Atleast that was mine. Over the years, I have seen the disease take over appa. In a manner that will put any imperialistic regime taking over a small and powerless colony to shame!

It first tilted his stance. Then it took away his voice. And as he fought back with medicines and therapy, it gave him movement – additional involuntary movement of the head. Then it took away his self respect. Now it has taken away his mobility almost leaving him completely dependent on people. He still hasn’t given up the fight.

Although the intensity is wearing off. To me, the fact that he still continues to work is very inspiring. I guess all the years of standing & inspiring students and many others makes him want to do more. Every day is a struggle. Every moment is a struggle. But he still hasn’t given up.

When a part of the body is incapacitated, it is easy to figure out that you cant do a particular chore that is to done by the missing part. If a leg is amputated, obviously walking is impaired. But when a portion of the brain is amputated, well, the effect can be multi dimensional. But he still hasn’t given up.

Now, i wouldnt want to make a hero out of an ordinary man. He was not the most physically active of men. His interest spans were short and would tend to move from project to project, without completion of the first one. He had his failings. But he still is my father. And my hero.

Some years ago, I barely heard appa say, ‘I feel imprisoned in my body’. An involuntary tear escaped my eye. There he was. A fully agile mind imprisoned in a disobedient body. And with the knowledge that it is only going to get worse and not better at all. Life imprisonment for no reason. Genetically preordained sentence. Huh ! But he still hasn’t given up.

He has now, in many ways become a child. The man who lifted many a spirit needs to be lifted by two people to prop him up. He has always been my hero. I turn away, as I cant take to seeing these scenes. He still hasn’t given up. Many years ago, I remember hearing applause as he stood up to speak. Today, I applaud to myself when he stands. He was feared in many a circle for his wisdom & knowledge and today, the knowledge of what has afflicted him causes fear in him and me.

He was a straight, simple and honest man who enabled many a life. Parkinsons is an honest disease that has incapacitated him with no mercy. He still hasn’t given up. Amma, has struggled alongside. Perhaps undergoing a fight far more complex in the taking care of appa and raising us and braving some of the most overwhelming odds. Often she pops the question – ‘Why’. ‘Why us’. I have no answer.

Fighting a disability is cruel enough. Fighting a disability that you are not able to see physically, like a mental disability is even worse. Being imprisoned in your own body, is so debilitating. But, that is life.

Some days ago, i was speaking to a friend, and he popped a seemingly innocous comment. “it could have been worse”. Suddenly, I couldnt help agree with him more. I am thankful for the small mercies.

Atleast, he has not given up. None of us have.