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.
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 !
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.