Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 19, Dated May 15, 2010
|CULTURE & SOCIETY
‘I Picked Up The Phone
And The Epiphanic
She is 24, a journalist and lives
SORRY TO hear about your father,” he said and
I stepped forward with a straight face. All
that was taught to me was defied because even
on the twelfth day of my father’s passing away,
I still could not decipher a way to respond, to
accept the condolences. Even when I was being tutored in
the ‘thank yous’ and the ‘sorrys’ and the ‘excuse mes’ of the
good conduct literature in the first standard, I had never
learnt by heart a salutation for this occasion.
My father, within a month before dying, had dutifully
settled all the bank loans. Both his and mine. Transferred all
his money to my brother’s bank account and mine, leaving
exactly Rs 132 for later formalities. The insurance premium
for the rest of the year was well paid
in advance and the chequebooks
had already been
populated with blank signatures.
His last call was for
an orange-flavoured bar,
forbidden due to diabetes,
which eased his passage to death at the age of 54.
|The last call was for an orange bar,
forbidden due to diabetes, which
eased the passage to death
Accusations that I was selling the death had started
pouring into my life. For using it to cover up for not meeting
deadlines, not ideating for weekly meeting, for being inefficient
at work. For a tiff with the landlord. For convincing the
policeman why the car insurance was not renewed. For
pleading to culminate a five-year-old relationship into
marriage. For not having enough number of friends who
could travel cities to donate blood to an ailing father. For
switching to sleeper-class train tickets for the weekend
visits to the hometown. For all that could not have been
such a big deal. The safest way to behave had still not
occurred to me.
My schoolteacher-mother had quietly decided to spend
the rest of her life with the leftovers of the dead. Amongst
the furniture bought by her dead parents and the clothes and
shoes of the husband. Sitting in the school library attaching death certificates to the life insurance policies, copiously noting
down the bank account numbers. At home, calmly filling
one side of her king sized bed with random books, cushions,
paper boxes as an antidote to the loneliness she feels at night.
My brother, at 29, had turned 50. Parked in a different
time zone, matching his with the ones here. Frantically
calling twice, thrice, four times a day to ask whether the
mother has had lunch, to ensure that the LPG cylinder is refilled,
sending movie tickets to make sure she watches each
new movie as before. To find out whether the electricity bill
of the house he grew up in had been paid.
|Illustration by SAMIA SINGH
It had dawned that the vacancy for a ringmaster to tame
the unruly sister should be filled with immediate effect.
Henceforth, dutifully every ten days he would tell me that
even if I think that I have
grown up, and am fiercely
independent and intelligent,
frankly, I am just an idiot and
above all, still very young.
Doesn’t matter if I am just
five years younger to him. And I would indulge him– what
choice did I have? I would tell him on the phone, “No dada, that’s not true. I don’t think like that. Honestly,” and chuckle
inside my head.
One day, I picked up the phone to call my father and the
epiphanic moment arrived. I realised that it is not possible
any more. To ask how to file tax returns. To fake misery for
an invitation to pack bags and take the next train home.
Desperately trying to hallucinate to discover my father in the
next auto. Hysterically attempting to dream of him without
success. Pretending each affair that unfolds in life is a consequence
of his recently acquired supernatural powers. Also,
how self-introductions can never start with ‘my parents live
in Lucknow’. How no more can I yearn for a rich father as an
excuse to quit my job.
A power dose of catharsis is better equipped to teach
surrealism than a Van Gogh painting.