Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 32, Dated August 14, 2010
|CULTURE & SOCIETY
A SERIES ON TRUE EXPERIENCES
‘The night had stolen my father and I didn’t know where to find him’
MY MOTHER TELLS me this story about how my father would wake her up every night when she was pregnant, so he could discuss the day’s events with her belly. Editorial meetings and deaths in the country, I would absorb all of it in grim silence, punctuated with a kick every now and then. Apparently, on the day I was born, shrieking at the injustice of it all — he walked in, smelling of smoke and said, “It’s me. I’m here,” and I stopped mid-howl. My mother swears it was because I recognised the man who never let me have a peaceful night’s sleep, but when I look back, those nights played a big part in our story.
Like most daughters, I grew up believing my father and I shared a bond that time couldn’t steal. Even when my parents decided they would be saner if they lived apart, I could feel his presence in my bone-structure, my speech and our shared love for words. When we were together, stories would rise off streets at every corner, faces would acquire imagined names and histories.
One night, after a long dinner at the Press Club, with my father gently swaying on the thin line between ‘Talkatively Tipsy’ and ‘Sentimentally Sloshed’, I insisted that we return home. As we got into the car, he sensed my anxiety.
Grinning in his characteristically mischievous manner, he said, “As soon as we get home, you can call Ma and tell her how responsibly I drove tonight.” Always a co-conspirator, I grinned back. When we reached home safely in less than 15 minutes, my 11- year-old heart swelled with pride. We were getting ready to sleep when the electricity vanished. The heat became stifling, and he suggested a walk. I was excited at the opportunity for another adventure. We crossed our house, he held my hand and pulled me towards the inside of the road — out of harm’s way.
On so many nights, I lie awake and wonder… how could he have known? It had to be that strange bond between us. Pulling us in directions we couldn’t see, only sense. Barely seconds later, a car came speeding out of the black night, straight into my father. The impact sent him flying to the other end of the road. The car vanished just as fast as it had appeared. I was injured, but conscious.
People surrounded us, silently taking in the spectacle of a sobbing child, cradling a lifeless figure on the road. After what seemed like eternity, a car finally stopped. Due to my state of shock, I could not give them any details. But these strangers dropped us to a nearby hospital, having shoved a few hundred rupees in my hands. My father survived, but his injuries were severe. His brain was damaged and his memory significantly impaired. He would have a hard time walking. He wouldn’t write anymore. Sometimes I wondered if he even remembered me. The night had stolen my father, and I didn’t know where to find him.
Until a few months ago, when I surrendered to an inexplicable call within and became a journalist. One day after work, my sister called me, sobbing. “Papa’s had a seizure, you have to come right now.” Unspeakable panic. Cold fear as I walked down a familiar hospital corridor. I swallowed a lump as I saw him on the white bed, a frail figure, tubes in his throat. “We’re doing everything we can,” the doctor mumbled. “It’s a miracle he’s made it this far,” but I couldn’t register a word. And then there it was again. Our strange karmic bond.
I drew close to his bed, and he opened his eyes. I couldn’t mistake that smile in his eyes. As my step-mother removed the oxygen mask from his face, it became a full-fledged grin, “Congratulations on your first byline.”
ILLUSTRATION: SAMIA SINGH