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Archive for April, 2013

Thatha

 

“Thatha, I adore you.” 
“I dare you”, he’d reply with a loud chuckle at his own joke. Each time.

I knew Thatha most closely when he was ill and ailing; gradually sinking. But if I try to remember, I see flashes.. Of sitting behind him on his scooter. Of him standing on the balcony, sending me to buy him a packet of cigarettes from the shop just below. Of half-heartedly telling him not to smoke, because I’d heard Mom say that to him. Of crying for some reason, cry-baby that I was, and being summoned to his lap. I’d ignore his summons at first and then go mutinously to be asked why I was crying. I’d have to explain and he would solve my problem. Thatha loved solving problems. 

Or fussy as I was about food, I’d say I’d eaten enough. He’d call me and feel a corner of my tummy and exclaim that it was empty and I’d have to fill it up, wouldn’t I? I remember being jealous of my elder sister since I wasn’t allowed to cross the busy street in front of his house to go the bakery, while she could. I remember my sense of achievement when he first let me go to that shop by myself. I remember sitting on his lap on a chair in the balcony and counting the vehicles on the street that passed until an expected visitor arrived.

I remember peeking at the TV while Mom was wiping her tears seeing Kuch Kuch Hota Hain for the umpteenth time. And Thatha walking in and saying the movie was for grownups and I was a little kid. In recent times, he’d call me and tell me a James Bond movie was on TV so I could watch it with him. 

I remember when I needed 100 signatures for a petition to save tigers and I was crying because I didn’t have enough. He sent me downstairs to the road. He called out to people, “My granddaughter is saving tigers. Sign there and help her.”

I remember silently watching everyone cry and whisper when Thatha was put on ventilator 8 years ago and the doctors said chances were low. I remember everyone broken down as his hands turned blue and carbon level in his body rose. He was very calm and got a slip of paper, gave my aunt the power of attorney and called people to sign as witnesses.

When told he would be put into ICU, he asked to see my sister and me. We rushed to the hospital. With slurred speech, he asked why she hadn’t kept kunkuma and pinched her forehead. He’d always tell us, “Your grandmother would always have a big round bindi on her forehead. See?”, pointing at her photo. “I have kept one too”. He would peer dramatically to convey how tiny my bindi was. 

He smoked and drank for 55 years. And gave it up when he realised one more cigarette would kill him. He kept bottles of rum stashed away, just to see if he could resist the temptation. He did. He’d keep count. Anytime, he could tell how many years, months and days it had been since he smoked.

“How will you know unless you try?” was his refrain. When unable to walk to another room without help, he tried working out on the treadmill.  He loved narrating anecdotes of when he was young. 

He loved politics. Bed-ridden, he’d call out and I would sigh. He’s dictate letters to the Prime Minister, Chief Minister, Governor, Newspaper Editor and anyone else, and give them his advice on how to run the city, state or country. All his letters began with- “I am a 78 (or 79 or recently 80) man who needs 20 hours Oxygen and Bypap machine in a day.” He loved giving advice. Pointing to his chest, he’d swell with self-importance and say- “The suggestion is mine; decision is yours”. 

I don’t have a clear picture of hale and hearty Thatha. Since 8 years, his face was always covered by an uncomfortable mask and tubes of oxygen in his nose. Cigarettes killed him. Over the months, his lungs stopped working. His legs were swollen- his kidneys gave up on him. There was probably a stomach tumour; no tests could be done. They’d cause respiratory distress. His BP fluctuated. But he was more vibrantly alive than anyone I’ve known. 

The last time he was in hospital, I remember holding his hand. He signalled- I won’t last. Of course you will, I said. He had given a feeble smile. And he did last. It seemed he always would.

I’ve always thought death was peaceful. I didn’t know suffering is this ugly. There are no words ugly enough to describe how horrible it was. Hours and days and months of excruciating pain, getting worse by the day. Sleepless nights, making gestures asking us all to go sleep. While he had the strength to read, a small bulb next to his bed and a book in his hand. Then that too gone. Cries of pain. Calling out to Mom, Dad. Saying he couldn’t take it anymore. Then the next morning, dictating letters to Readers’ Digest. He never did win the sweepstakes after all. 

 

 

What’s the most important thing you’ve learnt Thatha? To help others.

If a few people gather and shed a few tears when I’m gone, I would have lived well. That’s what he had said. And they did. 

Somehow, I’m just not able to get the final picture out of my head. Thatha peaceful, after endless suffering, with mouth half-open and not breathing anymore. No life in him anymore. His strength and iron will to live gone with him. A frail, diseased body was all left. 

Somehow I’d always thought he’d outlive us all. 

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