“He is having such trouble breathing, maybe if he didn’t breath for a while he will feel better.”
Sounds so stupid now. But back then, as a 16 year old, bothered by her father’s condition, worried about her upcoming boards, concerned about her mother and irritated with a house full of people – this was exactly what went through her mind. It was about 10:05 pm. She was sitting on the sofa at one end of the room. The room had a bed, lots of medicines, an oxygen cylinder connected to the mask on her father’s mouth, a sofa, a couple of chairs, her mother, the family doctor, a nurse and her father in the bed. The room was on the ground floor of her grandfather’s Calcutta house.
Her father was fighting a rare kind of Cancer. In June, the year before, right after he had returned from an office trip to Dubai, he had started having problems in swallowing. First diagnosed as ulcer, it hadn’t cured even a month later. Endoscopy and further tests revealed a tumour in the stomach. Reports were sent to Mumbai, Delhi and Germany. No expense was spared. But what can humans do, other than try? During the operation, it was noticed that the tumour was lodged between two arteries leading to the heart and there was no way it could be scrapped without cutting the arteries.
He was having difficulty breathing. She kept looking at him, staring, in her own zone, helpless, wishing she could give him her own breathes, just to ensure he breathed easily. And just like that, while she breathed evenly, he stopped breathing. She didn’t move, waited for him to start breathing. She was looking just at him, waiting … but he never took the next breath. She still waited, but sat up with a jerk when the nurse started taking the oxygen mask of him.
And she froze. Not outwardly. She froze from inside.
Everyone came in to the room. Some one tried hugging her, thinking she will cry. She shook the person away. She didn’t shed a tear. Everyone thought she was unfazed. She did collapse for a few seconds, but that was all the tears she ever shed. Her mother expected her to be by her side, but she was too zoned out. After a while, she went upstairs and fell asleep. No one but her mother understood why she did that.
Sleeping lets you dream. Dreams make the impossible, possible. Dreams make the dead, alive. And one can go to bed, hoping that when they wake up, they will realise it was all a bad dream. There is no end to how much a silly teenager can dream and hope.
In the morning, she lay in bed trying to listen to the sound around. There wasn’t much, considering it was a 3 storied house with at least 15 grown ups. She sat up with a jolt thinking of her mother. Where was she? Did she sleep? Is she okay?
She jumped out of bed and went looking for Maa. Somewhere between willing herself to sleep and getting confused dreams, her mind and heart had accepted the truth. He was gone. Somewhere in the very back of her mind, she blamed him for leaving her and going. Being the only child and her father’s daughter in every possible way, she felt like a stranger in this house. She’d never felt she belonged to this family, now that the person who bound her to the family was gone, she felt more of an outsider.
She has always been her father’s daughter. Strong, independent and practical. And that’s what she remained. When the family sat down to inform others about this, a careless elder in the family made her call someone and inform the news of her own father’s demise. She did that. Later in the day, this same elder, sat in the car, made her get down, cross the road, buy the wreaths that were to be put on her own father’s dead body. She did.
Rajnigandha flowers. Since then, to her, they smell only of death.
Life went on as it should. It had to. It was evident he never left them. Back in their own home, she prepared for her 12th boards in fifteen days, and now, when she looks back, she doesn’t remember a thing. Her mother does. An only child, who has always led a laid back life, life had changed overnight. She was always more mature for her age, she’d got that from her father. Family members had wanted her to drop the year saying she will score second div marks, or maybe flunk. Her mother refused to listen to them. For her, dropping a year was never a question. HIS daughter would never take her education lightly. So she studied like a girl possessed. And she fared pretty well in the boards. She had to; he was with her all the time.
He has always been with her. Every time she felt week or perplexed, she called out to her father, before she called out to her God. She does that even today. And every time she thinks of him, she gets the strength to fight all problems.
Life moved on. She never let go of her emotions. She had failed him once earlier, she will never do it again. She remembered the thought that had crossed her mind just minutes before he had stopped breathing, and coz of some twisted state of mind, she blamed herself.
Strangely, she still does. The reason has changed.