Mohan is a family physician, film and TV aficionado, a keen bibliophile and an eclectic scribbler.
Resting in Peace
It has been a year since I saw you lying in the centre of the room, surrounded by wailing relatives and distressed mourners. I stepped in with my brothers either side of me, and I felt like I went into a bubble. The loud crying sounded muffled and my vision was blurred with whatever tears were left after the long, restless flight. I felt I was there but in another dimension.
You had always been a powerful presence. You always seemed like a giant to me, even after I grew taller than you. You walked with your head held high even after a hint of frailness struck you in the past years since we lost Mom. To see you laid down, tucked in a shroud, unmoving, undisturbed by the drama around you seemed absurd.
When I was little you hated noise. You loved your afternoon naps and we would be instructed to keep quiet for fear of waking you up. I learnt to play quietly, sat on the floor both feet against the wall, with marbles. You didn't believe in toys. You felt they were an expensive distraction from academic study. Occasionally a noise may escape and my heart will skip a beat. For there was nothing worse when I was young than the sound of your footfall. It raised my heartbeat, squeezed my throat and widened my pupils. For I knew what would happen.
Ssshhh. I wanted to say to the assembled mourners. Ssshhh, he is sleeping. Leave him alone. For if he wakes up, you'll all be in trouble.
But you weren't going to wake up, were you?
Deep, deep underneath the overwhelming grief and loss in my heart there is anger and frustration.
Dig deeper and there is still fear and confusion.
Underneath it all there is love and gratitude.
It has taken me a while to unearth the gratitude. I knew it was always there, buried under the debris of my childhood. Hiding under the broken confidence and fractured bones. Tangled among the violent nightmares that still recur. Floating among the murky waters of a childhood aching for a hug and not a belt.
This is what I have always tried to tell you, but you couldn't listen or understand even to the last minute of our fractured conversation over the phone as you went into the hospital.
Yes Dad. I miss you.
And Dad, I Thank you.
Let me try to tell you why.
“That anyone could father a child, but a real man chooses to be a dad.”
― J. Sterling
Mom always said you were delighted when I was born. You wanted a boy and you got one. The eldest son, the one who you could mould and shape and prepare for a bright future. I am not sure how long I enjoyed that level of attention as my memory begins when you and Mom left me with Grandma when you got a transfer. I was three, missing you both terribly. Grandma was kind, loving and my aunties took care of me.
When you and Mom came back it was with a brother for me. I felt a tad cheated although I was happy to see both of you again. But something had already changed. You decided the 'shaping and moulding' needs to start straight away as you didn't want me to 'turn lazy'. You were a strict disciplinarian. you had to move into Grandma's house temporarily.
I must have been five when you broke my tooth and gave me a hairline fracture in my leg. Grandma was not happy and told you I was only a little child and to leave me alone. You took offence and took us away to another house. You were driven by a keen sense of how parenting should be and how you knew better for your family. I soon learnt to run, hide or take it quietly. For I knew that if it wasn't me it would be mom and I didn't want her to suffer.
It took me a while to figure out your own experience of a childhood. You lost your Dad when you were twelve, lived in abject poverty and you and your brother were brought up by your single mother in a dire situation. You had to leave school early to go to work. You sacrificed college education to support your Mom and brother and arrived in Madras to get a job. For someone from the villages, it was an odyssey of bravery and determination.
when I later saw the scar on your leg where your mum had burnt you with a hot iron for some minor misdemeanour, I understood.
Thank you, Dad, for making that journey.
“I know, from the three visits I made to him, the blended composite of love and fear that exists only in a boy's notion of his father.”
― Donald Miller
All my childhood I lived in anxiety. A fear of verbal abuse, threats, repeated hints that if I didn't study well I will be good for nothing. I was anxious to please you and thankfully I was good at reading and performing. I never took pleasure in my good grades as you always told me I should do better.
You never realised that it wasn't because but despite all the violence that I read well at school. For both my brothers suffered in your hands and ended up hating academia. It was only when they were able to fly free, get encouraged and enjoy their own creativity and independence that they have become so much successful in their own merit.
You had ambition and drive, you only wanted the best for us. You knew if you had been to university you would've had better job and a better pay. We never owned a house and lived always in a series rented houses with literally two rooms. There never was any privacy or luxury. We all slept on the floor and read by candlelight due to frequent power cuts. You wanted us to have a better life. You perhaps thought casting fear and violence will push us that bit further. You perhaps didn't know there were other ways of encouraging, rewarding, praising and loving.
But Dad, You fed my natural love of language by guiding me to a big dictionary and a book on vocabulary. I lapped them both up. My love of reading sprung from mom's passion for the written word and your push to enlarge my vocabulary. You made me read the newspaper and expand my knowledge of the world. You were a constant source of comics to read.
After every 'unpleasant' incident you will take me to watch a ( usually English) film. For you loved the Westerns and the James Bond action films - and I was your silent companion to the Cinema. Silly though it may sound, soon when my bones got numb and my pain threshold went higher, I was looking forward to the treats!
Thank you, Dad for your help making me fall in love with this language I am writing in.
- And I will always Love you - a Memory
There is a song that reminds me of my mother. The song that usually makes me cry hopelessly, every time I hear it on the radio. I have it on my iTunes playlist and as I scroll past the song title, I hesitate to click , knowing very well I am going to
I overheard you say to someone at your office how proud you were when I went into medical school. I wished you'd tell me directly.
The first time you hugged me and wished me well was when I was at the airport leaving for UK for higher studies. It was an awkward, clumsy hug. I held on. It meant a lot to me.
Years later, I came back to visit, you showed me little notebooks of stories that I had written and you had saved from my school days. You showed me how you had taken my poems to show your friends. I asked you why you didn't tell me and you said you didn't want me to get cocky.
Thank you Dad, for appreciating my creativity in your own way.
Thanks to you, your three sons are very close. We shared a common journey, went through the common rebellion and hatred for our past, and united in a common act of forgiveness and understanding. We wish things could have been different, but we know we can't change our past.
Thanks to you, I am still driven and ambitious with a crippling sense of insufficiency. I wish I could enjoy my successes a bit more, but it may take a little bit longer.
Thanks to you, I approach my own fatherhood with trepidation and reflection. I want to inspire without instilling fear, love unconditionally, give generously so my children can enjoy a happy childhood, yet challenge sufficiently that they are also driven towards excellence.
Thanks for giving your blessing to my children and showing them kindness.
Thanks for looking after mom when she fell ill. While it may have come late, your care and affection kept mom happy and safe and made her forget your past excesses.
Thanks for being happy when I was able to buy you and mom your own place to live. You loved that place, the very place where I came back to find you sleeping.
Don't Let go...
I wish we had talked more. Talked deeper. You still had little trust in my maturity and understanding and preferred not to listen. Perhaps you thought I would dredge up the past and point accusing fingers.
All I wanted to tell you all along is this thank you. I am sure you're listening and I am sure you understand that I understand.
I still remember the way you held my little finger as we walked the dusty streets of Madras towards that crowded cinema. The way it felt safe.
Thank you, Dad.
Don't let go.
© 2012 Mohan Kumar