It was weekend and mummy and daddy had gone out shopping. Daddy was looking for guitar strings when mummy received that call that changed so many things…
That faithful evening, when Mummy came back home rather upset, we couldn’t really understand why. She was feeling very, very low, we could sense that but couldn’t guess why. Had we done something wrong?
Buddy tried to ask her, his ears folded back, his eyes doleful and his tail tucked in low under his legs. But she hugged us and cried into us. We tried our best to cheer her up, climbed up and tried to fit into her lap and licked the tears off her face. It probably helped a little, coz she did stop crying.
Then she told us. Grandpa was dead. He had died,still talking about what he would like for dinner that evening, of a sudden stroke. It was simply very difficult for Mummy to believe or realise.
Grandpa lived some 3000 kilometres away from where we stay. It would take Mummy at least 12 hours to reach as there were no direct flights and layovers etc would simply take that much time.
And then, there were the ceremonies thereafter. The long drawn, religious rituals that followed the death of any Hindu person. Which meant Mummy would be gone for many days at a stretch.
It was difficult for us to understand what was happening that evening. It was a kind of gloomy confusion. Mummy began packing whatever she could think of and the very sight of the bags made us dread the days ahead. We know by now that the bags meant someone was going away.
It was very difficult for Mummy. She wanted to get to Grandpa’s place as soon as possible and at the same time, wasn’t ready to go without Daddy and Us.
Having Daddy around at a time like this would be a real support.
But there was the question of ‘Us’.
Mummy couldn’t think of leaving us someplace else apart from home. And it was not as much because she was worried about our not being taken care of well, as much as it was because she knew we would be terrified with Mummy and Daddy gone for so many days. She knows we would be worried sick.
Buddy has only just learned not to run to the door each time a car like the one his previous family had, crossed by. Mummy couldn't bear to let him get displaced again. And I, of course, wouldn’t touch my food without Mummy or Daddy telling me to eat.
Mummy would never be at peace leaving us some place without her or Daddy around.
But then, we couldn’t possibly fly all the way. Not only would the whole process of getting us crates etc take time, the flight changes, layovers and long flying times all would be too useless a strain for us. Besides, adjusting to a houseful of mourning relatives would prove to be difficult.
The only solution was for us to stay back home with Daddy to look after us. And then, after a few days, Mummy planned to come back so Daddy could go visit our Grandma.
So, early morning, we all went and bid Mummy goodbye. She flew away and disappeared for never-ending days. We would sometimes hear her voice coming out of the telephone. We tried licking the receiver, but it never tasted or smelt like her though it sounded like her.
On many occasions we thought we heard her at the gate. We would hopefully go check but she never came till one day, when we had almost given up hope.
But then it was time for Daddy to go. he flew off the very next day and disappeared for days just like Mummy had done.
Those were very upsetting days. And we could sense a kind of gloom all around Mummy. We tried to be on our best behaviour. We not only ate our food without fuss but also tried not to pull on the leash on our walks. Buddy even ignored the occasional stray!
All of us were just waiting for Daddy to get back home, when we felt, everything would be normal again.
We think, it is better we let mummy take over from here and tell you the later part of story. We have named it ‘Nostalgia’.
It has been a blessing to have you all in our lives. I have always felt very thankful to have made so many friends, many living in far off lands, across thousands of miles, who have embraced my darling babies and loved them so well.
Even though I have my own little space in the blogosphere, I somehow felt it right to share my grief with you here, in Ginger and Buddy’s space.
Somehow, I feel our furry friends and their pawrents are more alive, more receptive of joy, sadness, grief, acceptance and any other emotion for that matter.
Many of you have been worried for us, many have sent us words of support. I would like you to know that your thoughts have been a great help. Thank you very much.
Somehow, Ginger and Buddy, with their liquid eyes, their comical antics, their ready hugs and licks and the incessant wag in their tails have been my great strength. During the last few days, they have reinforced my belief that Dogs indeed can make EVERYTHING right.
Papa was a very quiet, very silent person. Now that I think back, I had never heard him raise his voice! All those who knew him, including my friends from college, still remember him as a very unassuming man. He lived without malice, without greed and with a lot of honesty and simplicity.
For his entire working life, Papa lived in Arunachal Pradesh, the north-eastern most state of India which shares it’s boundary with China. I was born there and cherish my childhood days in that lovely state nestled in the mighty Himalayas.
It was from Papa that I learned to love the simple indigenous tribal people. He had a way with them. The chieftains often came visiting him, to invite us to some local wedding or just to bring us some home grown vegetables and fruits.
Dressed in their regal traditional attire, complete with their rapiers, javelins and other weapons, they looked rather formidable.
But with Papa, they were at their gentlest best and even as a little girl, I learned to love and respect their simple ways.
Arunachal is a lovely paradise of wild flora and fauna.
(A peaceful abode nestled deep in the mountains)
(Driving along these narrow roads with a steep drop hundreds of feet into the raging river below is both chilling and exhilarating)
Though I haven’t travelled to as many beautiful and remote places as Papa had, I still have very fond memories of this mountain state.
It will make another story which I would like to share with you some day.
Papa had a way with languages. He could fluently speak a number of local dialects which he had easily picked up during his stay in various regions of Arunachal – Apatani, Nishi, Adi were a few tribes he interacted well with. Apart from these, he could also speak, read and write Hindi, English, Assamese, Bengali and Nepali.
I seem to have inherited this knack from him, for I too seem to be able to pick up languages fairly well.
I also have his eyes, everyone tells me.
And I realise I probably have inherited this love for writing from him too. He used to compose lovely little poems but sadly, none of them were published.
I was a pampered daughter and pretty much got my way with Papa! But even then, there are certain things that I remember he tried to teach us very early on in life. Like the need to develop a good and neat handwriting; and to keep our elbows off the table while eating with a knife and fork!
It has been years now, since I left home. I was all of sixteen years when I went to stay in the hostel to pursue my studies. For me, home was soon a place I visited during summer vacations, post exam breaks and other holidays. The hostel soon became my home; I learned to grow up on my own.
Ever since the August of 1992, I have grown used to finding my parents on the other end of the phone. The initial homesick calls gradually got replaced by perfunctory reports of my life.
Papa would come visit me, frequently at first, with loads of cookies and stuff. Gradually, as I settled down I began to feel guilty of the trouble he took to change buses and travel the hilly terrain overnight to reach my hostel nearly a thousand kilometres away. And that too, for maybe just a day because he had to get back to work on Monday.
I offered to travel and meet everyone at home instead, if only for the weekend. By now, my parents had settled down halfway between Papa’s work place and my place of study, the main reason being Papa’s transferrable job which was getting in the way of my brother’s studies.
As I got busy with medical school, my visits home declined in number too. And it was mostly phone calls now.
Into my final year in medical school, my entire family decided to settle down in Guwahati, the capital city of Assam, another north-eastern state bordering Arunachal Pradesh.
Papa had retired from service by then and both I and my brother were here now.
Of course, I could have gone stayed at home again. But I retained my hostel seat. The unearthly, unpredictable hours of medical school was not the entire reason though.
I guess by now, I loved my freedom too much!
After living all by myself for over a decade, I had grown anti-social enough to ignore guests and relatives I did not like or to avoid religious functions I didn’t quite believe in.
The fortnightly visits home suited me just fine.
Soon, it was time for me to leave altogether, to find work in a new place and make a new home for myself.
It didn’t feel much different leaving home and my parents this time around than it did some 13 years back when I had gone away to stay in the hostel.
Except for the fact that this time I was with my friend and husband and coming Home, which of course, made the world of difference!
For the past 5 years, relations with my parents had been a series of phone calls and irregular visits. There were the occasional gift packs that arrived on birthdays and special festivals.
That is probably the reason why I could not really realise fully about Papa’s death when I went home now. It felt like he was away somewhere on some task.
And I could talk to him about it later on over the phone.
Even the long drawn ceremonies, the rituals felt unreal. There were hundreds of people, mourners who came everyday. Many talked of papa’s quiet ways, of how sudden and untimely his death was.
But I somehow believe death is always timely.
Each soul comes and lives for whatever time it has been destined to live on earth. It is only to us left behind that it is difficult to accept the loss of someone we loved.
For me, Papa’s death means I will never hear his voice again over the phone.
Which will take some time to accept.
I don’t know how this feeling of interminable gloom will go away.
My darling of a husband has been trying many things from cooking delicious dishes, getting me chocolate pies and even offering to take me shopping. The latter, in normal times, would literally be absurd for him! But somehow I haven’t been feeling up to it.
He has been suggesting I start writing again. And in fact, I feel much better now that I have.
Maybe this is what will snap me out of the gloom - writing again for Ginger and Buddy and getting immersed in the lives of my adorable Furry friends.