When I was a child, on hot summer afternoons one of my favourite activities was taking ice-cubes from the ice-box. And then I used to hold it in my hand and see it intently even as the ice-cubes were changing their shape. My father every now and then saw me doing this and when he used to ask me about this particular activity, my standard answer was “I am watching how it’s melting and changing its shape.” My mother always scolded me for doing this but my father never.
It has been years since I actually held an ice-cube in my hand just for the purpose of seeing its shape change. But then as they say everything changes with time. We leave something behind, we pick up something new. And in this constant reshuffling between the old and new, many summers passed by. I grew old so also my father. And then he left my world for ever on January 3, Monday. Today it’s exactly five weeks. I dread Mondays now because I got that chilling phone call that day. For last five weeks, I have not written a single word. I have been looking at the blank screen of my lap-top for days and I have not been able to type a single word. Out of restlessness, I keep on reading poems by Rumi, Pablo Neruda and Amrita Pritam. On worse days, I keep on logging on to Facebook to see what people are writing as their status message.
I am yet to grieve for my father. I have not been able to cry. Cry inconsolably. Cry without anything to hold me. I want to cry so much that I will just collapse and sleep out of sheer exhaustion. It’s strange —- I continued working in my office on that fateful day even as my sister called up to say that “Baba passed away.” I did so without crying. I called up my travel agency to book my tickets for the next morning. I had a meeting with my team-mates regarding the following day’s work. Earlier in the day, I had fixed up meeting with some people and I had no option but to continue. I didn’t feel the need to tell them the reason to cancel. I thought it will be a betrayal of my core. So, I continued. Like my desk-top. In a mechanical way. I continued working even as the little green dot against my name in G chat was very much there showing my presence in the virtual world. Even as I was carrying on with all these work at my office in Ahmedabad, my eldest sister was lighting my father’s funeral pyre amidst chants of Gayatri mantra (the conditions at home were not favourable to keep my father’s body overnight). My father’s last remains were then being consigned to flames in far away Orissa. Within few hours, my beloved father just turned to ashes leaving no physical trace of his curly hair, his shapely hands and twinkling eyes. And for the rest of my life, I will only have his photographs, letters, his colourful neck-ties, a stylish Indigo blue jacket for comfort and a sense of belonging. I only have my imagined images in my mind that still play hide and seek with me how his final journey was. I prefer to push it away but I am not yet successful.
I was almost like a trained soldier even after I arrived in Bhubaneswar. The following days were so grueling that it never gave me a chance to sit down to mourn my father’s death. There were hundred phone-calls to be made; there were things to be arranged. The guests visiting our home were to be taken care of. When his students, colleagues came, we all fondly talked about him. But the tears never flowed freely.
Even when my sister was doing the rituals of the final immersion of the ashes, tears welled up in my eyes but I didn’t break down. Along with those few bones and ashes of my father, I quietly put a letter to him and a photostat copy of a piece I wrote on him for the Chicken Soup for Father’s Soul book in that strangely calming water. I asked for forgiveness if I had ever hurt him unknowingly and I also wrote that he was the best dad in the world and I loved him deeply. I came back to Ahmedabad a day after the immersion. At the Mumbai airport, I kept on looking at people and their world even as the realisation that a part of my world has died for ever was constantly nagging me deep within.
For the outside world, I am back to my old self. Occasionally people now do tell me how strong I am actually. And yes, I crack jokes and laugh at other people’s joke too. But in the midst of it, I am feeling as if I am carrying a huge really huge iceberg within me. Like a Merc or a Spanish villa, grief is a luxury not many can afford. It’s all so concentrated that I feel burdened under the heavy weight of it. There are nights I keep on looking at my lap-top thinking that I will again go back to the world of words— a world which my father always encouraged me to explore in myriad ways. But those desperate attempts only ended in blank stares and an equally blank screen.
Today, on a Monday— I finally gather courage, the strength to go back to the world of words. The ice must melt. The pain must find its way through words though it will change its shape and probably take a different shape on each day from today.
Yes, the ice must melt now. And of course the words must also flow now. Without effort as it has been till now. And if I fail sometime now, I will always go back to my father as I used to as a child while finding a difficult word in my English text book. But can anybody tell me now how long it takes a titanic Iceberg to melt and leave no trace of its original shape?
(This is the first piece I wrote after my father passed away.)
(The earlier ones in this site are the ones I wrote for my previous blog site)