Thursday, June 28, 2007

Project 4 - Making Daddy Proud

Objective - Select the right words and communicate ideas vividly

2nd of December 2004. 7 AM.

I awoke to the squeaking of unoiled wheelchair wheels. My eyes stung from the fragmentary sleep I had had the previous night. My father had been in the hospital since 3 days then and a patient of Chronic Kidney Failure since 3 years. I blinked repeatedly. My eyes felt better. Sitting up I could see hospital’s reception table straight ahead. The receptionist was not in. But the dialysis patients had started arriving for the morning shift. There was a low hum in the reception area as those patient’s escorts talked in low voices. I decided to check on my father.

There was a huge square frosted glass window behind my father’s bed. It was an east-facing window and at that time of the day my father’s white-walled room was awash with light. Since the light came from behind my father’s bed, at first sight it seemed like it was my father’s aura and not diffused sunlight that filled the room.

In his heydays, my father had been a 5 feet 7 inches tall pot-bellied man. His square face had high cheekbones, flesh piling up against them. He had narrow Mongolian eyes like mine. So when he smiled, his cheeks squeezed them and all one saw was two segments for his eyes. Overall, he looked like an amiable huggable teddy bear.

But through the 3 years of his disease, his body wasted away. His high cheekbones made his gaunt cheeks more pronounced. His limbs started looking like sticks. But due to the disease, water would accumulate in his torso and his feet. So his tummy took on the appearance of a drum more than a pot. The swelling near his chest would go down for a day two after his weekly dialysis turning the drum into more of a pitcher.

That day the drum was larger. His head was tilted to the left and he was staring blankly straight ahead. The previous two days the nurses had to tie his hands to the guardrails of the hospital bed because he would constantly try to pull the oxygen mask off his nose. He had not been too cognizant of his actions. A knot had formed in my throat by seeing him in such a pathetic state – a prisoner of his bed. My eyes had become dams for the tears of pity and agony.

That day though, he was breathing easily and the mask hung from nozzle of the brown oxygen cylinder standing to the right of the head his bed. To the left side was a table with an assortment of medicines and a vacuum flask to keep boiled water in. The flask was white with peach-coloured flowers. Somehow, the design conveyed gaiety to me; the flask seemed a misfit in the room where the air hung heavy with helplessness, sombreness and sleeplessness.

My mother was sitting to the right side of the bed having tea and gazing at my father. From the foot of the bed where I stood, I could only see her back. She was hunching a little. I saw how her spine had gone lax from unspoken resignation and fatigue even as the day had just begun. She asked me to freshen up from home and come. I had also to go to the bank that day. My father had not yet acknowledged my presence. Thinking he was in a stupor, I left without speaking to him.

While I waited for my turn at the counter in the bank, I saw my best friend searching the crowds. My father’s condition had grown serious. Upon reaching the hospital, I saw my sobbing sister and glum classmates outside. In the reception area, my mother was weeping inconsolably. My paternal aunt confirmed what my brain was trying not to derive from the scene – my father had passed away a few minutes ago.

I was incredulous. He couldn’t just leave. My paternal aunt was trying to hold my hands but I jerked them away and proceeded to his room.

I saw his body wrapped in the sheet he had used as a coverlet. The nurses were tying his body with coir ropes before it started to harden as if they were packing a piece of cargo to be shipped off. But I couldn’t protest. I couldn’t say a word. A flood of emotion was washing my sanity away. I cupped his face in my palms and felt his cheeks with my thumbs. The skin was still warm and soft. His face had a half-smile. He seemed to be calm, free from pain and in immense peace. I called out to him but there was no response. It was then that the dam behind my eyes gave way and tears flowed freely.

After that we were all led to my grandmother’s house. Father’s body was placed in the washed and completely vacated veranda so visitors could pay homage to him. There was a small brass oil lamp and sandalwood incense on the left side near his head. The strong scent masked the faint smell of medicines and hospitals that had become characteristic of my father. The framed picture of my late grandfather hung on the wall parallel to my father’s body and it seemed as if he were overseeing the preparations for his son’s final journey to where he was.

The rituals started and the priest made my mother, my sister and me pour water over ourselves and perform the rituals in the same drenched clothes. The water was icy cold and it chilled us to the bone. My already shocked mother was unable to support herself after that and had to be helped by two people to perform all rituals. We offered rice grains and flowers at our father’s forehead and circled his body thrice before touching his feet. I remember how different his body felt then from the morning. It felt like it was made of wood. All signs of moisture had receded from his body. I touched my head to his feet for the last time and stayed that way for a few seconds. I didn’t want to let go.

After the rituals were over, the men lifted the bamboo sticks father’s body had been fastened to and took him away. A small carrier truck was parked a few feet away from the house. They kept his body in it and the truck took a turn around the corner. With that my father disappeared from our sight and our lives forever.

In the 3-year long battle against the disease, my father lost his hearing to the side effects of a life-saving drug, underwent painful dialysis every single week and endured immense physical discomfort. But he never complained. He never stopped smiling.

Among the many things he taught me in his lifetime was public speaking. He told me that any speech should have an attention-grabbing opening. He taught me the importance of body language. He wrote most of my speeches in school until I was mature enough to write them by myself. He introduced me to the powerful art of oratory.

Smiling as much as I can and public speaking are my ways of paying obeisance to him. I try and do both here and every time I step-off the dais, I only hope he is watching and smiling. I only hope he is proud of me.