She didn’t remain a six year old all her life. She grew. She understood how gambling and betting could ruin an otherwise normal family.
A midnight call woke her up. Appa was no more. He had died in his sleep just a few minutes back. Cardiac arrest. Luckily her brother checked on him before going to bed and sensing that he was not breathing had called up a doctor friend who confirmed his worst fear.
His death was peaceful. No hospitalization or home care was ever required. Amma had preceded him by ten years and we, his children were doing quite well for ourselves.
Memories flashed through her mind.
Memory of her dad singing “So ja Rajakumari so ja” to put her to sleep. Memories of the piggy rides on his back. Memory of the ATLAS cycle he bought for her as a surprise gift on her 10th birthday.
Memory of her dad drawing a life sized portrait on the wall. Memory of her dad singing a song and asking her mom to identify the raaga. Memory of him being a caring son to his mother.
Memory of a husband who would outwardly display his affection for amma by sweeping her off her feet in public when others of his generation would not even call their wives by name.
Memory of an orderly shedding copious tears at the railway station and her dad handing him a new wrist watch that he had hardly worn.
Memory of her cousins who’d sing “mama kurangu, nee kurangu, naan kurangu” while her dad danced to their music in the drawing room.
Kind hearted, adorable, ever helpful to those in need.
Well, the list was long and easily overshadowed the memories of those hateful evenings when alcohol changed him into an entirely different person.
Memories of herself as a six year old when her dad came home at midnight and picked up a quarrel with her mother right away.
Oh no! Not again! She thought while pretending to be fast asleep.
What is this? Bellowed her dad.
She secretly hoped that her dad was not talking about the nail polish her uncle J had got for her that very evening. She had wanted to paint her nails and her mother had told her that daddy wouldn’t like it, and refused to get it for her. When uncle J who lived next door asked her what she wanted for her birthday she readily asked for a bottle of red nail polish – The shade used by her favourite teacher Miss Claire.
At the age of six she felt that her dad could not get angry with uncle J so it was safer to ask him for forbidden stuff. However, to her utter dismay, a peep from under the blanket showed her red eyed father holding the bottle of nail polish.
Smash! The bottle hit the ground and broke into a thousand pieces – or so she thought.
Who got it for you? You slut! Having a gala time behind my back aren’t you? Who is that secret lover and what else is he gifting you?
Hush! You will wake the children up. Our neighbor J gave it to R for her birthday.
So your daughter is the perfect excuse for your actions. Who is he to buy stuff for my daughter? Am I dead? Why don’t you admit that he bought it for you? And why did he come over when I wasn’t at home?
This was a regular weekend scene in their house. He was hardly the dad she knew during the weekdays.
He played cards at the club on Sunday evenings and lost money on most days. At least that’s what she heard her mother tell her aunt. He then drowned his disappointment in alcohol and came home staggering at midnight. He would shout and curse. Expletives flew out of his mouth, proportionate to the whiskey that went in. Why a card game caused him to lose money was beyond her understanding. But she understood that card games were bad and so was alcohol.
The dad who was getting ready to work the next morning was a different person. Always well dressed, witty and humorous he exuded an air of confidence and she was sure that if anything went wrong he would definitely set it right.
She looked for her bottle of nail polish on the dressing table hoping that what she witnessed at night was a bad dream.
Appa, I kept my nail polish right here. Did you see it?
Sorry kuttima, I am so sorry. It accidentally fell off my hand. I’ll get you a new one this evening.
Uncle J got it for me. She bit her tongue thinking that uncle J’s name would annoy her dad. But it didn’t.
That was so nice of him. I’ll get you the same shade. He won’t even know the difference.
Amma says you don’t like nail polish?
Rules will be broken for my little princess. Now give me a big hug! I am getting late for work.
True to his word he got her a bottle of nail polish that very evening.
Her dad would be his charming self all through the week. She, however, dreaded weekends. Saturday afternoons were for the race course and Sundays for Wheeler Club.
She didn’t remain a six year old all her life. She grew. She understood how gambling and betting could ruin an otherwise normal family. She watched her mother’s jewelry being pawned one after the other.
Initially amma resisted.
They were given to me by my father, she had protested.
I have to remit money in the office. It is collection money. Please bail me out this time. I will redeem the jewelry as soon as possible. That is a promise.
The truth was that the pawned jewelry was never redeemed.
Looking back each little incident was etched in her memory.
“The threads of memories are woven by atoms of endurance”.
Her eyes welled up.
I love you appa. Yes I do. With all your shortcomings I still feel you were the best dad ever.
Editor’s note: This story was shortlisted for the April 2019 Muse of the Month contest, even though it wasn’t one of the top 5 winners.
Image source: shutterstock
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