A father daughter bond that was disrupted when the author’s father passed away at a young age of 42, but has endured through memories that are cherished.
I had a father who doted on me, a father whose letters I still cherish and read through, when I need a little advice. His letters were like a beacon, taking me along with them the two years that I was apart from my parents and sisters, doing my ninth and tenth at my grandparents’ home.
Both my parents were prolific letter writers and I would wait eagerly for the postman to hand over envelopes with the well-loved handwriting. I would rush to my pink room, painted especially for me by my doting grandparents, to make me feel at home.
I remember being apprehensive when my parents first told me that I would have to move away because Dad was being posted to a remote station with no good schools. I burst out crying, and Mom came to comfort me. All that she could figure out was that I didn’t want to leave them, of course, but more importantly, I didn’t want to wake up early in the morning.
My paternal grandparents were strict disciplinarians. My grandfather was the Founder and headmaster of a Boys’ High School, and he and my grandmother would wake up at four in the morning and pray till about seven. That was a daily routine and no one in the house was allowed to sleep beyond dawn.
I had always been a nocturnal creature right from childhood. Those few minutes of sleep after the alarm clock had blared were the most glorious ever. I would snuggle into my blanket and turn a deaf ear till it was stripped off me. I was at my grumpiest when woken up, and now, I shuddered at the very idea of having to be up with the lark. It was no lark, as far as I was concerned.
Mom and Dad realised my dilemma.
“Is that the only reason why you don’t want to leave?” Mom asked with a tender smile.
I nodded, sniffing away.
Dad gave me a bear hug. “Don’t worry! Everything will be fine.”
When we got to my grandparents’ home, Dad was there to smooth everything out. After we had freshened up, he sat his parents down and spoke to them.
“I have only one request. Deepu loves her morning sleep. Please let her sleep in.”
My grandparents gave in willingly, perhaps because I was the apple of their eye. They doted on me, the eldest child of their eldest son. For the two years that I was with them, never did I have to get up early. My Dad had made sure of that.
Dad and I had a special bond. He and I began our stamp collections together. In fact, every time he wrote me a letter, he would put a fresh stamp on the cover and enclose another fresh one inside the envelope. I would use this to write back to him and hence, both of us had the same number of stamps in our albums. He would also send me First Day Postal covers. Mom and my little sisters would also send me quaint little missives telling me that they missed me. I missed them too.
However, even more intriguing was another collection we had – of matchstick labels. In those days when smoking was socially accepted, matchboxes were all over the place. Dad showed me how to place the matchbox in water, and slowly and painstakingly, remove the label once the glue came unstuck. Once it was dry, I would paste it in my album. What beautiful labels I found, and how proud I was every time Dad gave me a pat on my back!
On every occasion, Dad would write to me. He had the most exquisite handwriting ever, with tiny curls that looked like embroidery. I have never seen a hand more beautiful in all my years. Birthdays, school annual functions, literary contests, poetry recitations, studies, friends and relative – he had something of interest to tell me in every letter.
It was when I was in the tenth that a close friend’s father passed away and I wept my heart out to Dad. He sat down and wrote me a letter that remains close to my heart even today, talking about how vital a role parents play in one’s life and what a grievous blow it can be to lose one of them. He told me to be there for my friend and help her tide over the terrible loss.
Image source: Deepti Menon
I did well in school, with the blessings and guidance of my grandparents, and the long-distance love showered upon me by Dad and Mom. Finally, the day came when Mom decided to settle down in Thrissur in Kerala, and start a school of her own, an idea that Dad applauded whole-heartedly. He too was due for retirement, and he would finish his tenure in Mumbai and come down and live his dream of starting a poultry farm. We could not wait to live together as a family once more.
However, ‘the moving finger’ had other plans – just before I was set to write my twelfth standard exams. On the 29th of January 1979, there came a fateful click on our gate, a click that still haunts me after forty years. A click that heralded the arrival of a group of close friends who came in trepidation to break the most awful piece of news ever – the passing away of my beloved Dad. At the very moment when Mom was writing a letter to him, a letter which would remain unfinished… just like her life without him.
Today, even when I write this, my eyes fill with tears, for here was a man who could have lived on till today, old and cherished, in the bosom of his adoring family. A man who had so much love to offer, but was struck down in his prime, at the young age of 42. A father who loved us all to distraction, a father who remains in my heart as he was, and as a mere shadow in the minds of my little sisters. And a beloved husband who lives on in my mother’s heart, evergreen, eternal.
Header image source: Pixabay
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