The wind rustled the leaves on the concrete slab, lifting them up from here and putting them down somewhere farther away. The dusty air tasted horrible and in spite of drinking quantities of water that would satiate an elephant, my throat is still dry and rough, like the rocks we climbed in our summer vacation while Deepti and I were still in school.
In hindsight, life was a bed of roses back then. We threw caution to the winds and climbed all the trees we wanted to, stole all the mangoes from Keshu uncle’s trees and jumped walls to escape from Tommy, his dog who would chase us for stealing mangoes. Whenever appa caught us stealing, he would break a twig from the puli tree or the peraykka tree and flog us until we started crying; but that never stopped us from stealing again. Strangely, he never punished us for not scoring well in academics. That was amma’s department.
Growing up, he was the strictest father around. The typical Nair head of the family who wanted his flock in the house before sun down. Deepti had no chance, being a girl and all that. I however used every chance to sneak out of the house and on some days would come back only the next day morning. I am sure he knew what I was upto, but he chose to ignore my doings outside the house. At the first chance I could get, in the pretext of joining JNU, I escaped the prison – officially.
Even when I brought home Rituparna as my wife, he raised no objections. Not that he gave us his blessings, but no objection was raised, which indeed was a big thing for anyone who knew my father. Ritu was in awe of the man my father was. Mr. Nair and his library were always a curiosity for her and she tried her best to be the off spring I chose not to be. Deepti was nowhere in the scene by that time. She was busy making her own family in the USA alongwith the Cardiologist husband of hers. Even when our mother died she did not come home once. I cursed her in my mind for shirking her responsibilities towards our family, especially to our father. I had no mind to tend to him after all he had done to me in our childhood. He was not a bad father, but then I had no feelings for him and I was clueless about what to do with him.
Ritu suggested we either move back to our palatial naalukettu or take him along with us to Delhi. I still do not know if not listening to her was a mistake. We stocked the pantry, appointed Dakshayini amma to cook for him and clean the house. If appa wanted anything, Rajan, Dakshayini amma’s son was at his disposal. It is strange how easily money buys conveniences and replaces people in our lives. Appa got used to the changes we made for him and lived his life. We would call once a month to check if the money transferred to his account was sufficient and by the end of 3 minutes we were clueless what to speak to each other. A small hi hello would be exchanged by appa and his two grandkids who had never met him in all their 5 years. No more calls were made after a few months and once in a while I called Rajan to enquire about appa.
In May 2014, he called me on my mobile. It was the first time he was ever calling me. I was skeptical while answering the phone, preparing myself for the worst possible news. He asked me why our mother was not returning home and he wanted to tell her that he was missing her. For some strange reason, he thought that amma was living with us. I did not know what to tell him or what to make of the conversation. Instead, I asked for Rajan or Dakshayini amma, whoever was around. Rajan’s gruff voice came from the other end – telling me that this had been going on since the last two weeks. They had taken him to a doctor who dismissed it as the onset of memory loss associated with age. I felt releived and asked Rajan to call me only in case of an emergency. Nobody ever called, until Onam that year.
Today marks two years since he is gone. I do not know whether to be thankful that I did not see the pain he was in or to be ashamed that I wasn’t there when he needed me. The man who taught me to walk, the one who got me my first bicycle, the man who shaped me to be who I am today. I feel unworthy to be even sitting in his house and reading his will. I know I am not worthy of anything he has done for me. I have loved this house, but now it is too painful, sitting in the courtyard and looking at the photos of my family – all of them gone now- amma, appa and Deepti. My sister had committed suicide and I had not even the slightest hint about the ordeal she went through before finally giving up.
Ritu was good at reading my mind. She sat next to me on the swing and took my hand in hers. She says my family has forgiven me, I hope they really have.
Rajan was sobbing on the phone, he was trying to tell me that appa had walked away from home and that he had left a note. I was furious at appa for having created such a scene. The holidays were on and we could afford to go to Ollur as we were living in Chennai that time and it was not too far.
Rajan tells me appa went from bad to worse that year. He would throw tantrums, tell people off, do things nobody approved of and refused to even carry out his basic daily activities like bathing or eating. For days he would cry holding my amma’s photo and refuse to be fed or cleaned. I can’t even ask why nobody told me, these were not things I had listed in the sheet containing the ’emergencies’ I wanted to be alerted about. His own son was the only one who did not know that appa had alzheimer’s. Even Deepti knew, but she had not come down. Why would people come and visit a sick parent when they did not even turn up to see their mother’s dead body. But who was I to complain.
For the first time I had tears in my eyes; I could not fathom what the man must have been going through, for him to write such a letter.
I feel fine now. Let me go before I forget why I am going. Don’t worry I will not come back, I won’t remember the way even if I want to.
September is World Alzheimer’s Month and this year’s theme is Remember Me.
Please use the hashtags #RememberMe #WAM2016 on social media to promote awareness about Alzheimer’s.