November 3rd each year is a black day in my calendar. 34 years ago today I lost my Baba to brain cancer. He was 52 and suffered for 6 weeks of which 3 were thankfully spent in a coma. The end was recognized as the heaving of his chest stopped as the sun set that evening. It was the day after Kali Pujo. There were fireworks being lit all around us but I was oblivious to the sights and sounds of that evening. The evening was a haze midst a houseful of people. A stunned silence and then agonizing cries from friends and family were heard off and on all evening long. Yet there was a sense of extreme relief for me - I no longer needed to worry about Baba dying. This relief outshone any grief I may have felt over my loss. For years I had worried about his passing. For as long as he was outside the home I worried that he would not come back - that he would die and leave me.
When I was eight I watched my sister who was 13 have an epileptic seizure as she played ball with her classmates. She passed out and never recovered. That was my first contact with abandonment. I saw my parents despair over the loss of their child. I could not quite relate to what all the fuss was about. She had seizures and slept for hours after, almost every day. It was only later that I realized that there were to be no more seizures and that it was time for me to be attended to. It felt good.
Baba poured all his attention on me and my brother who was seven years older than me, a teenager who did not want to be doted on. I on the other hand was ready for all the attention Baba could shower on me. Then three years later when Dada left home for Calcutta I had arrived. In the next precious few years I became princess.
Baba was a big man - tall, broad and big hearted. To the rest of the world he was a Bengal Tiger. At work and amongst our friends and family he was to be handled with care. He was highly disciplined in his ways and expected everyone around him to be so too. Quite the perfectionist in everything he did and he did a lot. He was good at many things from repairing his Morris Minor and polishing it to a shine each weekend to embroidering a beautiful landscape on silk; from changing the light bulb to developing photographs in his dark room; from reciting the Gita to cleaning the toilets; from painting the walls to being a successful Homeopath - if he undertook a task he would do it well. He had a short temper, very little patience and loved to secretly gamble (horse racing to matka to playing the lottery). He was an extraordinary man from whom I learnt to love the written word. He insisted that I be proficient in the English language, that I be a career woman, that I be self dependent, and that I love with abandon. He told me often that he would leave me with a wealth of education and not a penny. "Inheritance is a curse," he would say, "And all I want to leave my children with are blessings."
His words as he lay a clean sheet on the bed (yes he was good at that too) "The way to a man's heart is through a well made bed and his stomach," still rings in my ears. I was about 14. Many a night after I had completed my school assignments I would lay down between my parents and he would read to us from Leo Tolstoy, Agatha Christie, Somerset Maugham and even the Encyclopedia Britannica. He loved to read both in Bengali and English but insisted that Bengali would come to me in good time, "Matribhasha to, theek shikhe jabe," (It is her native language - she will learn it in good time,) and so I should concentrate on the English language. His English was good but he had an accent that I enjoyed teasing him about. He took it all very sportingly.
He demanded attention simply by his presence. Maa had it hard. He expected his meals to be served on time and in a particular way. The thala (stainless steel plate) had to be shining clean, the food had to be piping hot, the water had to be poured just as he got to the table, and the food had to be perfect each day. Our home had to be spotless, the curtains had to be drawn open and shut at exactly the right time, Maa had to be perfectly dressed at all times and she had to be there when he needed her. She had to be his wife, his sister and the mother he never had all in one. In return he gave her his all. He adored her and made sure that she never lacked in any comforts. He showered her with his attention and spent quality time with her.
Your passing has left a space in me that can never be filled, Baba. I remember you often, in good times and bad. Most times my memories of you brings a smile to my face but on this day each year I shed a tear in your honor - you are my guiding light and all I do in life is a reflection of your direct influence on my life. Maa taught me many important life values and you taught me love. Today I am as old as you were when you left this world and I know I make you proud. Your absence from my life has made me acutely aware of your presence within my soul. I love you dearly. Rest In Peace. So long - till next time.
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