The fear is what will happen if the hoarder of secrets loses all his memory?
Where will those secrets go?
Who will hide stories about my paternal ancestry?
How will we ever discover what happened to all that money all those years ago? How did he lose it? Who won it?
These are important secrets.
My mother and I tried uncovering these secrets on our own. We went to trusted sources before my father’s tumour was discovered and the operation done.
We ran to his ex-manager (who continued to be friendly, especially with him) after that final massive fight at home where I almost killed my father. It was kill him or die. Neither happened because our Telugu neighbour intervened. My father still treats her like his own daughter, maybe to thank her for what she did that day.
After the fight, my mother and I spoke to the ex-manager, hoping my father would listen to him should he advise him. We hoped he might know the big secret that began the fight in the first place – where was all the money my father had? He said he no longer had it, that he gave it to someone in need, but he wouldn’t tell us who or why. The bank statements only showed that he had withdrawn all the money.
He heard us out when mother and I cried and showed him marks on our bodies from all his rage. He tut-tutted and smiled when I said in all my youth and all my ignorance that I would kill my father if ever he tried to hit us again. He heard us but dismissed us when we cried and bemoaned how my father’s come to this; he never was this way. That I was the apple of his eyes and today he had hit me this way!
He started sharing. He said how his temper always got him in trouble at work and no one liked him. How everyone hated him. How he never worked. He was idle, improper, his work was always shabby, and as a manager it fell on him to clear it all up, to clean it all up. He had no brains even then. He was just anger, meanness, selfishness, and carelessness. All he cared about was eating, drinking, and lazing about. He was a spendthrift.
The man refused to counsel my father, or get involved beyond the sharing of these truths. He would never have said all this but for the fact that we already had experienced it for ourselves. Shocked and horrified as we were, we couldn’t force him after hearing him. And at the time, living through what we were, we believed him.
It made a mockery of my childhood and all that I believed of my father. It shamed me to realise that all of Papa’s friends, who visited us so often when he still worked, derided him in secret. And his friends who told me to study well, to make my father proud, to grow up and become a noteworthy daughter to the man who was already special, were lying or pretending.
We found it was a brain tumour.
It might have been fatal had the stress of all this in my life not given me the sudden, painful twitches that had me finally seeking a neurologist. My reports were normal. The neurologist sat there flummoxed. I was only 29, riddled with rheumatoid arthritis and a host of other issues, but nothing that pointed to the twitches or what was causing them. He said, ‘Let’s do an MRI and maybe a thorough check-up of everything. I can’t imagine what it is. It could be stress, sometimes, that can cause such things. But you’d have to be tremendously stressed for something like that.’
He looked at me, certain that I couldn’t be stressed to that extent.
I merely laughed. I said, ‘You have no idea how stressed I am.’
And that’s when the story poured out and he immediately suspected a tumour.
And that’s what it was.
That’s all it was. Hence the rage and the violence. The lack of all manner of control and inhibition, the loss of an interest in hygiene. This, from a man who ironed even his underclothes. He wasn’t lazy or mean, poor man. Just ill.
We didn’t find it on time but we found it before I started hating the man whom I loved more than anyone else. We found it before it killed him. Another few days and the neurologist said it certainly would have.
And in all his pain, and all that haze, what I saw foremost on his face when we lied and conned him and took him to the hospital was relief, followed immediately by worry. For me. The daughter I was sure he hated by then.
“But how will you afford all this?”
That is my father.
His concern for others overshadows any concern for self.
It is possible that he did indeed give the money to someone deserving or a very good con.
We’ll never know.
And my father was right about that – it doesn’t matter.
The result of the operation was immediate. There for all to see. He was back to being clean, meticulous, conscientious, and caring. He even made people laugh like he used to. And so many of his friends visited when they finally heard. They were upset we hadn’t told them. This couldn’t be a man everyone hated, a wasteful, disengaged colleague or employee.
Back home from hospital, he started cleaning and taking care of things like before.
When our conservative Telugu neighbour, his other daughter, chided him for sweeping the outdoors being a man, he told her, like his old self, ‘What are you saying! Why should I not clean my own house?’
Importantly, we no longer had fights where he would raise his hands. He never ever raised his hands again. I never felt that murderous rage again in my life.
And sure enough, the ex-manager never showed his face to us; how could he?
And then over the years, my father began to withdraw more into his shell. We said age.
Only when he’d have a drink sometimes, he told stories. He loved telling old stories to people he liked. The same stories repeated in the same sequence every time. Not a change anywhere. You could never doubt his sincerity. You could only admire his skill. Storytelling; some of us are born performing.
We still knew so little about his birth or his family or anything beyond the day he landed in Bangalore with a job in hand and ate ‘chitranna’ for the first time as his first meal, expecting to eat something exotic and tasty, and finding cold rice with lemon instead. That was his first taste of Bangalore. This is a story I have heard twice now. But that’s all I know.
All the rest are stories of my childhood. The sort of child I was. Such a mouth on me. So much intelligence. Even when I was a mere baby.
He was born also to be a father because my childhood was the best time of my life. I never lacked anything and in spite of everything, I grew up knowing I was special, intelligent, independent, and that the world might not be all correct and right even if everyone thought so. He taught me to always trust myself. That is what made me. That my parents made of me single-handedly. My mother sometimes made me feel less than beautiful, but in my father’s eyes, other people got fatter, darker, fairer, thinner, lost their looks, but I was always beautiful.
But what birthed my father? What was his story before Bangalore?
We tried uncovering his past. We spoke to his longest surviving friend. My mother did.
Uncle told tales of heroism, wealth, power, and then startlingly enough – murders. That’s why my grandmother warned my father not to visit her again when I was seven years old. That’s why we never went. The family was connected to all the wrong sorts of people. To this day, my mother is not keen on learning too much about the secrets of my father’s past. What we don’t know, won’t hurt us.
We never doubted or questioned Uncle. Another friend of my mother recognised my father’s father’s name long ago. Repeated the story of wealth in Kasargod, a large family, a quarrel among brothers, a saint of a man that was my grandfather who donated huge chunks of his wealth to temples in Dharmastala and in Mangalore. A man who lost everything because he married my grandmother, a city girl who hated the life in Kasargod, who insisted they move to be closer to her mother. All of this tied in with what my mother had been told by my father before their wedding. He was never a liar.
And now as his memory fails a little bit each day, he lies often about small things, or maybe he forgets.
A week back when we were on a trip to Shringeri, he lost his way and forgot how to get to the serviced apartment we were staying at. Finally, he found the building but couldn’t find the flat. That’s when he admitted that he was indeed losing his memory, that something was wrong, and he finally agreed to see the doctors very docilely, without protests.
For the first time in my life that day, I saw my father so afraid.
I worry it’s dementia or even Alzheimer’s. The reports and the doctors say it’s not. Not yet. Only that the after-effects of the tumour will age his brain faster than others’, and that his brain is shrinking with age. So we must engage him with mental activities, do more reading and writing. The neurologist told him that he must write his memories and thoughts down.
The neurologist doesn’t know that my father is the hoarder of secrets and that he will never share.
I am afraid his stories are going to be lost forever.
I will never know my Shetty roots, if indeed they are Shetty roots.
I won’t go seeking them. Why should I? The family I was born into and the family I have made is enough for me. I anyway suffer from chronic anxiety; do I need more?
But how do we uncover the secrets that a dying memory might guard?