The universe has been very kind.
The last week we got with Papa was meaningful and traumatic. Amma and I got to tell him how much we love him. We asked only once for forgiveness. We had no need for apologies in my family. Amma and I were filled with gratitude and relief that we hadn’t put him back in a care centre, that we had had him with us at home for all this time.
We heard him tell us how much he loved us, the house that he built, our neighbour and his daughter Saritha and her husband Rajkumar and their kids Deepak and Riya. He even wrote all their names for us.
I got to give him an oil massage. We got to kiss each other. I got to repeatedly hold him, feed him, hug him. We were crying, he was ill and possibly uncomfortable but not in pain. He responded to us until the last day. He squeezed my hand like he always used to when I was a child. He got to tell the staff at Kites that his wife was the best ever cook. His absolute last words were a “thank you” to my mother.
The last three days, he was fading in and out of delirium, but the last days were also the time, I felt like he didn’t have any dementia. He was so loving and responsive. I felt his warm lips on my cheek. I felt his love for me when he always recognized me, the way my presence brightened his face always, even when delirious. I was his world. I will never ever feel that I am not loved. I experienced entire universes in those last moments we had together. Is there greater power than feeling that kind of love?
I got to relive my childhood. I kissed him playing the childhood game we had. I felt his response. Most importantly, I got to thank him for everything ranging from my birth and childhood to the trees he planted outside our house.
My brother, K, who has been my steady rock since childhood was able to visit Papa and he was also recognised.
Finally, on March 3, at 7.18 pm, Papa peacefully, so peacefully that it was tender and beautiful, passed away. My mom was cradling him, holding his right hand, and I held on to his left hand, caressing it. Our friends nay, family, Anu and Megha, stood by the bed. Other friends and students were gathered at the reception downstairs. I was on the phone with his doctor giving minute by minute update.
I got to see that end-of-life process in all its grace and beauty. Google is accurate.
And Papa’s was poetic. The end fit Papa’s life. He had lived like a king even when we had little money. He amassed people who loved and admired him wherever he went. He died that way too. Happily. In love. Without pain or fear. Surrounded by people who loved him.
I kept telling him to go, though.
This haunts me now, even when I know I did the right thing and that I would do it again.
But it’s immensely hard.
I kept telling him to go to the light in kindness, love, and joy.
I am convinced that our end is ecstatic.
Nearly two months ago, I had had a dream. An animalistic figurehead, similar to the pig in Kantara but not that, not like any animal I have ever seen, kept coming closer in space and became white light. Smaller globes of white light revolved around and eventually became part of the larger white light. Other smaller white light globes drifted away. A man’s voice said, “See, this is it. This is choice. This is free will. This feeling is what you all chase.”
I could feel a tingling in my spine and an indescribable ecstasy.
“It’s like sex, an orgasm, but so much more, infinite times more intense. Power.” I said.
“Yes, over there, it’s only a glimmer you get. And for that you do everything. You always have a choice. It’s always in you.”
I woke up from the dream disturbed, soaked in sweat from the hot flash I had surely had. The base of my spine still tingled. I remembered everything about the dream in vivid detail. It was almost like a vision. I had not changed my meds. Nor had I taken any substance. I had seen/heard Kantara/music months ago. I had been deeply affected by it because I could connect with my Mangalorean roots and because it had made Papa so immensely happy to watch it. But that was it.
At Kites, knowing Papa had little time left, I realized the import of what I had dreamt. And suddenly I was convinced. So I promised him that his going would be nothing but great happiness and peace. Is that why his face was luminous and peaceful in the end? Everyone at the funeral said so. He looked so handsome. His skin had cleared up and he was fair like I remembered him from my childhood.
I did all the last rites myself tearfully, muttering my own prayers, my own wishes, and I sent him swathed in fragrant flowers – tuberose and jasmine, clutching my sister Manasee’s gold square in his teeth, in love, kindness, and light. I lifted his bier with the other men. I thanked him one last time and told him how much I loved him and how much I would miss him. I told him to go to light, in kindness and love. I told him to go in peace. I lit the square piece of camphor, the symbolic pyre, and placed it on his chest. They pushed the bier into the electrical furnace and shut the door. Then in seconds, they opened the door for a second. I saw him explode in the electrical furnace and exactly as I was about to collapse from the horror and trauma of that, the Kantara music played as a ringtone. And just like that, I felt reassured and immeasurably calm and strong.
My Papa found his ecstasy.
We didn’t hire a priest. The women and our friends guided us. Megha chanted the Gayatri mantra softly. We all bid him farewell. It was beautiful.
We refused to inform our relatives from my mother’s side. They didn’t deserve to know. Their inconsiderate, asinine, bragging and fake talk would have polluted the piety and positivity I wanted for Papa. Besides, they were all at my nephew’s wedding reception. They might not even have come and it would have broken my mother’s heart irrevocably.
Papa’s funeral instead was swift, beautiful, and extremely intimate. Just as I wanted it to be. It was full of people who loved us. After, there was so much peace, beauty, even laughter. My friends brought us breakfast and other food. My students (whom I have adopted) stayed and helped with tasks. My ARMY girls never left my side. It was all sorrowful but happy.
Then I sent out the obituary I had already created earlier in the day with the help of my designer friend.
A few calls came. My mother wouldn’t speak to anyone.
I was scrupulously polite but firm.
An uncle commiserated for a second and went on to whine about his leg issue that had become bad the past two weeks, and his son who was also ill with an infection. I cut him off, said, “Thank you for calling but looks like you have too many issues in your life, so you please take care. Good luck. Bye.” And I hung up.
After all, compared to the pain in his life, mine was nothing. I had just set fire to my father earlier in the day.
My father was always fond of this man even when he knew what a useless, wicked, selfish relative he was. He had mercilessly beaten his younger siblings including my mother regularly when they were all in their teens. But my mother treated him with respect, even affection always. My father too. That’s my parents, no, my father for you – forgiving and loving till the end.
His daughter messaged. “It’s shocking. You could have informed.”
No commiseration. No comfort. No courtesy. No concern. Definitely no love.
So that message received no response.
A cousin called. My father was the reason her father had found a job, a livelihood. But Papa never lorded that over anyone. He loved my uncle and so these girls. But the family didn’t really care for Papa or Amma. My uncle had. When my uncle passed away suddenly, Papa insisted we attend every ritual, even though he didn’t like eating food at Brahmin funerals. So that’s what we did. He was deeply affected by my uncle’s death in spite of his dementia. “He shouldn’t have gone.” He kept saying that. He was in shock and sorrow for weeks.
“O is that why you didn’t attend the wedding? Have you finished the funeral already? You should have told us. We could have seen him one last time.” My cousin said.
“You never visited him when he was alive. Why do you need to see him when he’s gone? We simply don’t have a relationship; let’s not pretend. You have called. I appreciate that. So thank you. If you want to visit Amma and me, we are home. Thank you again for calling.”
I hung up.
After this, the others who called were careful only to commiserate. I gracefully accepted their condolences and hung up.
Not a single relative showed up. Ever.
I disrespect nearly all my relatives. They have never done anything to earn my respect. It wasn’t always so. I did love them because they were all I knew. But as I grew up, I saw their narcissistic personalities more clearly. And importantly, there was no love, no regard for our family. So I couldn’t give them any either. My mother slowly became convinced that her siblings were incapable of caring or loving her. She started to distance herself. But Papa ignored all this. To him, they were just people with foibles, and family at that. He enjoyed being around them.
But as a family, we had once discussed this. Our funerals would be private and intimate. No relatives. Unless something drastically changed in the way they were with us. The 11th day, we’d do charity or something meaningful. No relatives again But they could come for the 13th day. If they wished.
On the 11th day, I organised a lunch at Kites, and I could feel Papa’s blessings. The food, all Papa’s favourite dishes, was delicious. The staff remembered Papa fondly and shared stories with me. The doctors and nurses who looked after Papa hugged me. Our eyes were moist. It was meaningful and healing.
For the 13th day memorial meal I invited all the relatives with a sentimental reminder that to my father they were family. He always treated them as such.
No one showed up.
I have irrevocably destroyed ties with my mother’s family now.
And I only feel relief.
For the 13th day, we decorated our entire house with flowers because he loved flowers. I knew how I wanted it done, but my hands shook once I had placed his photo, and all his favourite things on the table. I couldn’t do anything after. I broke down. So Balu, my best friend, and Anu, my sister, did all the decoration themselves, thoughtfully and considerately checking with me before they did anything because they knew how important this last ritual was for me.
So after Papa passed, amma and I were pampered to the hilt by friends and found families.
Neighbours didn’t let us cook for weeks on end. My students and friends didn’t let me sleep alone for nearly three weeks taking turns to put me to sleep, massaging me, feeding me, smoking with me, patting me to sleep, even taking me out on long drives, and cheering me up with sensitive, well thought out stories and questions. Often, just comforting me by their presence.
We had a full house for the memorial.
My Papa’s colleagues and friends showed up, in spite of getting the invite only at the last minute. They sang praises of Papa, burst into tears, held my mother, and blessed me with sincere love. They gave me an opportunity to remember Papa like he was, before the tumour, before the dementia. And he was a hero worth worshipping. It was heartening to remember that.
The food, all his favourite items, was exquisite again. We were able to feed many people just as he would have liked.
And it felt like an entire world came together to make this happen.
I have witnessed such generosity and kindness in the past three and a half weeks that the trauma of losing Papa is genuinely mitigated.
Shock, grief, and gratitude is all I feel.
But the loss is very deep.
All the clichés about grief is true.
It comes in waves. It’s debilitating.
Losing a father, even one who was entirely dependant on you for years, makes you indescribably lonely and fearful. It’s illogical.
Your past gets rewritten. So every memory flashes and reveals a new truth, new insight, coloured by loss and love. Your entire life is experienced again.
I am supremely vulnerable now and easily rattled. Everyone says that I am being very strong but I have severe anxiety and can barely sleep. So I think of Papa often and channel his strength, his fortitude.
Papa is almost on a pedastal now., though I am trying not to do that because it doesn’t feel fair to me. He was just a man. But I feel proud that I can say, “I am my father’s daughter.”
I am grateful that he made me strong, independent, and capable.
He took all his secrets with him. There are so many things about his early life I know nothing about. I still don’t know where or how he lost money. I still don’t know anyone from my father’s family.
I won’t find out about any of that.
I do know that he was an early feminist. He was generous to a fault. Innocent like a child.
He brought me up to be a warrior and treated me like a queen.
Till his last breath, he was devoted to and in love with my mother.
Love. Laugh. Enjoy.
Make art. Create.
Be fair. Be fierce.
Fight for your rights.
Treat everyone with politeness and courtesy.
Be extremely private, especially when it comes to pain, weakness, sorrow.
These words sum up my Papa’s entire value system.
It’s only the last one I can’t keep because I am a writer, a teacher, and a builder of communities. I share because reading about loss and pain, trauma and strife makes all of us less lonely. I write honestly, brutal honesty always, because it’s important to talk about bad behaviours in ourselves and others so we can grow. It’s important we grow because life is about learning and moving on.
So this, then, is my legacy.
I’m working on Amrita Pritam right now. There’s this incident she narrates about her father:
He was a religious person (and a sanyasan before marriage) and once, he exhibited made some slides about Sikh stories to be displayed at religious places. One day, while he was playing such slides and explaining to devotees the real essence of the religion, some fundamentalists attacked him for showing “cinema” at such a sacred place and tried to destroy the black box that displayed those slides. Amrita, as a young child, witnessed this event.
She goes on to say: “That box with slides was shut forever. And with that, my father was stunned into silence, so much so that his silence was never broken again. Whatever I had written all through my life, I think one of my attempts, consciously and sub-consciously , was also to lend some words to my father’s silence.”
The way you ended this essay made me think of those lines. Like Shiva, our men, tend to hold all of life’s “haalahalam” in their throat, and maybe only daughters can churn it in their writing. Or maybe, all their life fathers – consciously or sub-consciously – prepare their daughters for this responsibility. Whichever way, it’s the world that benefits from such father-daughter duos, those who have learnt to read the world and write about it.
Deep grattitude to your dad (and mom) for us, you!