I don’t ALWAYS work when I have visitors in my house and my parents know that; but they also know that I still prefer to keep my laptop flap open and pretend to be working. Nothing beats that trick to escape from all the cheesy and boring conversations that they have.
I peculiarly hate it when I hear knocks on my door when I am discussing something with my parents, and so today my neighbor was not particularly welcomed by me when she chose to knock on our doors, just when I was discussing on “How one can become a Pope?” with my parents.
My dad sat on the chair opposite to me while I kept working on my laptop as my neighbor and my mom started talking about their children and how they have grown to be complete ungrateful nut-bags. It was as if I was completely invisible there.
My mom later even took the liberty to tell how I never used to have much fun with dad and it still is that way, and how we only talk when it is something really serious like … religion, generation gap and that irritating squeaky noise of my bedroom door. It was as if even my dad was invisible.
My mom later went on to explain how once, in my childhood, my dad carried me in his arms and was descending down the stairs and how some random stupid had just cleaned the stair case but casually chose to let the soapy water remain on the stairs. My dad slipped on the top most stair and came crashing and slipping down along the staircase, which at least had 8-10 stairs. Her voice grew more excited as she went to to explain how dad kept his hold on me tight and did not let me go till he ensured his unfortunate style of descend has stopped. Only when he was completely down did he hand me over to a lady at the side and stood up to feel how damaged his body ended up to be. Everyone praised dad for protecting me like that and those praises still echo in our house whenever a new guest comes and the topics of agenda includes the favorite – “My ungrateful children and their all-beautiful childhood”.
As she was done with this story, my dad was still seated on the chair opposite to me, with no motion, his body completely indifferent to what he heard. But his head then gave away as it turned around and looked at me. I was watching all that from the corner of my eye but I did not know if I should look up to him and smile or give him a high five and share a joint. We don’t do all those sort of father-son things. I stayed put, as after a few seconds he resumed looking to his right, him too pretending to be deep in thought and not listening to my mom’s and the neighbors’ discussions which by now had shifted to other children and their childhood.
I smiled as I continued to type and look at my laptop screen. I smiled as to how he was also ignoring them and how it might be a genetic thing, but more than that I smiled because I was grateful. He knows I am grateful, or at least I hope he does. I was also grateful to my mom’s nature of repeating one story over and over again without ever getting bored of it.
Him looking at me, my subtle smile; though it was barely even a minute long but those seconds formed one good Father-Son moment for me…
I don’t know if it was unexpected. My response when my mom told me that Grandma is no more, was first blank which later turned into shock and finally settled into the realization that inside I knew it was going to happen soon. From there to the next 2 hours everything was planned and arranged really soon. I got a leave for 10 days from my company, dad booked an air ticket for 3 and I set out for Mumbai, from where we were to aboard the flight to Kerela the very next morning.
As our airplane landed Trivandrum, I was unsure of the emotions that I was supposed to have. Dad was blank the whole time. He tried very hard to look composed though occasionally I could see that he was depressed, which was expected and obvious as it was his mother who was no more among the living. Mom was rather relaxed though I knew very well that she had finished her share of tears way before I had reached Mumbai. I was confused, and was thinking hard of what I should feel. Occasionally I would feel blank but I would then resume to my normal mood.
Two of my relatives had come with a car to pick us up. My town – Mavellikara – is a good 4 hours ride from Trivandrum provided we meet no traffic jams. One of the two men was my dad’s brother and the other I guessed was my cousin sister’s husband though I did not get much time to confirm the relations. My assumed cousin sister’s husband drove real fast through the notoriously dangerous roads of Kerela. His turns and cuts were made so comfortably that I almost felt I was playing one of the computer games in the car in which you drive so precariously knowing that you wont be dead for real.
We reached our native house, and I could see a large crowd. I could not help but keep observing dad’s face. I wanted to see for some reason how his expressions were changing. His face was pale, emotionless. As we neared one of the homes of our family where Grandma’s corpse lied covered in ash and and a white blanket, the sounds of cries were getting clearer. The house was filled with deafening cries of ladies, and my dad there stood for only about 1 minute. He looked at grandma and soon walked outside the house. I could see a tear drop lingering on the border of his eye lashes, waiting to drop down at the slightest unbalanced move. He walked hastily towards another home, apparently to change and get dressed for the rituals. I saw him slipping and tripping, I ran and helped him balance himself. We soon emerged out of that home semi naked with only a thin white towel tied around our waist, covering our legs till a few inches below the knees. The ritual demanded that we bathe ourselves in this outfit by pouring water over our body a couple of times. I was a bit uncomfortable to the idea of getting wet with a thin cloth that would be almost transparent when it gets wet and sticks to my body, however I had to do what the ritual commanded and I did, along with many other men. I do not exactly know how many more men like me and dad were there, wet and ready for the rituals, but there were at least 10-20 people from a range of ages.
Dad initiated the ritual, being the eldest son. After many formalities that had to be followed, which I was unsure of whether was present since the Vedic ages or were added very recently we finally moved Grandma’s body to the place where she would be lit to a funeral pyre. Again dad initiated the rituals here, and all of us followed in descending order of age. As part of one of the rituals, I had to touch Grandma’s feet and pray. I found it hard to find her feet within the layers of sheet covering her body and when I did I held it loosely and bowed down. I knew I trembled, and I chanted some ‘Aum’s and had let go off her feet. I wished I had cried. I felt void of emotions.
I vaguely remembered the time when Granddad had expired. I was barely 7years old. Back then with a financial status way poor that what we have today we still came by flight and reached on time for the rituals. I remember I had sat near Grandma who was weeping furiously and I too had cried. I remember how I cried back then and today I felt disappointed on myself that my eyes were not even wet. What has changed me so much? Have I become so stoic that even the death of a closed one cannot stir me? I watched as three men covered her corpse with layers of cow dung cakes, camphor, and many such things. As they were scattering the dung cakes I saw a cockroach who escaped from the bag full of dung cakes. It lacked the brown color that these bugs have and with its pale exoskeleton it looked more disgusting. It ran towards the heap of carefully placed dung cakes on Grandma’s corpse. Its entry was secured by more dung cakes. How foolish of this creature to escape from a bag to a pyre. As I wondered how it was going to be a funeral for two living things, I was disturbed by a man who directed dad to start the pyre.
I felt stupid for being lost in the thoughts of a cockroach and such stupid things when I should be feeling sad or at least something for my Grandma who lay lifeless before me. My dad started the fire, and we were told that except my dad who still had some more rituals to complete, everyone else who were part of the ritual could go, bathe and change. I was relieved to get back to some comfortable clothes but I did not show the enthusiasm. As I walked towards the bathroom, I walked slow. I wanted to take as much time as possible to think about me, about the person who just left us all, and about how emotionally indifferent I have become. As I started walking away I turned back to see my dad looking at the pyre. I was standing beside him the entire day, holding him or talking to him whenever his wall of faked calmness was about to crumble.
I walked towards him and stood besides him. He was still looking at the pyre. I held him to break his flow of thoughts which I successfully did. He looked fine and composed. He was no more faking it. I wondered if some how the burning pyre also allowed him to accept what happened with comfort, inside somewhere a part of me started making a theory of what could be the average time for a person to feel fine after some one close dies. I shooed away my stray thoughts and looked at the pyre. There was my Grandma’s body, now almost burnt to ashes. A fate which we all share though the way the body disposes off differs. A fate which we all accept. And surrounded by the pyre I see men, who believed that by this pyre they would make her life after death easier and better. I was never sure of how effective these rituals were, but I did not want to be a rebel on this. Within some hours the pyre was now just tired smokes trying to escape through the ashes. The aura around was no more melodramatic. I was talking with my cousins and they were laughing and joking about things. My dad and some elders were discussing about other coffee table discussion topics. Some were in the kitchen preparing dinner. I smiled and looked at my dad who was by now very engrossed in some deep topic about Indian customs. I looked at the pyre and then some urge made me to look above at the night sky. “Good bye Grandma” I whispered.