Sunday, October 26, 2014

Your worthy son, father

(In the pic , My father (Left, in black suit) receiving my younger sister's would be father in law , Darji, on the day of her wedding at Mahilpur.)
January 1999 - the year of the Tercentenary of the Birth of the Khalsa. My father had been waiting for this moment - April 13 that year - for as long as I could remember. He had secured a promise from me much before anyone , including my present boss, could even have thought of it - 1971, my first year as a college teacher.
The promise was that I would take him along to participate in the event. I hadn't thought that there would ever be an event of the kind that we finally saw at Aanandpur Sahib, but Papaji was certain it would happen.There was no Akali or Badal govt in sight then.
January 1999, One day, I visited my father in the village, Mahilpur. He was 84 but looked much weaker than he should have. He had been an outstanding footballer and till a few years ago, he was a robust typical rural Punjabi - full of vigour, gusto, elan. Mother left us in 1994 - six months after my eldest brother suddenly left her and us in an utter shock. This was too much for all of us, but father and mother were more severely affected than the rest of us.
But this day in January 1999. I noticed father's thick glasses had gone old, dim,opaque and I could see scratches there. I could see that father must find it hard to read anything with those glasses. He loved reading Gurbani. When mother was alive, she would often persuade him to recite it to her.
But now, the eye sight had gone weak and the glasses had gotten worse. And I hadn't even thought he would have needed bi-focals too to help with distant vision.
Father never complained. Too dignified to ask even his son for help - and the son too obsessed with his own world to notice what his father so badly needed but was too dignified to ask.
. And father now needed someone even to accompany him to the optician's to get a new pair made. I knew I - and I alone - should accompany him. But I was content to call up the optician, thrust some money in his palm as advance payment and tell him to "give my father the best glasses money can buy." Father needed his son to accompany him to the shop. I thought that that was perhaps not necessary. Father may have thought it was.
I hugged my father, and left for Chandigarh.
February 1997. I went back. Father still had the same old sort of opaque glasses. I inquired from my nephew and niece why this was still so. They said father had been postponing a visit to the optician on one pretext or the other.Once he mentioned, "Kaake de aan te jaaoonga" (I will go when Kaka comes here.) Kaka was me.
I expressed a little annoyance, asked father to accompany me, but he said 'Not today. Not feeling well." He complained of backache. I suggested he accompany me to Chandigarh. He sort of just sat there - as if he hadn't heard me.
That reminds me he needed a fresh set of a hearing aid too. I asked him loudly again, "Papa ji mere naal chalo, Chandigarh." He again smiled, asked me to get closer. ( He was on his bed) I did. He stretched his arms, I bent, he hugged me, pressed me close to his chest."Tu bohata fikar na karia kar."( You stop worrying too much.) He called out to my nephew and as he came closer, father made a gesture which my nephew understood. And soon, there was a bottle of whisky - half full as I had seen it the last time I was here - two glasses, a jug of water and some ice. Father asked me to pour one for myself. I had rarely taken it in his presence but after mother left, father had once or twice shared it with me when we talked about her - as only he and I could. I moved to pour one for him, but he held my hand, "Mainu hun suit nahi kardi. Tu le"
About an hour later, after father and son had both poured out grief over the absence of someone so vital and crucial to the life of both, I was back on my way to Chandigarh - alone, leaving Papaji behind to grapple with night and with an absence which only I knew how much and how sharply it must hurt him.
Once again, his deteriorating eye sight and his glasses remained as these were. And nothing was said about his backache and the hearing aid was forgotten too.
March 1999. Mahilpur. Papji is not well. I feel a little fever in his palm. He denies it, but that's nothing - the usual stuff - and I forcibly give him some stop gap medicine lying at home since the times of my mother. I called the village doctor in and had him examine my father. "Enha nu apne kolle jao. Bohat ikalla mehsoos karde aa,"the doctor, an old friend, said.(Take him to Chandigarh with you. He feels lonely here without you.) I said "He doesn't agree." I requested father once or twice again - quite sincerely and vehemently - to accompany me - and I thought I had done my duty by a father who had once travelled from Mukerian to Mahilpur - about 65kilometers - on bicycle by night - just because he had received a message that his youngest son, aged about nine, wasn't well. I had run a mild fever then.
I was back on my way to Chandigarh. Alone again. Father's backache and glasses and hearing aid -- well, these still had to wait. (These days, when I have even a mild sore eye, I don't waste half an hour before going to the best doctor I know in town.)
Incidentally, he also needed a new denture - the old one had begun to come loose, and I noticed he was having difficulty taking his meals. The denture hurt gums and he probably had an injury already.
April 10,1999, Mahilpur." Papaji, aj ta enkaan bhi laania penia te mere naal chalo, hearing aid bhi leni aa chandigarh ton."( Today, we have to buy you glasses and we will go to Chandigarh for sure for hearing aid.) He said he could see very well with those glasses and as for the hearing aid, "we will buy it after paying obeisance to the Dasam Patshah (Tenth Guru) at Anandpur Sahib, three days later." He promised to accompany me to Chandigarh direct from Anandpur Sahib.
The backache -- somehow I forgot about that.
April 12, 1999: Evening. I am at Mahilpur to accompany my father to Anandpur Sahib that very evening, knowing that the following day would be tough for traveling, and even tougher for paying respects at Gurdwara Sahib. The milling crowds and my father's weak health --well,I thought today would be better. Father immediately agreed. Suddenly he looked in good shape. His eyes lit up ( glasses were still dim) and he even managed to hear when I said, "Ao chaliye". Soon we were in the car, en route Anandpur Sahib. We spent the night there at the house of a journalist friend -- Jangveer Singh of Ajit. I said "Papaji . aj Guru ki Nagri aan vich taa safal ho hi gaye." ( We have finally made it to the Guru's Town)
Father looked at me and smiled, "Ajay kithe aaye, Kaka. Jadon tak guru de darshan na keete, udon tak kaahde aaye?" ( No, not yet. How can we say we have arrived at Guru's town without having a Darshan of the Guru) Well, in the morning -not wanting to use my status to secure a priority - we started rather early, around three o'clock. My friend's house where we stayed is right next to the Gurdwara Sahib. Still, it was a job travelling those few yards. , I was able with great difficulty to take my father to Takhat Shri Keshgarh Sahib. He paid his respects. We moved around a bit on the roof and saw the town, still well lit in the early hours before dawn.
Father looked very happy. His face glowed under dim lights travelling from the town and also from half lights at the shrine - which was still not fully lit up for some reason. It was a divine sight - seeing father so happy, the first and the only time I was to see him so happy since mother left..
April 13 Evening: "Hun mainu Mahilpur chhad aao, Kaka."(Please drop me at Mahilpur now.) I remembered that I had to take him to Chandigarh first, for new glasses and hearing aid and a new denture and for attention to his obstinate back ache.
But I allowed myself to be persuaded to do it after the seven day Tercentenary celebrations were over. "There would be less rush then," he said, and I agreed even before he had spoken. By the evening, he was at Mahilpur and I was back at Anandpur Sahib- on duty - and later, at night, in Chandigarh.
Two weeks passed and then three and then four. I didn't get the time to visit my father.
May 14, 1999: I am spending a lazy, pleasurable evening at Sector 16.There is a ring on my sister-in-law's phone. She goes out to attend to it. She comes back, even as I am still laughing over a joke which I now find sickening.
Bhabiji kept looking at me, and then held my wrist gently.
"Kaka, Papaji has left us."
I don't know what time and date it is, but we travel and travel and travel and travel through the night, and finally we are at Mahilpur. Father lies on his bed, sleeping, eyes closed ( to spare his son a straight look ) The old, shabby glasses still lie around. There is no hearing aid in sight. No tablets which I had promised to bring for his backache. His face looks completely at peace, and elegant and royal as ever. But weak, as it had looked for sometime now.The old denture was still in - still old.
And his youngest son stood there, wondering., "Could it have been different? Could he have had the glasses he needed so badly for nearly two years now ? And how did he manage without a hearing aid? And why did he never complain about his backache to his son? And did he hurt his gums eating with that ill-fitted denture?"
Mother had loved him and doted on him like he were God. Before she went, she had said, "Kaka, apne Papaji da hamesha dhian rakhin. Tere ton siva enna ne kisse ton madad nahi leni." ( Take care of your father, Kaka. He will not accept any help from anyone except you.)
After letting mother down so badly when she was alive, here I was - the man thought by almost everyone in the village to be so good and caring and loving towards his parents, wondering "Would Papaji have refused to accompany me if I had just forced him to come with me, as I often used to do in so many other things?"
Mother had said, "Enha ne kisse hor ton maddad nhi leni."
The only one from whom he would have accepted help had not given any.
The story of a man who pretends to be a champion of love.

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