Of dentists and enlightenment

‘Don’t walk in the middle of the road. Here hold my hand , we are going to cross a busy road’.

The father was unperturbed by the child’s endeavour to conquer the road. The roads had not changed a bit in the many years. The cars grew in number, the world grew in number. The child and the father grew a lot too, in time. The child walked slowly and a bit carelessly too. I reckon that it’s in the nature of the child to enjoy that carefree liberation when walking the roads of the world. Children are children and fathers are fathers.

I remember the time when my father used to walk me to the toy shop. It was a bit far from where we still live. I’d hold on to my dad’s finger and I’d chat all the way to eternity till we’d reach the shop. Once in the shop, I’d usually forget the whereabouts of my dad. I’d lose myself to the many toys that the heart would long and that the wallet of my dad couldn’t aspire to conquer. I’ve not been a greedy child. I’d enquire about the biggest of toys but would always settle down for affordable ones. If memory serves me right, a figure of GI JOE was around 29 bucks. Inflation is the best yardstick to measure one’s age. Yup, that was a few decades ago.

I do take pride in acknowledging that I’ve always been a tough kid to raise. I’ve always been free spirited, and yeah, a bit lot spoilt too. My folks have always been patient with me. The perfect example of how to cope up with a kid, how to encourage it to improve its strengths, how to slap some sense into it when it goes wrong. My dad is epic huge on character. He’d tolerate a lot of nonsense from me, but would never compromise when it came to the value system that I chose to inherit. My folks didn’t drill religion into my head. They helped me understand what it meant to be a better human. Of course, I’ve always been a slow learner.

All said and done, I did manage to chip of my tooth when I was in the UK. The fears of a massively hefty bill deterred me from seeking an appointment. I endured the broken tooth and waited to head home to fix the issue. Fix the issue I did. Learnt a lot , I DID.

Don’t walk in the middle of the road, Daddy, I told my dad a lot of times yesterday evening. Here, hold my hand. We are going to cross this busy road. I held on to his hand , instinctively , and instead of rushing him, I enjoyed slowing down my pace and tried to make him feel comfortable and confident. The Karthik from a few years ago would have disgracefully failed the situation. It’s not about judging. It’s not about guilt. I accept what I was and I acknowledge what I’ve become.

I couldn’t help but realize that my folks are now kids. My kids, to be precise. I’m single and yet I am helping raise two kids. My mom and dad. We walked slow. I saw the children that my parents currently are. They keep their secrets about health and their world. I engage in conversations and they confess without realising their confession. I choose to not scream, most times. I hear them out , make a mental note and see what I can do better.

My folks have always been nurturing and supportive in my formative years. They did a great job on me. It’s my turn to offer that nurturing and supportive environment for them to grow confident and self reliant , all over again.

I sat on the dentist’s chair, I endured the probes of the pokey metal thingy and my mind was focused and determined in a chain of thought. This wasn’t a time to feel guilty that I’ve not been the perfect son. This aint the time to throw a career and reprioritise life choices. It was the time to accept the effects of time on us. We live, we grow old. It’s an inevitability. We try to do the best that we can.

I cant help but see the similarities of choices. My dad didn’t quit his day job to spend more time with me. Neither am I going to adopt that approach. Living each day amidst the rush and hustle of survival. Living each day, a foot in the past and an eye on the future. ‘Jeena isi ka naam hai’ moment (Cest la vie)

This aint a preachy tale of adjusting one’s priorities in life. Our choices are ours to make and we have our reasons. This is a modest acceptance of time and the effect it has on us. My Granny’s ‘cursed blessing’ has come true. ‘Someday, when you have kids, you’ll understand’, she had said. I kinda do get the point today.

I walked in to pull a tooth, walked out with realized wisdom.

Karthik

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A cycle of circles

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm, followed by a brief moment of a pause. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. The mechanical sound of assisted breathing wasn’t anything like I had ever imagined. Breathing. The simple, unappreciated , biologically reflex process of iterative inhaling and exhaling felt sinister and daunting when there was a machine assisting it along the way. I had never paid any attention to the sound of breathing ever before. It was the mechanical hum and a sense of distortion , which felt added to the natural sound of the rhythm ,that had caught my attention.

Hmmmm and an Ahhhhh. It felt scary.

The peace and quiet of the white, dull room of the hospital to the eeriness of the mechanical breathing. There was nothing comforting and assuring about the white walls anymore. It then dawned on me. The reason why hospitals pick those colours to paint their walls. I realized the colours played a role in messing with our psychology. It was a subliminal messaging of sorts. Everything about hospitals were to either assure that things would be ok or to pacify the agitated state of minds. My mind had been racing with many thoughts. I did feel a bit distracted at the moment. I couldn’t explain how I ended up in this state of the mind, but I was there nonetheless.

I saw my dad resting silently. Unaffected by the sounds and noise. Good for him. It felt reassuring to see him rest. The past few days were a nightmare. It all started a few months ago. I think age is just a number. When there is a medical professional at the other side of the table, reminding you of mortality and that in god’s mighty plan, nothing lasts forever; It shakes your steady , concrete foundation. Neither dad nor I were prepared for the news. Dad being dad, took it all with a stiff upper lip and his usual poker face. I am my dad’s son. I didn’t display the crushing emotions publically. Inside, I was just as broke as my dad was. The news had changed our worlds. Yeah, doctors do tend to alter lives, more than god has ever altered.

I found it peaceful to see dad rest. I think , deep down , deep within his rock exterior, he had accepted his fate. He no longer resisted it. Unlike what the self help books prescribe, acceptance does not always translate to a better living. The deeper my dad’s acceptance penetrated within him, the frailer he started to appear. He was a mirage of his former self. Disinterested, disconnected and lived a hopeless existence. It pained me to see him that way. I guess , my dad also endured such a pain. He would no longer look me into my eyes. His gaze found a new way of staying distanced. We no longer spoke. We both had accepted this twisted new fate and silently choose to drift away into fears and oblivion.

That changed a three days ago. A ride in a manic ambulance does that. Circumstance had changed my dad once again. I think it was more to do with the realization of the dwindling eternity of time ahead that forced the change. Weak and distraught, my dad finally managed to see me in my eye. It was a moment , of something that I couldn’t even being to explain. It meant we both had made a choice to live in the present. We both had chose to ignore the future. Future didn’t matter, especially when there wasn’t a future ahead.

The doctors got busy and they wouldn’t let me see dad for a while. The sun had risen and had poised to set. The orange hue of the sunset dictated the flow of time. It was the first of the many conversations that dad and I managed to catch up. It had been a while. We had grown strangers in time. Dad told me of his days. How he’d ride a crowded train, on its steps, for three hours each day. He’d commute through rush to watch mom for five minutes. He’d wait by the gate and watch her walk into her university. He’d watch her leave for home in the evening. That five minutes of bliss was evenly split across the day the and the evening.

Dad paused and asked me about my tryst with love. He had never had the time to contemplate the circle of life that I’d go through. He thought there’d always be time for that chit chat. It was finally the time. I told dad about the heart. Parts broken, parts sewn back together. My dad, rather weakly, brushed my hair and said it was the way of life. He said that people often meet the right people on the rightest moment in time. For some, all it takes is a few minutes. For some, it takes a whole lifetime. Everybody eventually meets their people on the rightest moment in time.

Dad then spoke about how his world had crashed when mom passed away. He confessed his supressed guilt of choosing work to drown his sadness. He felt bad that he wasn’t there enough. None of that mattered anyway. Not any more.

Things improved for a while. We had two more days of long conversations. The doctors would take him away from time to time. Each time he returned, he looked more broke than before. I knew it wouldn’t be long now. There was only so much a man could break. I knew my dad would hit rock bottom fast. I had already reached there.

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.. The noise started to haunt again. There was dad. There wasn’t much that I had to tell him now. All had been said. I wanted him to know that everything would be alright. I couldn’t find the words. I couldn’t. The body wouldn’t. The last thing that I ever saw was the most beautiful sight of my dad, resting peacefully.

Ah crap, I thought to myself. It wouldn’t last for long.

Fade to black.

Karthik

A story of tales.

Dear Diary

I guess , after these many decades, I finally do understand the subtle difference that’s love. Live long enough with an open mind, I bet one stands to grow wise.

The many years we spent waiting, the payoff had finally come. It wasn’t much of a payoff as it was the satisfaction of seeing our kid again. I belong to the old world where a man doesn’t emote. I’m used to the code of a stiff upper lip. I appeared normal. I felt elated within. My excitement was contained and it took a tremendous effort to keep the blazing fireworks under wraps.

She was as much of the old world as I was. Her happiness was on a constant display. Life had found her again. It breathed energy into her old bones. Her movements quickened, her pace picked speed, she was no longer an old grand ma of sixty. She appeared to be thirty again. She managed to make a list of things to buy, things to cook, places to visit, people to meet. As the day approached, her spirited frenzy enthusiastically escalated. Mother’s pride , that’s exactly what it was. It was on abundant display.

‘So tell me again.. when is his flight? What time will he be out? When do we finally get to see him?’ she’d ask me from time to time. She knew the details by heart by now. The information didn’t matter to her anymore. It was the sheer joy of hearing the news that brought a smile to her face. The weeks leading up to the day, I guess I’d have answered her sequence of questions, which never changed their order, a few hundred times. I played along. It was nice to see her happy and alive again. It felt good. I didn’t mind the questions.

Now that I take a moment to reflect, I think I’ve had a reasonably decent middle class life. Born into a family of four, I had the luxury of pursuing my education. I didn’t have to worry about shouldering responsibilities. I found myself a job and there was nothing special about it. I was happy staying employed. The time had come for me to take the next step. Ironically enough, it was a step that was taken on my behalf. That’s what it was. I didn’t complain. I didn’t know if there was an option to even complain. It was just the way things were. It wasn’t a bad marriage. She was a quiet girl. She has always been quiet.

There were times when her enthusiasm for life trumped the moment. Her childlike conviction to a cause was a sight to cherish and behold. I did my best to bring that side of her out as much as I could. Her moments of sublime bliss was a challenge worth spending a lifetime to work towards. Unlike the new brave world that expresses itself out on every given minute, ours was a world with few words and fewer expressions. We worked on a simple routine of care and questions. With money tight, surprises were few and scattered away. It’s been a life no different than the usual norm.

In time, we soon had a common dream. An American dream to be precise. We skimmed through our needs, we skipped on pointless comforting luxuries, we saved ample enough for that ticket. Our son did the rest. He studied when he had to. Poor kid, he barely complained. He had inherited his mother’s smile. when the time came, we bid our goodbyes in the airport amidst hugs and tears.

With our dreams now vacant, going back to the life we had felt different. The boulders of responsibilities had waned thin. We were again thrust into a world that was constituted by only the two of us. We found a routine. She took it upon herself to feed stray dogs, tend to birds that nested around our house. She had things to do. I enjoyed watching her go about her life. It was almost like the old days. I was happy watching her childlike conviction to her causes.

We had not seen our child in two decades now. He was no longer the little kid that we sent away to the land of dreams. Work, life, promises to keep and commitments to meet, the time had flowed forward without much dissent. She cried when our kid announced his marriage. She didn’t mind the merger of cultures, she missed being there , watching them make a new start. She cried when our grand daughter made it to this world. It wasn’t the birth of a girl child that bothered her, she missed being there, watching the new one. In time, her tears had dried up. She didn’t cry any more. The kindness and care that were within here were reciprocated by the society that surrounded us. We weren’t the grumpy old couple. Kids enjoyed our hospitality. animals found shelter in our old aged home.

The call brought a change in us.

All of this was new. All of this was exciting. The day had arrived. A son met his mother. A mother met her son. A hug that took decades in the making. All the love in the world that had the power in them to stop time.

Well, that’s the story if you asked my wife.

My son started off the usual way. He couldn’t understand the economic divide that kept me from being a provider that he wanted me to be. I tried. I had failed. My son vowed to change his fate. He’d never allow his kids to undergo the same fate. The ferocity in his determination was a testament to a man who had made up his mind to change his destiny. The last of the hurdle were the tickets to his land of dreams.

He had distanced himself from his former world. He wanted nothing to do with it. He was now a part of a new world. A world that he fought hard to keep away from the one he had left behind. He had orchestrated his own life. I was happy, as long as he was happy. I didn’t have a say in what transpired. I didn’t want to have one either.

The day had come, he had arrived. Just him. He saw his old frail parents. As he hugged his mother, he shot his glance towards me.

‘Appa, hope you’ve considered my offer to sell that house and move to a care home.’

One story. Two tales. I finally understand the difference between a mother and a father today.

Cool.

Karthik

Inspired by watching this old couple stand an hour in the tube station. I hope they had a better story of life.