It was my birthday and I had an argument with my father over a nonsense demand of mine. “You don’t love me dad.” And, I hang up the phone. Right after some time, Rajinder Auntie, my maid (who nurtured me like my mother), called me up and told me something that my father never shared. On reading a few pages of dad’s painful journey, all that came of my mouth was, “I am sorry dad! But, I love you.”
Here is what Rajinder Auntie told me.
Your dad was so happy seeing you in his arms; he gave ₹500 to every helper. You were the first child in the house. I still remember the first kiss of your father; he kissed his finger and rubbed that on your head. He was probably worried about any sort of contagious infection.
It was bone freezing cold outside when your mother went into her labors; she was restless since last few days. I (being a midwife) was all set to bring you into this (ruthless) world.
Like very kid, I sensed that you were excited; excited about seeing your parents, this colorful planet, excited to meet all the people who were waiting out there for you.
Your grandmother (father’s mother) was not in favor of a girl child. And, she used to tell you mother that “agar ladki hui to mujhe muhn mat dikhana, na apna na us ladki ka” (should you have a female child, I am neither interested in seeing your face nor her.
Then, you came to us. And, after a few minutes of crying, you were completely silent.
After washing your, I took you to the same charpoy rope bed, where your mother was. I gave you to your mother. I was reading your face. You were looking at your mother like you were trying to say that, “Oh my god! My mother is so beautiful; thank you, mother, for bringing me to this world. Wish I could speak to you.”
Your mother was not having mother feed and you were given cow milk in a bottle.
Rajinder Auntie told me that she saw my mother crying that night. And, she told me that I was trying to wipe off my mother tears with my tiny hands.
You slept that night and the next morning when you woke up, you were surrounded with a lot of people around you. They were sobbing and crying.
Your mother was lying on the floor covered with a white bed-sheet from head to toe; she was gone (dead). The second day of your life and your mother was no more. I saw you struggling; made me feel like you wanted to get off the bed and hug her, but.
“Chalo chalo, time nikal raha e, sanskar kar do (It is getting late, let us not wait and cremate the body).”
Your father insisted taking you to the cremation, but it was cold outside and people suggested not to do that. Your father picked you and made you see your mother for the last time.
You were too young to figure out what is happening, where your mom was going and why your dad was crying?
Well, I and you were left behind and after few hours everybody returned home. People were coming to you and giving you money.
“Bina maa ke bachchi paalni bahut mushkil hogi. Dusri shaadi kar lo” (parenting a motherless child is going to be a tough job for you. You better get married again). Every single person was suggesting this to your father.
Then, your grandmother screamed at you – manhoos kahin ki, aatey hi maa ko kha gai (such an inauspicious kid. She killed her mother). This time, your father reacted, “Bakwas band karo, meri beti hai main pal lunga ese (stop talking nonsense, I will parent my daughter and I need no help).
That was the last day of yours in that house and next morning, your father migrated us both to this city.
“I need to go to office, sweetheart and you got to play with Rajinder Aunty untill then. I will catch you in the lunchtime and then in the evening. Okay?” For next two and half years, this was the schedule of our life until you joined kindergarten.
Let me remind you, how it was you and your father all the time. You both used to play ball, he used to cook “chapatis” (Indian Pancakes) and vegetables. In the morning, he used to brush your teeth, make you shower, comb your hair and dress you up.
“Yes, I know Rajinder Auntie. Now, I remember everything.”
He was the one who boarded me to the school bus until I was five. How can I forgot the hi-fives and goodbye kisses? In the evening after his office, he used to wash my school uniform. Be it, my parents-teaching meeting or annual school day, my dad was always there.
People (I don’t call them relatives anymore) do visit my dad. Many of them suggested him sending me to boarding, but my dad was not at all interested. My dad always showed his full confidence in me, though he remained overprotected until I finished my college.
He gave up everything he used to enjoy – his friends, his hobbies, his interests, his ambitions and no doubt, I was the only thing he always remained concerned.
I saw him wearing the same trouser five days a week. To see me in the new dress every month, he used to glue his shoes. He was actually saving money – for my happiness, for my top-class education, for my marriage. I know, I gave him countless sleepless nights and perhaps I was the reason behind his bent shoulders.
I saw him crying holding my mother’s picture and i believe, there was not even a single day, when he did not miss my mother. But, never made me miss my mother at all.
“Dad, I got an appointment as the bank manager.” This was the second time when I saw my father crying with happiness since my birth. “You rewarded me, my daughter; you rewarded me for everything I did,” my father said. It was like I made him free of a huge responsibility.
Then, came the day, when I was made to leave my father’s house; I was getting married. I never wanted to leave my dad and that to at this stage. Why cannot a daughter stay with her dad and why do people have bad names for the guys living in his wife’s house (ghar-jamai)?
“Dear daughter, as you are leaving, I wanted to give you everything that I saved for you. I know you don’t need these, but this is my love for you.”
My father handed over a few bank passbooks and a key to my flat. Throughout his life, he lived in a rented apartment, but gifted me my own flat.
Despite his retirement, he had made a habit of crediting my bank accounts with regular deposits. I used to visit him with my husband and daughter every weekend. He never mentioned a word of his pain to me.
On the same day, after an argument with my father, my phone rang. “Beta, tum yaha aa skti ho (Dear daughter, can you come over)?” It was my dad. By this time, my anger was all gone and I was literally cursing myself for my behavior.
“Okay dad, I will see you in the lunch,” I replied and hang up.
Around 3 o’clock I was checking my phone and suddenly struck my mind that I had to visit my dad during lunch. I called him and there was no answer.
I thought he might be sleeping. Never mind, I will visit him in the evening.
I saw people were pointing at my dad’s window. I was so scared. A doctor was standing by him. My landlord told me, “he mentioned about a severe chest pain this morning. I told him, let me call the doctor. But, he said, he is okay. My daughter is coming over.
I again checked him at 4 in the evening, and on seeing him not responding to my voice, I called the doctor. He declared him dead; dead before an hour or so.
I was cursing myself. I am really so inauspicious. The man who gave up his entire life for my happiness, I was not there with him when he needed me the most and even called me up. Indeed, I was a responsibility; a burden that he hauled throughout his life without any complaint.
Rajinder Auntie handed over me a letter addressed to me by my dad.
“Dear sweetheart, I am sorry for not giving you everything you asked for. I was not that capable. I never married again because at any cost I was not ready to divert my attention from you. I am sorry. I was not sure, whether your new mother is going to love you or not. I am sorry if I had not given you motherly love. But, I loved you more than anything in my life and you always made me proud. Thank you for being my daughter. Your poor father.”
I reached him. I realized he was holding something in his hug. I explored and he was holding two photo frames – mine and my mother’s.