It wasn’t until late December that I found the envelope. It was addressed to no one. It bore the seal of ‘Vrindavan Home for the Aged’. That is how I realised it (perhaps) belonged to my father.
Before you stand on high moral ground and fire me for having sent away my old (and ailing!) Dad to the Home, do try to understand, and if possible, even believe that I truly did not want to send him there. At sixty, he was fit as a fiddle. We used to fight over the TV every evening, and would both finally lose to my son, who decided that Ben Ten was the right programme for us. So we, the boys of the house, would sprawl on the sofas and watched the inane aliens fight gory wars.
I digress. Like I said, the envelope, slightly yellowed and crushed, was addressed to no one in particular. It just bore my address. I assume my Dad had written it for me! Which made me curious, as he was not the sort of person who would write letters! If my memory serves me right, he was particularly not fond of reading or writing. So this was special. I didn’t quite want to open it. The last two months had been rather painful. First, the agony of losing him. Second, the fact that I had left him to die alone. I can never get over it. Ever. And third (perhaps, the most important reason) – I was afraid… of what the letter might contain!!
It was my birthday. In no mood to celebrate, I decided I would open the letter after all…
You know how much I hate to write!
Bang on! This was definitely from Dad!! My lips curved into a smile.
I want to let you know something… its been on my mind ever since you left me.
I stiffened. It was not like I left him! It was HE who decided to leave us. Vidya and I pleaded. So did little Prithvi. But he had made up his mind.
I like this place they call ‘Home’. Its spacious, airy, the nurses take care of me. I have no complaints.
I visited him almost every Saturday. I would take his favourite food. Sometimes, Vidya and Prithvi came along, at other times, they didn’t. Dad would always recognize Prithvi, no matter what! The moment he saw his chubby little grandson, his wizened face would break into a smile. I felt relived that he liked the Home.
But you know… I want to write this before I can forget everything.. before my traitor of memory fails me. Sometimes I cannot even remember your face. At other times, I feel like you are standing right next to me. I know you are there. Its just, I don’t remember who exactly you are .. or at times, who I myself am!! I have to confess that part is a little scary.
So that was why he wrote the letter!! When he was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, it had come as a brutal shock to all of us.
On most days, he was very normal. The same old Dad who steadily picked his nose as he sat in his oversized armchair, watching children play cricket on the street! On other days, he would turn into a complete stranger. He would just stare at the ceiling. At times, he would simply grab the nearest object and smash it into the wall. He would walk down the street, to buy a packet of chicory, and wouldn’t return home until dark, when one of us would go in search of him, only to find him sitting on a broken bench, looking dazed and confused.
Finally it was he who suggested being moved to the Home. We wanted him around. He, however, was adamant. He left a day after Prithvi’s fifth birthday. We had a great party. He joined in the fun. I almost called the Home to cancel the move. But the next morning, he woke very early, bathed, and packed a little holdall with a couple of shirts and bare necessities. He did not give us any opportunity to try and persuade him against going. Before he left that morning, he blessed us with wishes for a ‘long and happy married life’, and said, very simply, and as a matter-of-fact, ‘Tell Prithvi I love him the most!’
When Prithvi returned from school that afternoon, he searched for Dad in every room of the house! And when he didn’t find him there, he cried himself to sleep.
There’s one little person I always seem to remember. A lovely cherubic little boy. Let me try to recall.. Preetham.. or was it Prithvi? Yes, I think it is Prithvi. My darling little angel. He visits me often. I can’t often remember his name, but I know that he is part of my soul.
I fought hard to blink back the tears. Dad wouldn’t be kind to anybody who cried at the drop of a hat!!
So, my dearest, I had better finish this letter quickly, as I might just not remember about it in some time.
Very often, nurses wipe tears rolling off my cheeks. Sometimes, they say ‘tut..tut..’ and walk away, cursing (in a rather filmy style!) my ‘supposedly wicked’ son who they think has left me here.
Little do they know, that these, in fact, are tears of joy.
Joy at a life well lived. This is the happiness of a husband, who found a good and loving wife. The pride of a father, who raised a strong and caring son. And also, the yearning of a grandfather. Whose only (albeit greedy) wish was that he had a few more years to spend with his grandson, frolicking in the park, or sneaking away from the watchful and loving eyes of his Mummy, to lick an ice-cream cone. But then, I’m just being ungrateful.
I could have lived with our children. But you know, much as I hate to boast, I think our son adores me! So does Prithvi. I want them to remember me as their Hero. Not as a senile patient who couldn’t recognize them! No. That wouldn’t work for me.
So, this is my big secret. I want you to know, my dearest, that every time I remember us, and cry, it is only to say that I have lived a very happy life.
I think I will see you soon.
Dad’s last letter. It had not been written for me. Or for Prithvi. But for Mum. I was stunned, at how Dad never let us see how much he missed her. I hoped they were together again.
To me, the letter had a cathartic effect. I don’t know if I can ever stop feeling guilty, but this day, I felt a little better. He knew what he was doing. And he did it not just for me, but also for himself.
I guess he was right afterall. When I think of Dad, I only recall a tall, strong man, who would throw Prithvi up into mid-air and catch him as he fell squealing with delight. I remember him as a level-headed counsellor, who simply declared that every workplace had its share of politics, and it was upto me to handle it or steer clear! Vidya remembers him as a loving father, who would make her a cup of ‘straang filter kaapi’ when she returned home from work every evening.
And Prithvi.. well, he does not remember much of him. When we happen to mention Dad, he perks up, curious to know more about his childhood friend. We cite him examples of how Dad used to pretend to be his Horse and ‘giddy up’ as Prithvi ordered him to! Prithvi chuckles shyly when we mention such incidents.
Often, he walks into Dad’s old room (that has now been converted into a Study) as if looking for something.
Sometimes, I follow him, and find him gazing at a picture of Dad’s. At other times, I find him dozing in the big arm-chair.
Well, whatever it is he is doing (or not doing!), I get the feeling this room is his favourite haunt. He seems happy here.
As for the letter, I placed it back in its envelope, labelled it as ‘First Letter Written’ and tucked it far, far away inside my wardrobe. I could perhaps give it to Prithvi when he is grown up enough to be deceived by ‘Success’ manifesting itself in the form of money or fame?! Will it make any sense to him, I wonder…
Or perhaps, I will simply start writing a letter of my own…. hoping that I too, can be a Hero to my son, as Dad is to me.
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