Categories
Short story

Last Letter Written (fiction)

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…

My dearest,

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.

Home away from Home

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.

Lost (image courtesy healingwithnutrition dot com)

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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Categories
Book review Thought and Reason

A real treat – Palace of Illusions

(Apologies for having to bombard you with this – but *** A gentle reminder : If you liked my earlier post titled ‘Past Promises, Forgotten Futures’, then please Vote to promote it on Indiblogger, here:http://www.indiblogger.in/indipost.php?post=34664 *** Thanks :-) *** And again, do vote for a post, ONLY if you like it)

After having read the review of Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni at Smitha’s blog, I ordered the book from the local library. The thickness of the volume, however, put me off. Until this morning.

I picked up the book, and only a few pages into the story, I could not… absolutely could not.. put it down. I took a couple of ‘essential’ breaks 😉 but was otherwise hooked onto it completely.

The book is the narration of the Mahabharatha, seen through the eyes of Draupadi.

I’ve always loved reading mythology, Indian and otherwise. To me, reading this book was like a flashback of a movie seen in childhood, but this time, in technicolour 🙂

It isn’t boring, I assure you. And for once, I have read a book that has left me with absolutely no words of criticism or nit-picking!

I love the way the author has humanised (is there such a word?!) the characters. She turns a mythological Draupadi into a living, breathing woman! In this character called Draupadi, you will probably see a piece of yourself. Or others you know.

It makes one realise Draupadi was not an average person, specifically a woman, whose life revolved around cooking, keeping house and breeding!!

Draupadi is beautiful, confident woman, with higher aspirations, but is typically trapped in a man’s world. She is intelligent, fully aware of both her ‘desires’ and ‘limitations’. She realises ‘a woman’s place’ in this world, and abides by it.

I loved the way Draupadi beseeches to Arjun, to stop her from being ‘shared’ by his brothers, and where he subsequently redirects his fury and frustration on her, as if she were the culprit, not the victim!! Isn’t that exactly what happens even in the modern day world? In the case of rape, the first reaction is that the victim must have done something, to provoke it.

What shocked me though, was that since Draupadi was to be ‘shared by her five husbands’ – one husband a year, Vyasa ‘blessed‘ her with a ‘boon to become a virgin every time she went to her next husband‘. I almost felt the bile rising in my throat, as I read this. Draupadi or Divakaruni (the author) rightly says, this is a boon, made very conveniently, for the men, and not for Draupadi.

The delicate relationship of mutual mistrust between Draupadi and Kunti is described in such a simple, practical manner. It makes one realise why MILs and DILs co-exist the way they do 😉

Draupadi herself is a survivor. She does not simply make her mark in her household. She tries her best to not allow any adversary into ‘her’ palace, where SHE is the Chief Queen.

I enjoyed the way Draupadi tried to make amends to Karna, for her insult to him at the Swayamvar, but where he refuses to be mollified, and yet, he does his best to protect her from harm, when the court broke into pandemonium!

There is a brief moment where Draupadi (in this book) admits to not being very maternal. She says being a wife to five men, and stately duties sapped her, and she was more than happy, to have her nanny take the children off her hands. Why are ‘women’, specifically in Indian society expected to ‘want’ to take care of children? Why is it not a choice? If a woman does not enjoy feeding her child, does that make her a bad mother? Do we, as a society, have the maturity to realise that a Mother is also an INDIVIDUAL who might simply yearn for more in life, than mundane chores?!

I’ve encountered very severe reaction from a couple of friends whom I sometimes call to watch a movie or something over the weekend. Their reaction is one shock – ‘How can I leave my family, that too on the weekend?’ Its not like I’m asking them to elope!! They feel guilty to even ‘want’ to dedicate some time to themselves. Earlier, I used to feel sorry for such women, who ‘constrain’ themselves. Now, though, I feel sorry for the handful of ‘Draupadi’s that remain, for wanting ‘more’. Strange as it may sound, it is they who are constrained by their wants!

Nevertheless, what struck me most, was the fact that despite being foretold her future, she did not stop it ‘because of the circumstances’.

Arjuna's deadly attack on his half-brother Kar...
Image via Wikipedia

Draupadi could have chosen Karna over Arjun. She did not. (Which by the way, makes the reader feel really bad for Karna, who was always the subject of unfair treatment. In colloquial language, Karna got a bad deal!)

She could have given up her life, rather than be a Queen to five Kings. She did not.

Krishna could have stopped the Great War if He wanted to.

There are just so many instances.

Which made me wonder, is Life about Destiny or about Choices? All my life, I thought it was Destiny. Today, somehow, I think, it is probably not as simple as that.

The book isn’t without humour either. There is a reference to Yudhishtra being ‘blissfully unaware’ that people could mean them harm. And to Bheem’s plate being piled higher than the other brothers. It all made them very HUMAN. There is a Yudhistra in each of us. A Bheem too. Some brave ones even have a piece of Arjuna in them.

There were some extremely distressing moments as well. Like, the murder of Abhimanyu. Or that of Karna. Both these ‘hunks’ 😉 were killed unfairly. What really moved me, was the description of young Abhimanyu staring in ‘disbelief’ at the the unfair play by those whom he had always respected.

Caution: This book is not for the judgemental reader. You read, you nod either in agreement or disagreement, and you move on. If one were to start judging any of the characters as moral or immoral, cowardly or brave… then, IMHO, it defeats the purpose of the book. Any book, perhaps.

This book, is the life of a woman. Of her aspirations, her boundaries and her will. One cannot help wondering how similar it is to the story of a woman in today’s world. Not much has changed over the centuries, has it??!!!

I leave you with some snippets from the book…

– This one: ‘Between Yudhistra and Krishna, a woman cannot even enjoy being in misery!’ LOL! I loved that line!

– Or this one: ‘There is a strange freedom in realising one is not that important!’

– Or this: Krishna says to Dhritharashtra: ‘If you had believed all (Kauravas and Pandavas) were YOURS TO LOVE, this war would have never taken place’. Isn’t this exactly what we need today? Look at the Ayodhya issue. If only we believed we were truly ‘one’ – would there ever be bloodshed?!!

The book is filled with glorious and inglorious incidents from the past, but in that, one can clearly draw references to today, and even to the future!!

I hope this inspires you enough to grab a copy of the book!!

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