It was a week before my wedding and preparations were in full swing. My Appa was extremely busy. He called up caterers, the venue decorators, and juggled several last-minute errands. There were guests to be taken care of, relatives’ advice to be heeded to, and overall mayhem and confusion.
He had been so busy, arranging for the funds, the jewelry, the sarees, the mandap, the food, the guests, and making sure everyone was happy. He hadn’t eaten properly or slept in days, and I was worried for him. We were praying that everything should proceed smoothly.
It was the day of my wedding! I was dressed to the nines, in a nine-yard saree. I took Appa’s blessings. I sat at the mandap in front of the havan. My groom tied the mangalsutra around my neck, with the nadaswarams playing loudly in the background. My eyes met Appa’s. He had done it! I was a married woman now.
For people following my blogs, you must be confused. My Appa passed away when I was thirteen. But this was cathartic to write. Imagining what could have been, but wasn’t.
When I saw the prompt, my heart sank a little. I had to write about my father and his smile. Memories are such double-edged swords. You have the good and the bad, yet some pierce sharper than others.
A part of me wants to remember only the happy anecdotes from my childhood- me riding on his back (playing horse), or him carrying me around in uppumootai (sack of salt) style. Or him designing a dollhouse out of a used cardboard box. Or us, eating Masala Dosai, and rose milk at Jyoti Nivas. I try to fill my head with this imagery when I am stressed; it’s very soothing.
I try to lock away the unhappy memories. But some days, the locks burst open, and those memories come back flooding in. There is a smile of Appa’s that haunts me. I had taken his yellow, jaundiced hand in mine. I kept telling him over and over again. “Appa, we will get over this. God will save you. You will be fine.” He gave me a smile of resigned defeat. A smile of a person who wanted to live but was at the end of the road. A smile that hid his worry for me. Worried about how after his time, my mother would cope alone. Worried about how naïve I was and how much I was in denial, and how long I would continue to stay that way. And how I would emerge of it, without him by my side to help me cross this bridge.
When I think of this moment, I blink away my tears and do what I have been doing for years. Try to recollect happy moments. There is one such memory that stands out like an oasis in a desert. Appa was extremely sick, but he had remembered my thirteenth birthday. He asked one of my uncles to get a pink strawberry cake, my favorite flavor. Ironically, the man whose disease had wreaked havoc on his memory and body could still remember his daughter’s favorite things. That day, my mother bought me a new salwar, also pink, with matching bangles. I told her that I didn’t want to celebrate. She scolded me. Both of us knew what she was trying to say, without saying. This may be the last time.
If you knew something was for the last time, would you act differently? I used to love a particular halwa from the local bakery. We used to get it in slices. Just to prolong the taste, I would break each slice into smaller pieces and take time to savor each piece, so that it would last forever. I wish I could prolong that birthday forever. It was the last one for which he was around. That day, he smiled as I blew out the candles, and cut the cake. He could barely tolerate food, but for my sake, he had some cake.
After the prompt was announced, I read through some of the blogs that were posted. I must confess, I felt pangs. There were stories of fathers who stood besides their daughters for their graduation, their jobs, their wedding, their grandchildren. This could have been us. This should have been us. This would have been us. If not for cancer.
I recall my Patti’s advice to me. My grandmother told me that I could choose to lament over my loss all my life. But that would be such an unhappy and incomplete way of living. One cannot change one’s destiny. She asked me to count my blessings instead.
Some of us are blessed with both parents. In my case, I was blessed with an amazing father, who was so good, that God took him early. But he left me with an amazing mother, who acted as both father and mother. And if you have guessed it by now, the opening paragraphs, are not about my Appa, they are about my Amma. It was Amma who raised me like a father, pushed me to out-do myself, pushed me to be independent and strong. It was Amma who single-handedly organized my marriage.
I wish her twice every year- once for Mother’s Day and then again for Father’s Day. Because she is my father too! She has lent her shoulder to me every time. She infused courage and independence in me. When people used to ‘advise’ her to be strict with me, lest I, a fatherless child strayed, she ignored them. She permitted me to go on every college excursion and encouraged me every time, I embarked on a crazy caper. She supported my studies, be it engineering or my post-grad. Whatever I am today, it is because of Amma.
Amma and I have had our fair share of arguments. I think I have gotten a whole lot closer to her in my thirties. Or was it after I had had my child? You understand what a mother does for you, only when you become one yourself. When I see my child, I realize that I must have been such a handful back then! Between, Amma is as kick-ass as ever (She kicks my ass even now, when I complain about the apple of her eye, her grandchild).
Amma didn’t get so many chances to smile back then. But she does smile now. Her grandchild makes her smile. My calling her every morning makes her smile. My blogs make her smile. And I hope she smiles forever. The pandemic has wreaked havoc on my travel plans. I yearn to visit her, so I can see her smiling once again.
Let’s go back to where I started this blog from: my wedding. Both of us know that this was one of Amma’s biggest triumphs. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think getting married is a woman’s biggest achievement. But our situation was different.
In a conservative society that frowns upon women, being a woman, and that too a single woman, and pulling off such a big event with such dignity and courage, is no mean feat. When there are only very few people ready to help, and there are hundreds ready to point a blaming finger, to emerge unscathed and victorious, with head held high, is an achievement no less than scaling the highest peak or the deepest ocean.
On my wedding day, tears flowed down my cheeks. On-lookers thought it was due to the smoke from the havan. Those were tears of relief and joy. For my mother. For us. And as my eyes locked with Amma, I could see her smiling through her tears. And somewhere from the heavens, my Appa smiled down at both of us with unbridled joy.
Image credits: Pixabay
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