When was the last time I wrote a letter to you? If my memory is right, it was before the turn of the century; before the computer entered our lives. Do you remember how we used to write lengthy letters which took two weeks to reach, and by then, most of what we had to say had become stale news? Yet we indulged in that exercise with great delight, didn’t we, because we wrote not to exchange news, but to share our views. I think it was through those letters that you and I became friends. Till then, we were only father and daughter.
I have seldom written in the longhand after that, but you used that perfect stenographer hand for various things till the end–from making grocery lists to jotting daily expenses in your diary. You handwriting was distinct by its perfect strokes and silken slants, which I have tried to copy many times but failed miserably. You won’t believe how many of those tidbits carrying your impeccable hand are still lying around in our house. They materialize out of nowhere bringing a smile on my face and sinking feeling in my heart. Even when you fill my life with your mystic presence, the nagging pain of your physical absence refuses to abate.
But wait, why am I talking about your absence now? The purpose of this letter is not to discuss the distressing events of that night of October, 2016. Let me set it aside for another time, for it can’t be spoken of in a hurry. Sad memories are obstinate and draining, and I have no intention to indulge in them now.
You know, appa, I never believed you could ever go from the face of the earth. I know, it sounds bizarre for a full-grown adult to harbour illusions of immortality. But that’s how girls are. Ask anyone you may know. For us, our dads will live forever, even beyond the curtain of time. I don’t know who put the silly fallacy in my head that some people just can’t die. But you did, after all.
Initially, I didn’t accept that you had left forever. Not even after seeing you laying still and silent before they took you away. You couldn’t leave like that. You had so much left to do. We had so many more naadan chaya and parippu vada to have in the shacks in Kalady. We had so many more poor jokes to crack and double over. We hadn’t finished gallivanting the town. You and I made a great duo. Our outings were such fun. And there was no way you could chuck my company in favour of the celestial people. Hence, I was convinced that you had only temporarily departed and you would return with a new lease of life, soon.
And, lo and behold, you did!
You returned almost miraculously, night after night in my dreams. It was as if all that took place on this night four years ago was part of some ugly dream, and what I was seeing behind my eyes when I slept was the sweet reality.
It’s hard to explain, appa. You are as real as you can get in my sleep. It’s weird, I know, and I freaked out initially. For a long time, I remained disoriented, lurching between the joy of my dreams and the bitterness of the truth. Someone even made a dense remark that having dead people come in your dreams is an ominous sign. It didn’t augur well, in their view. It meant that the soul hadn’t rested in peace.
I believed it without the slightest amount of consternation. Funny, right?
I believed it because you returned in my dreams. What they said was true. You weren’t happy in heaven. You still wanted to be in our midst, you wanted to sip fresh orange juice and nannari sarbath with me in the blazing summer of Palakkad, you wanted to get into petty squabbles with amma, you wanted to visit Dubai once again and have some gala time with us. You had so much unfinished business that your return was inevitable.
‘Ashey…’ That endearing, long drawn out call still rings in my ear. It once again reminds me about the story behind my name. Asha, meaning hope or wish. As your first born, I was your wish fulfilled and your hope for the future, you said. I get goosebumps when I think about it even today.
I have one grouse against you, however. You left before I could write your biography. Remember I had wanted to document your life so that it might serve as a guide to an authentic life to me? I wanted to know the nitty-gritty of your life. How on earth could you maintain such equanimity? How could you find contentment so effortlessly? How could you laugh so easily? How could you so beautifully define life as ‘an innings in cricket that one must play on till he is given out by the umpire’?
How much I learned from you, appa, and how much more was left to learn!
Every now and then, I drop your name while coaching my students, bringing up your witticisms and wisdom quotes. ‘My dad says…’ is a refrain that I will never tire of saying. You aren’t my superhero. You are my simple appa. And that is enough for me.
If you are wondering what took me so long to write to you and what makes me write to you four years after that fateful event, let me explain.
Last night, when you came in my dream, I said to you, ‘Appa, it hurts very much,’ and you said, ‘release it and it won’t hurt, kondhe.’
I want to release my grief today by writing this letter to you. I have kept it bottled up for far too long and suffered immensely for it. I want to erase the dreadful memories of that night and begin to fix the belief that you are within me forever. I want to establish the fact that I may not see you in person ever again, but that in no way means you aren’t present in my life.
Also, I want to let you know that I can never refer to you in the past tense.
To me, you are, and you will be. Forever.
Some people just cannot die. Least of all, you.
(This piece was written on the 4th anniversary of my dad’s passing. I wrote it in one sitting as a stream of consciousness. I have not edited or revised it from the first draft, nor was any attention paid to literary tropes or style. It is raw, as it occurred in my mind.)