Tender age shocks never go away.
They haunt throughout the rest of the life, ebbing and tiding, time and time again. Efforts to wipe them off concedes more pain. Eventually, one learns to befriend them.
Sometimes though, they mould the future, lives, destiny.
The boy was staring straight at the face of his father, who had been laid down on the temmporary bed of canes.
His body was covered with a white cloth up to his neck, face still visible, forehead smeared with ghee and chandan, eyelids hiding those sunken eyes covered with leaves of tulsi. Some part of his cheek had been charred while the boy had been doing the last rounds of mukhagni.
The boy was staring on and on. Time was limited. Soon Baba would be on his last league of the journey into oblivion, and he would not see him anymore.
For the last time, the boy wept bitterly. He kept on weeping till they took him away, till he entered the furnace, till the flames leapt up off the white cloth and the furnace door came slowly down to shut him off his eyes. At that moment, the boy stopped weeping.
The man jumped up off his sleep.
He could feel his heart pounding, he was sweating profusely even with the AC running full steam. His lips were parched and his throat was dry. In the soft blue light from the night-lamp, he could see his wife beside him, her face tender with the much-needed sleep after a grueling day’s work. Instinctively, his right hand went towards the other side of the bed and he groped in semi-darkness as if to find someone. He realized there was none. He looked around to realize he was awake.
Stabilizing himself over some water and a few puffs at the untimely cigarette, the man started to calm himself down. These dreams kept on coming. These long years have not been enough. The memories were still fresh, as if from yesterday.
That day the boy was alone in the room with Baba. Ma had gone out for some household errand, the nurse was not there. He was sitting on the floor and playing unmindfully with something when Baba called his name. The boy looked up towards Baba – by then he had lost his movements and was confined totally to the 6’x3’ bed, – to find him gazing down fondly.
The gaze was different, the boy realized. Baba was calling his name, his eyes showering the remaining drops of kindness onto the tender face and soul of the boy. Tears were coming down Baba’s face, sideways, as he bent his head to be able to look at the boy more closely. The eleven-year old could not resist himself. He went up to Baba, to his side. Baba was telling him something. He placed his ears next to Baba’s cheek. As he touched Baba, he could feel the warmth as he felt when he used to hug him after he came back from office.
Baba was crying, voiceless, his face distorted with grief, tears streaming down his cheeks endlessly. In between his sobs, as if in a faint whisper, Baba was speaking to the boy, his final words. With tremendous pain and agony the boy realized that these were the parting words from Baba and he would soon leave him alone. He dared not utter a word, he just kept on listening to the murmurs till Baba’s voice died down and his eyes closed.
The man shook himself up from his trance. The cigarette at the end of his fingers was burning itself out, he took a last drag and stubbed it unmindfully into the ashtray on the adjacent bedside table. He still remembered the last words from Baba distinctly.
The pain was initially too much for the boy to carry. The words came back again and again, to haunt him in daytimes, at night. The distorted face, the streaming tears, the feeble hand held up to caress his hairs for the last time, everything. The boy desperately wanted someone or some place whom or where to carry his grief, he could get none. Only sometimes in the school Chappel Hall did the boy feel a certain tranquility and peace of mind. ‘Are we weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care? In His arms he’ll take and shield thee, thou wilt find a solace there’.
The boy soon realized that now onwards it was about responsibilities. Everyone used to tell him stories about Baba. He was a person who was loved by all, with all possible virtues one can have. More and more he listened about Baba, the more he realized that he had no choice but to try and step into his shoes. But how?
The thoughts were coming and going, as if flirting around with the semi-conscious mind. The man looked at the bedside table towards the alarm clock. Much of the night was still left, some sleep would be required to make him face yet another day. He leaned back on his pillow, closing his eyes. He had realized over the years that living up to expectations is not easy, more so living up to own expectations. He had drifted away to different directions, far far away from being like Baba, reaching nowhere near him.
As he dozed off into oblivion, the man could see the boy again. He looked so much like his son now. The innocent eyes were filled with tears, as if to ask where he had been so long. The man reached out to the boy to wipe off his tears.
Here I am my childhood, I am always with you. We are inseparable, our bond will forever remain eternal. We will meet each other in my dreams, till some day when we both will meet Baba. I will have to tell him on that day that I have failed him, but I know he will still take me in his arms. And you too.