Tender age shocks never go away.
They remain forever to haunt throughout the rest of the life, ebbing and tiding, but sure to come time and time again. Failed efforts to wipe them off consumes 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 dead father.
He was there lying on the floor on the temporary bed of canes. His body was covered with a white cloth up to his neck, his face still visible. His forehead had been smeared with ghee and chandan, the eyelids hiding those sunken eyes were covered with leaves of tulsi. Some part of his cheek had been charred from the contact with the lighted sticks which the boy had to carry while he did the last rounds to complete the mukhagni.
The boy was staring on and on. He had realized that time was limited. Soon his father, his dear father, would be departing towards the electric furnace into oblivion. Into nothingness. He would not see him anymore. For the last time, the boy wept bitterly. He kept on weeping till they took him away. He stared at him 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 heavily, 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.
Once he stabilized himself over some water and a few puffs at the untimely cigarette, the man started to calm himself down. These dreams kept on coming, he was acquainted with them. Thirty-seven long years have not been enough to fade away the memories. They were still fresh in his mind, each moment on that day. He remembered every bit of it. And much more.
That day the boy was alone in the room with his father. Ma had gone out for some household errand, the nurse was not there. He remembered sitting on the floor and playing unmindfully with something when Baba called his name. The boy looked up to the bed where he lay – he had by then lost his movements and was confined totally to the 6’x3’ bed, his health deteriorating rapidly as the flesh was giving way to the skinny skeleton – to find Baba gazing down at him.
The gaze was different, the boy realized. Baba was fondly 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. There was so much pathos in those eyes that the eleven-year old could not resist himself. The boy went up to his father, to his side. Baba was telling him something, but the boy was not hearing him properly since the voice was so weak and soft. 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, “Bhalo hoye theko baba, Ma ar Bhai ke dekho, mon diye porashona koro, bhalo manush hoyo”. The words were getting etched indelibly onto the heart and soul of the boy. He was comprehending that these were the parting wishes of his father, perhaps there will be not another chance to hear him, his voice. With tremendous pain and agony the boy realized that Baba would leave him and the rest, 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. After that day he never heard him speak. One month more maybe, and that was the end of it.
The pain was initially too much for the boy to carry, recollected the man. 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 school, in the Chappel Hall, did the boy feel a certain tranquility and peace of mind. The man recalled the lines of that particular hymn, ‘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 never recovered from his grief and his loss. However, he very soon realized that it was about responsibilities. Everyone used to tell him stories about Baba. He was a person who was loved by all; the epitome of honesty, truthfulness, compassion and all possible virtues one can have, truly he was. More and more he listened about his father, the more it came down upon the boy that he had no choice but to be like his father one day, to set similar examples, to reach similar heights. His father’s parting words gradually became commandments. He felt that the only way to pay his tribute to Baba would be to become him again.
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 in between his childhood and middle age to different directions, far far away from fulfilling his late father’s last wishes. He could never be like Baba, 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.