Have you ever in life encountered an event, an event that pulls the rug from under your feet, threatens to destroy the very foundation of your existence?
|Source: Tiny Buddha|
The date was 2nd January 2013. It was a calm, sunny day in Bangalore. After having breakfast, I was relaxing on my bed when I received a call. It was from Vikas Daju (Daju means elder brother in Nepali, my mother tongue), my father’s office staff. He accompanied Baba, my father, at home in Gangtok during every winter vacation while Aama, my mother, visited me in Bangalore.
In a trembling voice, he informed me that Baba had turned seriously ill and was admitted to Manipal hospital. I felt as if I had fallen off a cliff of astonishment. According to Daju, Baba had taken longer than usual to come out of the Puja room, and when he went to check, he found Baba lying on the floor, unconscious. They had tried to revive him, but when he failed to respond, they had rushed him to the hospital. The call got disconnected. I tried to call back, but I couldn’t reach Daju. Minutes later as I was writhing in a swamp of anxiety, he called. Sobbing he told me what I had dreaded. Baba had passed away after suffering a massive heart attack.
Imagine that you are travelling in a car, enjoying the scenery when suddenly the wheels of the car fall off. I got a similar feeling then. I still couldn’t believe it, for Baba never had any history of heart problems. Why did it happen? How could it happen...? He was just fifty-six years old... How could life be so unfair? Had he really gone, or was this some kind of a nightmare from which I would escape soon? But the painful reality kept nudging me, urging me to accept it. Slowly, relatives and friends started calling, confirming the devastating news, offering support and courage, which seemed as futile as the definition of colours to a blind man. I tried to imagine the pain Baba must have felt in his last few moments, how he would have craved to catch a glimpse of Aama, my sister, and me, how he would have begged for his life before God snatched it away. My heart bled with sorrow, and the tears came like rain as I succumbed to the assault of pain.
|Source: Charis Counseling Center|
However, I had to force myself back to reality. I was told to tell Aama only a partial truth—that Baba was seriously ill and admitted to the hospital—as she would not be able to handle the vicious truth. Then, I had to arrange to return to Gangtok as soon as possible.Somehow, I managed to lie to Aama (escaping to the confines of my room or the bathroom whenever grief overpowered me), and on the very evening, we headed to Gangtok. Throughout the journey, she kept muttering the Mahamrityunjaya Mantra, the death-defeating chant, praying for my father’s survival. I wanted to tell her that there was no hope, that Baba had already gone, but I stayed quiet, stifling the violent pain in my heart, summoning the last ounce of my receding strength.
When we crossed Manipal Hospital on the way home, Aama lashed out at me, demanding why we weren’t going to the hospital. As discussed with other relatives, I lied by saying that Baba had been taken home as he had recovered slightly.When we reached home and Aama saw Baba’s body for the first time, she fainted. For moments after her fall, I couldn’t breathe. Surely, God wouldn’t be so cruel! Surely, He wouldn’t snatch both of them from me. I hadn’t hurt anyone in life. Surely, He wouldn’t give me this unjust punishment.
However, by God’s grace and instant help from relatives, Aama soon regained consciousness. Caressing my father’s lifeless body, she made one-sided conversations with him, asking him to wake up, tell everyone that this was a joke just like the practical jokes he used to crack often. But Baba didn’t respond, didn’t throw his head back in laughter like he used to, didn’t smile his trademark, lopsided grin.
Soon, inevitably, Aama broke down, surrendering to her emotions, her wails wrenching my already fragile heart, rivulets of tears streaming down her face. However, I refrained from crying, battling my emotions, as my relatives and friends had told me not to display my emotions in public, me being the eldest male member of the family now. Later, however, when one of my aunts saw my emotionless, shell-shocked face, she asked me to sit next to her. She reminded me of the humongous loss that I had just experienced, that from the next day, Baba wouldn’t be there with me, that he was gone forever. She told me to let out my pain, break free from the shackles of blankness I had built around myself. Her brutal yet well-meaning words worked. My resistance tore like a flimsy cloth, and I cried as I had never before.
My sister also arrived after a few hours from Pune—she was undergoing training in a software company there—and drowning in an ocean of pain, we, along with other relatives and other acquaintances, proceeded to perform the final rites of my father. When a pillar of a family falls, the incident not only leaves behind the painful memories of the deceased but also disrupts the balance of the living family’s lives. My sister and I could not leave our mother alone in our relatively big house. We had to relocate to Gangtok. However, for that, we needed to sacrifice our lucrative jobs in Bangalore and Pune. Days passed as we found ourselves lost in the hazy lanes of indecision.
|Source: Making A Difference | with Pastor Phil Erickson|
Meanwhile, the three of us lived like zombies, Baba’s memories reflecting off everything in our home, pushing us repeatedly into a marsh of pain. Aama used to sob almost throughout the day, and we had to accompany her and try to divert her mind away from the all-consuming loss. But who were we, as children, to judge her? Only a wife knows how it feels when her husband is snatched away without warning, leaving her alone in this world for the rest of her life. We had mostly stayed away from home, but she had lived every moment with Baba. Whenever I tried to imagine her pain, I felt like falling into a bottomless pool.
I remembered his oval face, his bushy moustache spilling over his upper lip, his thin yet sturdy frame. His melodious voice, especially his rendition of old Bollywood classics, rang in my ears. A particular image used to haunt me often—Baba waving at me as he boarded the airport cab a week before the tragedy, when he was returning to Gangtok. Little did I know that it would be his last farewell, the last time I would ever see his face. Now there was no one to call Baba any longer. Now on every Dasain—Durga Puja, a popular Indian festival—I wouldn’t be able to touch his feet. Now every morning he would not nag me when I woke up late. Now there was no one who would beam in uninhibited pride when I announced any achievement in my career.
On top of that, a painful regret took birth in me. Baba having left us so suddenly, I never got a chance to bid him a final goodbye, to say how much I loved him. Throughout my life, I kept revolving in my own selfish world. I never remembered his birthdays, never did anything special for him, never expressed my affection to him. How I wished I could turn back the hands of time and sprinkle all my moments with Baba with the love that he truly deserved and which I never offered.
My younger sister being much smarter than I am, she took over the major responsibilities of the house. My mother was still unstable, stuck in the marsh of Baba’s memories. I concentrated on getting a job in Gangtok, while I worked online for my software company in Bangalore. The project was extremely hectic, and I had to work fifteen to eighteen hours a day. The poor internet connectivity in Gangtok didn’t help at all. It was one of the worst phases of my life—unable to decide what to do next, the sudden death of Baba tormenting my soul, and encountering work pressure of the highest order. The problem was that I couldn’t leave my Bangalore job until I got a job in Gangtok. My sister, however, stayed in Gangtok, requesting her company for some time until things settled down.
|Source: Hope & Optimism|
Finally, after a tough few months, we both found decent jobs and thus decided to return to Gangtok permanently. We also sold our flat in Bangalore, as there was no use keeping it unoccupied.One day, I was sitting with Aama, browsing her mobile to delete unwanted files. I accidentally clicked on a video as the preview was blurred. It turned out to be a video that I had recorded during our recent visit to the South Indian city, Cochin. On the deck of the ship, Baba sat smiling as I recorded the video. It seemed as if Baba was alive, as if the mobile screen were merely a physical barrier and that we could dive into the scene and touch him. Every second of the video was like sweet torture—although every instant was killing me, I didn’t want the torment to cease. Every expression on his face, every word that he spoke, wrenched my heart by turns. Teary-eyed, I looked at Aama. She had already started crying. I followed suit, dissolving into an ocean of tears.
Months passed as we grappled with the pain enveloping our lives. The huge void left by Baba’s absence kept haunting us, but life kept moving on. I went out with friends, travelled, immersed myself in different hobbies and pastimes, meditated, but they were just like layers of thin cloth over the eternal wound of Baba’s absence, and a mere memory of him would seep through the layers and hit the wound, causing unbearable agony.
However, after about a year, slowly but surely, the wound began healing. The memories faded, and gradually, I started to move on. Even Aama came back to normalcy and began taking over some of the responsibilities of the house as she used to before. However, I still couldn’t focus on my job as I used to get reminded of my flourishing career in the software industry that I had to leave. Frustration would wash over me, and despite the receding pain of Baba’s loss, I would find myself teetering on the brink of depression.
To divert my mind towards positivity, some of my friends—including my good friend, Apoorv—urged me to read. I followed their advice, and it worked like magic. Soon, I developed a fondness for books and even began writing. I started with book reviews, wrote a couple of short stories, and then I managed to co-author a short novel with my friend, Apoorv. However, due to lack of experience, some glaring blunders, and my underdeveloped writing skills, it ended up getting a lukewarm response. Nevertheless, this new hobby of reading and writing diluted my pain and helped me move on. I even began liking my current job as it used to give me sufficient time to read and write. Strangely, my passion was changing from technology to literature. I began reading better books, and slowly my writing style improved. Learning from the criticism that I got for my first book and the knowledge I was gaining from the high-quality books I was reading, I got enough confidence to start my first solo novel.
And here I am now, my solo novel published, and writing a guest post for this wonderful blog. Even now, four years after the tragedy, I still can’t look at my father’s pictures without my heart twisting and a lump forming in my throat. Certain events and memories still bring tears to my mother’s, my sister’s, and my eyes. But we have moved on. This entire episode has taught me something really important.
Sometimes destiny invades our lives like an enemy, snatching the light of happiness from it. It is easy to lose our way in the dark maze of despair and give up, but we must hang on. Life always suspends an elusive thread of hope for us in the darkest of times. We must try to find it and hold on to it until the clouds of darkness disappear and give way to light.
Keep fighting. Keep living.
Pankaj Giri was born and brought up in Gangtok, Sikkim—a picturesque hill station in India. He began his writing career in 2015 by co-authoring a book—Friendship Love and Killer Escapades (FLAKE).
Learning from experience and the constructive criticism that he got for his first book, he has now written a new novel—The Fragile Thread of Hope, a mainstream literary fiction dealing with love, loss, and family relationships. He is currently working in the government sector in Sikkim. He likes to kill time by listening to progressive metal music and watching cricket.
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