It touched me especially because it made me think of the hard struggle my father and mother had to wage in India to live decently and bring me up. Now that I live in a charming, bucolic place, alone in a large house surrounded by woods and a lake, I wish I had my parents with me, and I could look after them. I feel I didn’t have enough quality time with them, I couldn’t look after them well enough. I don’t believe that they are up in the clouds and can share in the comfort with me. I miss them.
I remember the day I left India for the US. Both my father and my mother came to the airport to see me off. I find it hard to forget what my father said, “I wonder if I will ever see you again.” My mother gently reproved him, saying, “You mustn’t think like that. Of course, you will see him again.” I said, “Dad, even in India I travel often, and you don’t always get to see me. Washington is just another city. I will certainly come again and see you. We will meet often.”
Sadly, my father’s words proved prophetic. He died suddenly because of a botched surgery. I did not see him again. I was traveling. His last rites had to be done before I could reach India. His last words to me keep ringing in my ears, “I wonder if I will ever see you again.” My inept, optimistic words, when I think of them, seem to mock me.
My brothers, who were present at his deathbed, said my father asked about me and they had to console him by saying that I lived far away and it would take time for me to reach his side. I never saw him again. He never saw me again. Just as he had mused.
Those words haunt me. I wish I could see him again. I wish I could walk with him, as often I used to do. I wish I could take care of him, take him places he would have liked, buy him things he would have enjoyed, give him a few days of comfort and closeness and caring. I wish I could look after him the way he looked after me, lovingly, punctiliously, when I was a child. Heaven knows I would have very much liked to.
When I took a job and lived in another town for some months, I invited my father to visit me. In just a few days, he knew every one of my neighbors, even their children. More significantly, he made me buy vitamins for a driver’s child because he looked frail and increase the gardener’s pay because he had found out that his wife was in a hospital. When he left, the old cook – whose handiwork my father had praised to high heavens – was bold enough to tell me that I should have persuaded him to stay longer. His chastisement remains ironically in my memory. I wish I could have arranged for him to stay longer with us.
I know I will not see him again. I can only look at my favorite photo of him, an inept closeup I took of his surprisingly-unlined face, topped by soft, silken, thinning hair, accidentally capturing the essence of a thoughtful, friendly, gentle man, who adored his wife and admired his children and gratefully absorbed the simplest goodness that life had offered him.
Quite unreasonably, I never seem to get over the fact that I could not reach his bedside when he was breathing his last. Some months ago, he responded to my longing by appearing in a dream. I was traveling on a long-distance bus on some dusty road when, from my window, I saw in the window of a bus traveling in the opposite direction – I just couldn’t believe my luck – my father! He seemed to be looking for something, perhaps me. I shot up, rang the bell and frantically shouted for the bus driver to stop. I ran out, crossed the road, ran frantically at the other bus just departing, hollering all the time for its driver to stop, hoping desperately that at least the conductor or a passenger would hear me and stop the bus. Nobody did. The bus went away, gathering speed, leaving me stranded, despondent, in a cloud of fumes and dust.
He did not see me. I never saw him again.