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.
That longing never leaves me. It stays with me day and night and it recurs every time I see a new city that I like, a new museum I visit, a new show I see in Washington or New York or in a new country. He enjoyed new experiences. He liked to visit new places, try new food, meet new people. The times we traveled together I saw his childlike joy, his pleasure in savoring the tea at a railway station, his eagerness to know the fellow passengers in a bus or train, his happy absorption in the simple countryside scenes we passed, his utter imperviousness to the inconveniences of a new place, a new home.
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.