The irony is that I can’t even recollect how I addressed him. Did I call him ‘Papa’? Or did I call him ‘Pappa’ like all the other Gujarati children? Or did I call him ‘Dad’? Maybe I called him by some other name. I don’t even know if I was his favourite child. I don’t know whether he dropped me and picked me up from school. I mostly have only faint distant memories of him. But I do have a few precious memories of some instances.
I don’t remember how much he loved me. I think I don’t remember anything about my father. Yet I miss him so much. No, I think I miss his presence in my life. I know I need him in my life and I miss that.
I am 26 years old now. My father passed away 21 years ago. I was only 5 at that time and too young to understand what was happening around me. I did not know how this ultimate loss would affect me all through my life. He died of cancer. But I do remember my elder brothers telling me that he had gone to God when I asked them innocent questions about where my father was.
I still remember my eldest brother taking care of me during the funeral ceremony. I remember sitting on his lap and asking him why my father was not attending it. His reply was, “Father is sick. That is why he is not here Beta.”
I would panic and cry a lot because sometimes I was told that he was sick. At other times I was told that he had gone to God. I still panic quite often even at the age of 26. So I guess it must have been worse when I was just 5 years old.
I remember chanting, “Ram Naam Satya Hai” quite often for several days after my father passed away. I must have heard this during the funeral ceremony. Perhaps the lines stuck with me. At that time I didn’t know that these lines were chanted only during the funeral ceremony and that we should not use it when things are normal. My mother would get irritated when I used these words. She would scold me and ask me to stop using that phrase.
I also remember that I refused to go to school for almost over six months after that. I had a teacher who always told me that my father was no more.
She would tell me that he was dead. It was difficult for me to accept this. After all, I was still a child back then. The other children in my class would bring this to my notice and brag that they still had their own fathers around them.
I don’t remember how I reacted to such things. But I remember that I stopped going to school after this. My uncle (father’s younger brother) came to know about this. So he met that teacher and discussed the matter with her. But I still refused to go to school. My uncle then had to forcibly send me to school. He constantly assured me that such things would not happen again. Thanks to him, I am in the final year of my CA now. The teacher who was troubling me had changed. I never had to face her again. I was promoted to the first standard and was relieved that I did not have to face that particular teacher again. But a similar incident happened again.
It was then that it finally dawned on me that my father had definitely gone away somewhere and would never return.
I was playing with a friend. I still remember her name. It was Babita. While playing she asked me where my father was. I still believed that he had gone somewhere and would return. When I told her this, she said, “No, he is dead. He is not going to return.” I got annoyed and screamed at her. I suppose it is natural for a child to flaunt his/her possessions, especially when it is something that the other child does not have. Maybe it was just an innocent manifestation of their parents’ greedy nature. I don’t know. But coming back to the point, she became more adamant when I screamed at her.
She continuously told me that she had a father while I didn’t have one. I remember screaming at her very furiously.
I will tell you what I remember about him. I remember the mango bite chocolate that he used to bring just for me. I remember that I had gone searching for it in his pocket one day. I thought he was not around at that time. He came up from behind, picked me up and laughingly asked, “Jaglo, shu kare che?” ( “Jaglo, what are you doing?”) ‘Jaglo’ is my pet name. He then picked me up in his arms and gave me that mango bite chocolate himself. I still cherish this memory.
I remember that he would discuss things with Raju Kaka in the mornings. I remember seeing his body after they had operated on him in a Mumbai hospital. I also remember seeing his dead body and my mother telling me that he was sleeping. That is all I remember about him.
All I want to say here now is that I miss you, Papa. I miss you so much. I don’t know if you miss me from wherever you are now. But I miss you. I miss the hugs and the care that I would have got from both Mom and you. Yes, I miss it from Mom too.
After you passed away, Mom became so busy playing your role that she forgot to hug us. You can’t blame her Papa. She was doing her best to fit into the roles that she had never played before.
Somewhere amidst all this, I unknowingly skipped through my childhood, Papa. I behaved like a grown-up boy at the tender age of 9 and started taking care of the family. This would have never happened if you had still been here. I miss you for that too Papa.