It is that day of the year again. He would have turned 57 years old today, had he lived. I look at his old pictures and try to imagine the places where the lines on his face would have appeared, or how his skin would record the weathering of the years. I often catch myself looking at fathers’ of friends with a guilty envy, with the hungry eyes of a vagabond child. I realize that the sudden passing of my own father has caged his fortyish year old version of him in my head and heart. I will never know what he would have grown old into which is both good and bad. Good mostly because that allows me to imagine him exactly the way I want, and bad in case the reality would have been more interesting than my own limited imagination.
There are certain rituals I do today, that have helped me (and on some occasions epically failed) to get through the day. Having said that, it is not as difficult now as it was a few years ago. The past has a way of dissolving into the background and mutely still colouring your perception of the present.
I always write about him today. Sometimes I share it, sometimes I don’t and on a few occasions, I have resignedly watched as the words have frozen cold inside me.
I talk about him to anyone who would listen to my ranting without looking at me in pity. I don’t rant for pity, I rant because it helps me still the voices inside me.
I count on my fingers, in the same way he taught me, exactly how old he would have been.
I look at the card he once made for one of my birthdays, when he could not afford to buy me a present and I run my finger over the blue faded ink of his decidedly crooked handwriting.
He had quoted Hellen Keller and I can see the odd way in which he would hold the pen between his fingers, in a way I have never seen anyone else hold a pen.
I re-read the first piece of writing I ever wrote, a poem about the soldiers at Kargil. I must have been nine or ten, and I did not exactly write it as much as I just sat by his feet on the bed as he made the sentences rhyme and I jotted it down, my spellings needing a check afterwards. It was his poem, but he had convinced me that I wrote it. He had convinced me that I was the poet, the writer of that piece. He convinced me that I can be a writer, something I still believe.
I re-read the piece I wrote about him soon after he passed away and I cringe in embarassment at my sixteen year old version and her writing. I quietly cry at the parts that had hurt to write and I remember the way my family held my stoic face and cried after they read it. I remember feeling devoid of emotion not understanding yet that mine flow better from my fingers and lesser from my eyes. Not knowing yet that grief is never complete, only abandoned, left locked up in some dark corner when we are tired of carrying it around.
When I line up the pieces I write about him, a road map emerges, milestones of writing styles adopted and given up, evolution of thoughts, an over the years compilation of my indulgences and a mosaic of the man that he once was. I suspect that I have mixed up a lot of facts over the years, that I maybe wrong about certain things but this is how I remember him and I feel he would have liked that.
One day, I caught a glimpse of something I hadn’t seen before. I was sprawled on my bed reading, and after being in that position for a good amount of time I realized, that is exactly the same way my father would read in bed. The same way he would tuck his right ankle atop his left and wrap himself up like a sushi roll in the sheets and not move a muscle for hours on end. He would read books from beginning to end, in one sitting, like I do sometimes. He would drown out all the sounds of the world when he read, retreat into a world of his own, where he was not a drunk, where the messiness of life didn’t seep in. He had found a way to succeed after all the years of being labelled a failure. He had found a way to pass through the inevitable and insufferable parts of being alive and he had passed on the secret to me. I began thinking about how many parts of me could eventually be traced back to him and I wished he was here to help me see that. I wish I could show my gratitude for his occasional comforting appearances in my dreams. I wish I could yell at him when I was angry about something else. I wish, I wish, I wish.
What would I say to him if I saw him after all these years, what do I want him to know?
He always said till the end that he never got over his own mother’s death. He carried it around even when his arms trembled under the weight. He never let go of it. So if I could tell him one thing now, it would be just this one thing, grief is difficult. And there is no way to succeed in it. But there is always a way to unload its weight off yourself, and walk on.