Sujatha, probably the most famous Tamil Story writer in the seventies and eighties, wrote this first as an article about his father’s illness and his visits to see him. He later compiled this into one long essay. So this is not a short story but his recollection of his father’s final days.
Some of us can relate the story with our own lives.
A good read…
Father Dear Father
அப்பா அன்புள்ள அப்பா
As soon as I heard the news, I got into a bus and rushed to Salem. When I saw my dad he was sitting on his bed.
“Why did you come?”
“I was told you are not well” I replied little apologetically.
“Till yesterday evening it was bad. Doctors have done few things and made me sit again. What have you brought for me?”
“What do you want dad?”
“Salted biscuits, Badam Halwa. And buy me a shirt as well.”
Without teeth, he looked like a child when he smiled.
The nurse came and said, “Grandpa, I read your son’s stories. He is really intelligent.” To which he replied, “I am more intelligent.”
He called for a pen and pad and asked me, “write down your ancestors’ names. Otherwise no one will know.” His memory was quite crisp. He told me how he landed his first job in Tiruvarur at 100 Rupees salary. He recited the PIN CODE* number of Kankampatti village. “I remember all the old things very well. Only I forget the recent happenings. I thought I should ask you something when I see you. But I forgot what. If I remember again, I will write it on a paper.”
“Dad, do you know how much pension you are getting?”
“Yes. I know. But I have lost interest in money. How does it matter? Will all of you not take care of me?”
“Should I read something to you, dad?”
“No, I have read a lot. Nowadays, I am little bored with that. You go back. You may have hundreds of things to do. Mom’s anniversary (death) is coming onFirst of April. It’s enough if you come at that time. I am tired now. Can I lie down? See me before you start in the morning.”
I returned to Bangalore and within a week, I got a telegram again that dad was serious.
The bus conductor asked me, “what sir? You are travelling regularly in this bus?”
“Dad is serious! That’s why.”
“Oh all right. Hey unload the sack little slowly!”
I was shocked to see dad in ICU. He was lying on the bed, eyes closed. A beard on his face. Intravenous fluid was going in drips. Oxygen mask on his face. Aseptic smell of hospital pinched the stomach.
I controlled my tears and said, “Dad! Dad!”
He opened his eyes but could not speak. “It’s me!” I slowly held his hands.
His lips struggle with desire to speak. He lifts his hands and tries to remove the tube from his nose but loses the battle.
“After you left, he was alright for a day. Then he became like this” my brother commented.
I look at my dad. His body is shrunk and so is his forehead. Is he the one who drove a car a thousand miles-alone? Is he the one who revolutionized electricity board? ‘He is a good man but short tempered!’ I remembered his colleagues’ comments. Is he the one who walked on the edge of parapet wall of the dam? “I wanted to check my will power” was his explanation. Is he the one who left his engineering studies and a young wife to join the Congress to fight for freedom? “I was crazy that time!”
A male nurse comes in, turns my dad on his back and applies Eau de cologne and baby powder and comments, “we should prevent bed-sore!”
A staff nurse arrives and puts an injection on either side. She asks me, “are you the writer?”
I look at the hospital in shock.
There are books written in English on how to survive hospital stays. The doctors are good. But the specialists?
“Doc can we take a CT scan?”
“He is finding it difficult to swallow. Can we try a barium meal? And an Angiogram?”
“Lot of fluid accumulation. Let’s put him on heavy dose of Lasix!”
All the doctors are efficient with good intention. I try to sleep next to my dad on the floor. But I am not able to. I go to veranda and look at the walls. There is a neem tree growing on the concrete floor. Crows, confusing sodium vapor lamps for the sun, fly to look for food. From the hall I can see my dad lying down motionless, pain evident on his face. Is he calling me? I go near him and ask him softly, “you called dad?”
He replies softly as well, “enough. Let me go.”
I remember William Hunter’s essay. If I had strength enough to hold a pen, I would write how easy and pleasant it would be to die.
But his sufferings looked absurd to me. What sins did he commit? That he borrowed from his provident fund to educate his children? That he married them off without dowry? That he sent money to poor relatives and his teacher from his meagre pension money every month? That he struggled for the unity of the family? That he recited complete works of Prabandam?
At five in the morning, the church nearby wakes up and broadcasts Jesus from its loudspeakers. Will he be able to hear this? He is a staunch Vaishnavite but listened to Bible broadcast from Ceylon radio without fail. He would compare Azhvar Prabandam and Bible and list out the commonalities in both. Once he asked me to read to him the holy Quran when he visited Bangalore.
The hospital is getting ready for another day. The bell rings and the hospital servants drive people away who don’t tip them. A doctor visits him. “I can’t say how long he will be like this. But I see an improvement today.”
He pats on father’s chin and says, “tell me your name!”
“Aphasia Atherosclerosis. He is much better now. Don’t worry.”
But soon, pulmonary edema attacks him. On the twenty second of last month at about three in the afternoon, he passed away. My aunt who was with him at the time commented, ‘his life went away through his eyes.’ We waited for my brother’s arrival from Bombay and all the three brothers cried and the tears fell on dad’s chest. When we brought the body home, someone bought a fire pot and kept it outside.
Friends arrived. We took the body to cremation ground in a mortuary van and burnt it completely in an electric crematorium.
In the morning, we went and collected the bones and ashes in a pot and went to the Bhavani river and immersed it. We gave an insertion in The Hindu Newspaper. Someone commented that there was a news item in Malai Malar (Tamil Daily). Relatives came visiting and went to cinema. The priest gave me a copy of Garuda Puranam. They explained the path the soul would take and how if we can’t afford to donate a cow, we can substitute it with a Coconut and milligram of gold. I remembered father commenting about death, “it’s a full-stop. We cease to exist. Read what Epicurus has written on this.”
“Death is nothing to us since so long as we exist death is not with us but when death comes, we do not exist.”
Ninth day, tenth day, eleventh day **…. One of the priests, who came representing the dead body (to quench its thirst and desires), commented, “Sir your story- the colour of blood is red- is good. But next time you take a social theme.”
We roamed around in Salem streets for dhotis and other materials required for the ceremonies. A parbandam troupe from Srirangam came and recited Divya Prabandam, Ramanuja Nuthandathi and few other slogams and took the 2 PM bus back to their town.
The chief priest commented, “all the sons have performed your duties well and helped your dad to reach God’s footsteps. Now, the soul will have no shortcomings. Do your monthly ceremonies properly during the first year.”
Thirteenth day – subham- a grand lunch is being served and people are eating in batches. Nine priests are waiting outside for a few rupees dakshina from morning. My magazine editor calls me on trunk-call for next story’s title. Before returning to Bangalore I look at dad’s final note. He has written, ‘ask Rajan about Bionics.’
I go to the bank and the staff are trying to control their laugh looking at my clean-shaven face. In the either-or survivor account, dad has left enough money for his final rites.
* PIN CODE – ZIP CODE
**Death ceremonies in Hindu religion, runs for 13 days with lot of rituals. It’s a time for giving to priests and poor folks.
Sujatha (3 May 1935 – 27 February 2008) was the pseudonym of the Tamil author S. Rangarajan, author of over 100 novels, 250 short stories, ten books on science, ten stage plays, and a slim volume of poems. He was one of the most popular authors in Tamil literature, and a regular contributor to topical columns in Tamil periodicals such as Ananda Vikatan, Kumudam and Kalki. He had a wide readership, and served for a brief period as the editor of Kumudam, and has also composed screenplays and dialogues for several Tamil movies.
Penning with his wife’s name, Sujatha’s Tamil literary career spanned more than four decades. An engineer by profession, he was proficient in the language of technology. Widely read and knowledgeable, he presented his knowledge in simple Tamil.
His works stood out during a time when Tamil composing was dominated by social/family dramas and historical novels. His identification with the masses, and his uncanny adoption of their way of talking, behavior, mindset and slang, helped make him popular across multiple demographic segments.
His popularization of technology was one of his greatest contributions – starting with his Silicon Chip composing in Dinamani Kadhir and Yen, Yedharku, Eppadi in Junior Vikatan. At one point, his composing was appearing in numerous Tamil weeklies and journals simultaneously, including Ananda Vikatan, Kumudam, Kungumam, Kalki and Dhinamani Kadhir. Later he contributed as script/screenplay author for several Tamil movies. His notable movies included Vikram,Thiruda Thiruda, Boys and Sivaji. Most of his early novels/stories were made as movies, including Priya, Gaytri, Karaiyellam Senbagapoo and Anandha Thandavam, among others.
In his later days he restricted his composing to essays such as Katradhum-Petradhum. He began to spend more time reading, especially old rare Tamil composings and composings on the latest developments in information technology and computing.
As an engineer, he supervised the design and production of the electronic voting machine (EVM) during his tenure at Bharat Electronics Limited, a machine which is currently used in elections throughout India. As an author he inspired many authors, including Balakumaran, Madhan, Charu Nivedita. – Wikipedia