The first story of Mr. Indira Parthasarathy I translated, Distance, appears in many ‘best short stories’ list.
That story was about a father and daughter and this one is about father and son and more contemporary. One of my favorites. Read on
காரணம் – இந்திரா பார்த்தசாரதி
Yama (Hindu God of death) had just knocked the door and went. Is it the first whistle for the main play?
Doctors were surprised. Such a massive attack. ‘It’s a miracle, you escaped.’
Natesan started thinking why did he survive. Some people say, there must be a reason for everything. Some say, sometimes things happen and there could be a rare coincidence. One need not look for a reason. That would be stupid. If he believes there is a reason, his survival gives a meaning for his existence and provides an identity. But what can he achieve now, when he is more than eighty years old.
Natesan wondered, ‘What have I achieved so far, except eating, sleeping and procreation?’ Fortunately, his procreation stopped with one. That should, by itself, qualify as a help to humankind.
May be his survival was just a casual happening.
May be Yama must have forgotten to bring an important file about the time of death and went back to retrieve it.
‘Surgery is not possible at this age. You should be careful.’ The doctors told him when he was discharged and he could see why. Anything can happen at any given moment.
His only son came home from America just last month and spent three weeks with him. He was healthy at that time and as soon as he went back he had this attack forcing him to return. He could not guess what must be really running through his son’s mind.
‘Could it not have happened while I was here? I had to apply for leave again.’ His son won’t be wrong if he thought so, he could not hazard a guess about his son’s boss who would sanction his leave.
Just like flights and trains have a time table, human beings should have one for birth and death. It would help sons and daughters who live abroad, to organize their holidays and travel plans. Poor son. He had to apply for leave second time in two months to come home.
But even doctors are not able to predict anything. Moreover, if one is sure about the day of death, there will be no expectations and suspense.
At least if he is lucky like the sage Bheeshma who postponed his death till *utrayana, he can also postpone his death to his son’s holiday plans.
‘I told you ten years back, as soon as mother died, please come and live with us in America. You were adamant.’ said his son Prabhu as he was handing his medicines to him.
‘What would have happened then? An attack would not have happened there?’
‘Yes. Possible. But we would be there to help and nurse you. The doctor is saying you should have someone to support you.’
Even in America, that would not have been possible. Both his son and daughter-in-law are working. Their daughters are staying in different cities for their college education. If he asked him about this, he would feel bad and guilty.
He must have thought about this as well. He is only trying to console himself.
‘I don’t know what can we do now! If you had come ten years ago, you could have been a citizen now.’ Said Prabhu.
‘Then attack would not have happened. Is it not? as it would be afraid of Bush.’
‘Dad I can’t answer your perverse questions. Now you can’t live here alone. You can’t come with me. Don’t you realize the situation?’
‘I understand very well, but I can’t offer a solution. You would have understood. It was a sudden massive attack and I survived.’
‘There you go again. You have decided to make feel miserable with guilty conscience.’
‘No! you tell me. What should I do? I will listen.’
His son sat on a sofa and started looking at the ceiling. Natesan could understand he was hesitating to say what he had in mind.
‘Tell me. Why are you thinking so much?’
‘What do you think about retirement homes? Some of them are really good.’
‘What should we do with this house?’
‘It’s up to you. You can keep it locked. You can rent it out. Or you can sell it. House is not a big deal.’
‘It’s a big deal for me. Three generations have lived in this house.’
‘This is your sentimental subject. I don’t want to get into that. I am only worried about you.’
He has already decided what’s good for his father. Looks like he has enquired around four or five places and seen a couple of them.
‘Do you have any objection if I stay in our house?’ as he said this, he stood up and started pacing the hall.
‘It’s not easy to mange the house dad. The doctor is saying that stress is not good for your heart. You can stay relaxed at a home. There is one near Velacherry (a suburb of Chennai city). It is beautiful with five star facilities. And you can add whatever you want. It has mosaic floor and no carpet. I asked the management about this and they said we can lay one if we want. You want to read books no? We can shift your personal library there. Nowadays, there is no problem with communication. We have internet and video conferencing. We need not worry about your health and safety. Community life is good and you will have company. Think about it. I have only four weeks leave.’
‘What should I think about? You have done all the thinking on my behalf.’
‘There is a full time doctor there and two nurses. There is a clinic and pharmacy. If you have to see a specialist, they will make arrangements. You see the place. You will like it.’
Natesan stopped pacing the hall, sat down on the sofa and closed his eyes.
‘What do you say?’ Prabu asked him.
‘Can you sell this house in three weeks?’
‘Why not? This is in prime locality. Big house. There won’t be any problem. So much in demand.’
‘Have you seen a potential buyer?’
‘What dad, how can you say this. Without your approval, will I talk to anyone about selling the house?’ Prabhu was getting angry.
‘Your father, mother, grandpa and grandma have lived in this house. Don’t you have a desire to stay here?’ Natesan asked him as he opened his eyes.
‘Dad let’s be practical. I don’t know if I will come back and stay here. The world is changing every day. We have to move on. I understand your sentiment. But you should try to understand me as well.’
Natesan did not say anything but kept looking at him.
Bharathi, the poet should have sung, ‘Kill the sentiment or stop breathing.’ But if he put himself in Prabhu’s shoes, he could understand the situation.
‘Can we go tomorrow and see the place dad?’
Natesan nodded a ‘yes.’
Though the place was in the outskirts of the city, it was clean and maintained well. It had all the facilities Prabhu had mentioned. Air conditioning, Television and Furniture, all were of top quality. The library had lots of Tamil and English magazines and there were some books too. An old man, as old as Natesan was reading, ‘how to achieve success in a short time.’
‘There is a probability that I can also get this self confidence’ as the thought came into Natesan’s mind, he smiled subtly.
The temple had all the Gods idols, Shiva, Vishnu, Muruga and Ganesa and a Durga. There was a path to circumambulate the nava grahas (nine planets).
When they arrived there was a homam going on. The manager took them to a model apartment.
The owner of the apartment they went into, must have been eighty years old with sharp eyes and a bent back.
‘Please come in.’ he welcomed them with a warm smile.
He said, ‘My great granddaughter was crying as you came in.’
Natesan looked around. There was no one.
‘Are you thinking there is no one here. See this.’ the old man switched on the remote in his hand.
‘The TV came to life with pictures. A baby was in a crib and lot of people were looking down at the baby.
‘See on the right hand side. That’s my son. The one next to him is my grandson. On the left hand side, is my daughter-in-law. Next to her is her daughter-in-law. The one in the crib is my great grandson. Do you want to listen to his cry?’ he switched on the volume button in the remote.
‘My son also used to cry like this.’ his eyes became moist as he said this.
Once they came back, Prabhu asked him, ‘How is it dad?’
‘It is good. But I think it is for upper middle class people. Is it not?’
‘Of course. Three fourth of the people have their sons and daughters living abroad. The old man we met at his apartment! Did you see how happy he is? He understands that’s his reality.’
Natesan did not reply.
‘I asked if you liked the place. You did not respond.’
‘I was just wondering, in our country, what would poor fathers and mothers do? They would think, ‘we can eat only if our daughter-in-law feeds us.”
‘I don’t understand where are you coming from? What’s the connection between what I asked and your comments’ Prabhu raised his voice.
‘There is a connection. You said our house is big. People would just swarm to buy this. I don’t think it is necessary to sell this house.’ Natesan stopped after making his comment.
‘OK. We need not sell. What will you do then? Prabhu asked.
‘I am going to convert our house into a retirement home. Four poor families can stay with me sharing all the facilities. I will have company and some guardian. You can also relax and not worry about me in USA. I now realize why I survived the heart attack. Every act should have a reason. I don’t know if that is God’s will or desire. I can’t say. And yes one more thing. If I get a grandson or granddaughter please shoot a video and send me. Don’t forget.’
*The term Uttarāyaṇa (commonly Uttarayan) is derived from two different Sanskrit words “uttara” (North) and “ayana” (movement) thus indicating a semantic of the northward movement of the Earth on the celestial sphere. This movement begins to occur a day after the winter solstice in December which occurs around 22 December and continues for a six-month period through to the summer solstice around June 21 (dates vary). Wikipedia.
Indira Parthasarathy (commonly known as Ee. Paa.) is the pen name of R. Parthasarathy, a noted Tamil writer and playwright. He was born in July 7 1930. He has published 16 novels, 10 plays, anthologies of short stories, and essays. He is best known for his plays, “Aurangzeb”, “Nandan Kathai” and “Ramanujar”.
He has been awarded the Saraswati Samman (1999), and is the only Tamil writer to receive both the Sahitya Akademi Award (1999) and the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (2004). He received Padma Shri in the year 2010, given by Government of India.