As I reflect on the cumulative experiences of the past decade, I’m thankful that I was blessed with an understanding to accept the lessons that I learnt and not wallow in my mistakes.
For me personally, what changed me most was the loss of my father. He wasn’t even seventy yet. Many people treat death of a parent as a natural order, but believe me, no matter what your age is, you are never prepared for it. It will be my forever torment that I was not by his side when everyone else was.
My father was a simple man and he had his own set of rules. He never trusted technology specially after the ATM machine swallowed his card and he did not know how to regurgitate it.
Right after my daughter’s birth he suffered a major heart attack. He was shook beyond belief. More than his physical health we were worried about his mental well being. He had always been fit, hence it took him months to accept he had a heart attack. If this wasn’t enough, three years later he suddenly lost his appetite and weight. A scan revealed a tumour in his stomach. He needed to be operated immediately.
For reasons beyond my control and as much as I wished, I could not be with him. He promised to meet me once he got home. He never did. For the first time ever he didn’t keep his promise.
Grief when it comes is nothing like we expect it to be.Joan Didion
I reached Shimla in the wee hours next day. Even though I had been thinking about it throughout the journey, I was not prepared to see what I did.
Him lying on the ground with people sitting around him and my mom sitting in a quiet corner with my sister. I was hit by a tsunami of emotions. I felt guilt, shock, anger, sadness, fear of coping with the loss, fear of powerlessness at seeing him go. I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to hug him. I wanted to be near mom, but all these people were embracing me, telling me not to cry, to be strong.
Preparations for funeral began, and the same realtives and people who were supporting me a while ago, began whispering as to why the girls (not daughters) are being “allowed” to do all this.
Between us, my mother and panditji, this had not even been a point to discuss, because it was the most natural thing to do. Who else would perform the last rites? The whispering was now a murmur and then a roar. People suggesting how even a neighbour’s son could do it.
We were not trying to break any norms here nor were we trying to prove anything to anybody. My mother, who had not stayed alone since she met my father almost forty years ago, was too distraught to sit for puja. So naturally the daughters would do it. It never crossed our minds that it could be any other way.
Why did this even come up for discussion? I was amazed. We never thought about it. We were not trying to break stereotypes or regressive taboos, we were not trying to stand against tradition. Performing his last rites, lighting the funeral pyre, was something his children should do, just that his children happened to be girls. He never pined for a son. All this left a jagged hole in my heart. I looked at my mom, whose silent look told me that papa wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
I’m not discussing whether what we did was right or wrong. I’m sure there will be a zillion interpretations. We did what we felt was right, what we wanted to do for our father who loved us dearly.
Acceptance was the only way to deal with this loss. After the whirlwind of emotions settled, I found I did not feel malice toward people. I’m sure their intentions were good. What did worry me was the fact that we become inexplicably stubborn when it comes to tradition and customs. Just because something is old doesn’t make it right. I became more open, more accepting and more forgiving. I feel empathy and pity for those who refuse to change for the better, but I’m also sure and hopeful that 2020 will bring freshness to our minds.