Heartbeats

Obviously, I don’t recall much from my childhood but there are some things I remember very vividly — Tom and Jerry, Dumbo The Elephant, trains, ships, and the house always being full of adults. The house we lived in was like a caravanserai. People came, stayed for a while, and people went. As most Bombay houses go, it was, by no means a huge house but there was always room for more than just my parents and me. My mother says that she never had to worry where she was going to leave me in case she needed to go out, someone was always by my side. Or I was content in sitting in front of a TV, the VHS tapes brought for me playing Tom and Jerry or Dumbo The Elephant.

The story of Dumbo The Elephant is adorable and heartbreaking at the same time. A baby elephant is delivered to a Mama elephant by storks. (It’s a cartoon for kids, come on.) Mama elephant and baby elephant are separated by the circus owners where Mama elephant works. The tiny, cute baby elephant is afraid of the rain and the dark and he misses his mother. They are then reunited by sheer love and will power of Mama elephant. It is a movie that always made me weep but there was also the unbounded joy of Baby elephant meeting Mama elephant. I’m sure it will still make me weep. I distinctly remember feeling utterly sad when the baby elephant is scared by the rain and lightning and doesn’t know what to do except that he wants his mother.

There is an African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child.” While growing up in that house, my dad took me to the garden on the hill, parks, to see trains, to see the sea. My uncle taught me the alphabet and bribed me with chips if I would learn the whole thing. My other uncle got me VHS tapes of cartoons audio cassettes with nursery rhymes and let me borrow his fancy stationery as I grew older. My aunt helped my mom cradle me and feed me and oil massage all of me. My uncle’s friends baby-sat me and brought me birthday cakes of which I still have pictures but no idea where those people are in the present day. Our maid brought me back from school after which I would sit with her in the kitchen to eat potato sauteed with chillies which she made for herself. Suffice to say, I was raised by a village. In a small house in Bombay. A house that overlooks the sea in the distance and watching the sea and ships growing up was a thing as common as breathing.

Then, we moved from this house, built another life for ourselves which more nuclear in the sense of the word. Time passed by as time does and the house stayed within the family, but it didn’t feel like home anymore. Maybe even houses have destinies as it has now become home to two wonderful little girls, who I know are as loved inside it as my sister and I were and go to the same school where my sister and I went.

It was in this house that I walked in one morning after four days of staying in the hospital where my dad was admitted recently. I don’t want to go into the details but it wasn’t a pleasant time, to say the least. I went there for a bath and breakfast. The little girls were running around and I was deprived of all strength, so I lay down on the couch. All I did was lie down there and stare at the ceiling willing my whole body to hold it together. To keep the faith. To absorb the words my friends and family had been saying — that my dad was going to be okay. To not fall apart when I thought about all the things my dad had done for me in that very house where he raised me. How he walked in through the door every day at the same time, where he slept, how he sat me down on that couch and rapped my knuckles for stealing money. My dad. My dad. My dear dad.

And then, I thought about the baby elephant who feels bereft when he was caged. I was as frightened, as scared, as lonely. There was lightning and wind and torrential rain in our lives. So, I did what people do when in pain, I called out to my mother. My aunt, who I call Maa, came to me and sat down next to me. She put my head on her lap and held me. I lay there broken and as she kept stroking my hair, she said, “Beta sab theek ho jayega.”

***

My dad underwent a major surgery recently. I don’t write about it in detail because talking about it scares me. I do, however, write whatever I can because I think it is imperative to know our lives are not a rosy bunch as we curate it online. The last four weeks have been extremely hard. Also, because I know that as a writer, I should be able to talk about my grief the way I’ve spoken about my joys. Someday, I will be more courageous. For now, it is what it is.

(Please don’t ping me. Please. Thank you.)

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