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Letter to a Dead Father
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Letter to a Dead Father

Dear Father,

Whenever I have recollected about you, my heart has burst into an impending longing, my eyes deluged in clueless tears and my face sank in familiar grief. Never ever has your persona visited my memory with joy, maybe this inevitable tragedy befalls every mortal; memories cannot be separated from nostalgia—a reluctant feeling to live in the tangible, yet gone, past.

I search enough for a land where I can lie down and try to assess how much do I know of you. Every time I become pensive though, a grief-stricken revelation agitates my soul. You are fading away from my reminiscences as you faded away from my life. The only strong difference between the two is that of gradualness and abruptness, yet both painful in their own peculiar ways. The old pages of your memories are eaten away by the silverfish of time. They’re growing thinner than the wings of a butterfly and falling like a thousand feathers from a bird weary of the great migration like a great wind stirs up the fallen crisp leaves of the late autumn into the air. But here, in the hallway of nostalgia, there is no wind, no motion of falling, no act of nibbling, no process of wilting. Everything is hung in the midair as if time has halted. Everything calm, and still. Everything agitating.

Your face is fading, like a full moon slowly fades under the dark and dense clouds. The tone of your chuckle is echoing reluctantly and attenuating after every reverb, muffling down like the ember of a dying cigarette. The only pictures I remember vividly are: whenever your shrivelled lips would plant kisses on my cheeks endlessly, while I’d frolic in your lap; whenever your rough and coarse fingers caressed my hands, they had an enlightenment of fear, you’d touch my little fingers gently, lest they break; whenever I erred; your gracious smile, and a warm hug when you dropped me off to the school and your earnestness with which you’d look after my homework.

Most of your memories are gloomy because they have raised their plinth in my heart after you died. I remember the stillness and the heaviness which hung throughout our house—everything was weighing down: the walls, the ceiling, the unattended mess in the kitchen, the collard leaves on the sheet which my mother was sorting, the face of my mother, the clouds outside and the grave silence. It was the morning they brought your dead body home in a blue truck. All I remember about you that day is how bullet-ridden fathers are remembered—your long body wrapped in a green woollen blanket, smelling of the disinfectant and the hospital corridor where you breathed your last; your half-shut eyes, gazing into nothingness; your ajar mouth aching, the thirst, it seemed, which oceans couldn’t assuage; your white undershirt on which the dried blood had formed the clusters of red clouds; your pale skin, especially the arms, like rancid butter, yellowish and cold; your tired face testifying of the battle you fought for ten days and two; and your sunken cheeks, signifying the defeat when you finally gave up. All the women, sat cross-legged around you, wailing and beating their chests. In all of this, my mother, still like a stone, kept repeating the same phrase endlessly, “I am brave. I am not weeping.”

I was dragged into the room where they were washing your body and told to splash a jug of water over it. The room was dimly lit and smelling of camphor, with clouds of warm steam pervading throughout. The tall men, chattering unintelligibly, stood around your body as the trees sway in a forest, making strange actions frantically and commanding my elder brothers about the washing ritual. I heard my elder brother sobbing like an old widow, and I heard some coarse voice of a man saying, “Here is his pot’peen, give him a jug of water”. But I ran away, barefoot and frightened, to the verandah and through the main gate all the way into the street with my friend who was seven, ran behind me with a pair of my slippers. I ran till my lungs gasped for breath, my friend, two years younger to me, chasing me down. That frantic fit of a dash, I will always regret.

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Recently a close friend lost his father, and during the washing ritual, I saw his feet. Emaciated as they were, they gleamed and glowed, and there was something very pristine about them. I felt an urge to kiss them because they reminded me of your feet. My friend moved his hands endlessly over them like a devotee and did not let go of them until the body was put in the coffin.

I don’t remember whether I took part in your funeral, but they say it was the biggest congregation people had witnessed in our hometown. I remember when they were filling the grave with the soil and shutting you from me forever. I remember my brother weeping alone in the farthest corner of the graveyard. I wept with him. I remember the snow—it had snowed so heavily that roads were jammed, there was no traffic, and people had to return to their homes on foot, travelling all the miles walking. Perhaps that accounts for my being depressed often in winters.

It took me fifteen long years to muster courage and amass all the remnants of these memories into a letter. I am writing this with the fright and anxiety of an eight-year-old orphan who is lost in the intricate streets of an alien city, hysterically looking for his mother. The table on which I am writing is the same table you had in your pharmacy, oddly smelling of medicines and the little shop where you treated patients. It’s the very same at which you read newspapers, smoked Capstain cigarettes. It’s the same table, on which you were shot, and lay untreated in a cold pool of blood.

I will not stop meeting your friends and rediscovering you through their memories and stories. I will not hesitate, however painful it might be, to ask my mother about you during the late-night conversations. All I know is that you were humble, well-read, handsome and six feet tall with broad and sturdy shoulders. To fill the endless voids in the wall, I will meet every soul who knew of you so to reimagine you through their glimpses, and I will finally mourn for you, getting the burden off from my tormented chest, and gulp down the sorrow in an unquenchable triumph.

Your Pot’peen

This letter was published in the February 2020 print issue of The Mountain Ink.

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