Growing up, I always adored and looked up to my father. He was my role model and a symbol of perfection. He was also a superhuman in my eyes, someone who was invincible and who would live forever. That he was also human and thus susceptible to disease and illness never entered my mind. To a large extent, I think all of us will identify with this emotion that makes us feel our parents are immortal and no harm can ever come to them.
When I was in my teens, Appa was asked by his cardiologist to undergo an angiography to check for any arterial blockage which could then potentially turn into an angioplasty procedure if anything was found. I was assigned the role of Appa’s caretaker. We were to spend the night at the hospital as it was protocol to keep patients undergoing this treatment under observation for up to twenty-four hours in the hospital.
Strangely enough, the words didn’t mean much to me. I didn’t panic, or get worried about my father’s condition. Even while resting in the hospital bed after the procedure, he was lending me his strength by giving the impression of someone who is completely unruffled by everything going on around him.
In my head, all this night meant was quality time with my father without the rest of the family clamouring for his attention. The fact that he underwent a heart related procedure didn’t really stick in my consciousness.
What followed was a completely unforgettable twenty-four hours of my life.
Appa was admitted into one of the most beautiful hospitals Bombay had to offer then, and the room came with a sea view complete with the setting sun. There was also an amazing terrace garden attached to the room which was like a giant greenhouse, sporting colourful flowering plants of all possible varieties one could imagine. It looked very little like a hospital, and more like a resort! For a teenager, it was like a mini-vacation away from home. The fact that my father was with me did nothing to dampen my vacation vibes as I got along with him almost as if he was my best friend.
To this day I remember the conversations we had and the subjects we spoke of. There was a lot of family drama on at the time (the details of which I will not get into, as it wasn’t drama related to me) and I was concerned with Appa’s approach towards these events and his proposed solutions. We debated long into the night on alternate options, on various angles and considerations. Not once did he make me feel I was questioning his decisions at an age when I should just be obeying him without a thought. He quietly listened to all I had to say on the matter as if I was a full-grown adult and let me vent my thoughts freely without judgement or criticism.
Somewhere in the midst of discussing the present predicament, our conversation veered to the past. Appa spoke of his extraordinary journey from working odd jobs at his uncle’s restaurant, to teaching Hindi in a school, to landing up in Bombay where he was fascinated to find men holding placards for job vacancies standing on the platform, literally waiting to grab whoever arrived in the next train! Such was the ratio of jobs to people in the early 1950s.
Appa spoke of his dreams, his aspirations. He even spoke of things he wanted to achieve but hadn’t because of other commitments taking precedence. He spoke of the future he envisioned for his daughters.
Within a few hours, I had fallen silent in awe. I had finally realised something special was happening that night. For the first time, my Appa had confided his deepest thoughts to me! I felt humbled and honoured and quite unfit to purpose, all at the same time.
At some point in the night he finally fell asleep under the influence of all the medications while I stretched out on the couch, watching him sleep. I have no idea when I finally nodded off. Soon it was morning and once the doctors did their rounds, Appa was discharged from the hospital and we left in a taxi for home which was quite some distance away from the hospital.
On the way home, I sat silent, still awed by my new confidant status!
Appa however, wasn’t quite done talking. He acknowledged my comments of the previous night with respect to the family drama and proceeded to explain to me in great detail the reasons for his decision and for the solution he had in mind. As he spoke, I heard his frustration, his helplessness, his anger and his sadness toward the situation he was dealing with. He knew he had not come up with the ideal solution and at one point he actually asked me what I would have done had I been in his place. It wasn’t a sarcastic question, or a dare. It was a genuine attempt from his side to see if there was any other way out other than what had come to his mind.
The conversation continued all the way home. As we paid the taxi driver and walked up the stairs together to our home, I felt like I had gone through a rite of passage of some sort in the last twenty four hours. I had seen a side of my father that I never knew existed.
In a few minutes we were at the door with Amma and the rest of the family all talking at once, wanting to know how he was and how he felt. As I watched, a physical transformation came over Appa. The vulnerable man disappeared as he stood a little straighter, arranged his face in stern lines and raised his hand which resulted in immediate silence around us.
It was like a curtain came down on an extremely special once in a lifetime performance. And he was back to being my perfect, invincible Appa again.