Today is Appa’s 85th birth anniversary. Thirteen years ago, he left us after a valiant battle with cancer. Towards the end of that same year, I began to put my thoughts around this phase of his life in the form of a book. It was very painful to write but it was also very cathartic. The next year in 2010, I was diagnosed with kidney failure and while I waited for my transplant, I feverishly worked to finish the rest of that book, afraid I might not be around to write it all. I hope to publish his extraordinary story one day.
Thinking back to those days and then to the time I began to write for my friend who started off with her own content platform, to starting my own blog – it struck me that I seem to emote and communicate best through the written word. Those who know me at work will attest to this as well. I am known to write “magic” emails and also recently was referred to as “that lady who keeps documenting everything”!
My renewed efforts at writing more often after a somewhat dry spell reminded me of yet another memory around Appa and the many letters I wrote him. These were not written because I was away. These were written while we still stayed under one roof, my way of forming words on paper when it was too hard to do so verbally.
On one hand I was the child that managed to get closest to him. But even for me, speaking to him in certain situations was extremely daunting. In certain situations, it felt like I would get too emotional and be at a loss for words if I approached him face to face.
I chose to write to him at those times. Funnily enough, he never questioned my chosen mode of communication. I would typically write what I wanted to say and slip him the note when he left for work. In a day or two, he would sit me down and discuss whatever I had written to him about.
Apologies, complaints, mistakes, major life-changing decisions that went horribly wrong, incidents I had more questions about, all found their way into these missives. At times I sought his advice, at times his understanding and support. Many a time, his forgiveness. He absorbed it all without question, without judgement. And always responded back to me through an actual conversation.
At that age and phase of life, I never realised how special and strange this was at the same time. What I had was a safe outlet for all the pent up emotions that had no other way of coming out. And more importantly, a patient recipient who helped me make sense of my own words.
Life has gotten far more complex and mental health awareness is something that is freely discussed and spoken about today. Back in the day, nothing stopped Appa from thinking something was wrong with his daughter and even get terrified by these letters, tiny truth bombs that I dropped on him from time to time. With very little awareness of mental health issues, communication challenges, when I see it from Appa’s perspective as a parent – this behaviour was probably very confusing for him too.
He could have easily lashed out like he did for so many other things and said “I’m right here. Why don’t you just talk like a normal person?”
It would have silenced me for life if he had done that. Somehow he found the maturity and presence of mind to “be cool” and let me choose what mode was most comfortable for me to communicate with him.
During that very confusing and growing up phase of life, he accepted my need to have a “hotline” that I would activate for the really important discussions.
And Appa answered, every single time.