Remembering a very special person…

Remembering a very special person…

…on his birthday, and keeping it sweet with the sweetest payasam…

Right now, sitting here thinking about my father, I have a small, little smile creeping up my face and warmth in my heart, remembering him with the utmost fondness. But I just finished tearing up this morning, while praying for his soul to rest in peace, still in disbelief and saddened by the fact that he’s no more, and wondering when I’ll see him again…

As his birthday, or rather birth anniversary, draws nearer, I wish to recollect all the wonderful attributes of my dearest, beloved father, just because, I never want to forget. Never want to forget the incredible personality he was… Life goes by so quickly and so much happens in a person’s lifetime, that it’s so easy to let go of some heartwarming memories. What if one day my memory weakens… Thus, I wish to cherish and keep those wonderful memories for life.

My father used to be my walking, talking encyclopedia, newspaper, and much more. I still remember those days, when he would drive on the roads of Oman, and I would ask him question after question. “Appa, which car is that?” or “Appa, which is that building?”. And my father loved to share his knowledge. So with patience, he would always respond to every one of my queries. My father loved the news. In the morning, he would play the news on Oman FM while driving. He would read all the possible, available newspapers, be it the Times of Oman, Observer, Khaleej Times, Malayala Manorama, … I came years later into my parents’ lives. And there is a beautiful picture that I adore of lil’ ol’ me, just three months old in the stroller, in Singapore, and my father standing right behind me, being the protector and shield he always was. Just before I left from India a week ago, my mother and I watched the videos that were shot for my sisters’ weddings. And we were able to see again that responsible father, with so much of concern and worry written all over his face, just wishing and hoping all would go fine on his daughters’ big days. My father was a tall, huge person with a dynamic personality, and the successful CEO of a heavy equipment sales company. And it was such an amusing contrast to see him personally opening the car doors for my sisters, making sure my sister’s sarees were looking perfect without any creases before entering the church for the wedding, making sure my sisters signed the church register right, ensuring my sisters did all the rituals correctly before and after the wedding, … There was no holding back the caring, dutiful father he was. By the time it was my turn to get married, my father’s health was not at its best. On the day I got register married in December, my dear father was running around so much, that eventually he had a throbbing pain in his chest and abdomen, and he had to visit the hospital that afternoon. But he made it through the summer, and I praise God that both my parents could marry me off. Will not forget the day when I saw my strong father standing with my mother by the white gate outside our home in Kerala, and seeing him break down in tears, as I left home for the first time with my husband…

I still remember how my bold and brazen father had no qualms addressing “girl problems”. He had no complaints going to the store for buying sanitary napkins for the time of the month. And since there were four of us ladies in the household, needless to say, there was a need for a lot of napkins! I still remember the time I was in high school, and I had an exam one morning. I was in so much pain being my time of the month, that I still remember wriggling on the couch in the guest room opposite to the kitchen. Time was running out for me to catch the morning bus to school. But I felt so crampy, that my busy father who was always punctual for work, told me he would stay back at home for some more time, so that I can feel a little bit better, and then be dropped to school by him, just in time for the exam. I remember once having an appointment with an ENT doctor due to severe ear pain. I tried so hard to fight back tears in the doctor’s office. But I let the tears flow in pain, as my father and I exited the clinic, and my father rushed to get the medicines for me from the pharmacy and rushed me back home. My father would not hold back on the shopping for any of us. He always wanted his wife and three daughters to be chic, well dressed. At this time, I must pause to marvel and praise God for the luxuries he bestowed upon us, for the comfortable lives we led, and one person, who to this day is responsible for the quality lives we as a family lead, is my father. My father passed away only after ensuring that he did more than enough to support his family in every possible way, and for that, I’m so grateful to my kind Lord above, my father as well as my mother, because we all know that behind every successful man, there’s a woman, and that woman was definitely and solely my mother.

My father was certainly a strict disciplinarian. And this was not only known to us as a family, but also known to friends at school. He didn’t entertain any misbehavior of any kind. His word was the final and ultimate. If he said no, then it actually meant no. My sisters and I have got spanked left and right, black and blue, for the not so greatest report cards, and for anything he felt the need to reprimand. On such days, my father was almost a tyrant, for the lack of a better word! The day someone got their exam mark sheets or report cards from school, be it my sisters or me, our hearts would pound uncontrollably as we would see Appa’s car park in the car porch, him closing, almost slamming the car door shut, and sometimes breaking a branch from one of the plants in the front yard, which would be the dreaded disciplining stick for the evening! Now whenever my sisters and I reminisce those days, on how scared we would be, cry, wail and run around the house with absolute fear, we laugh! Although the disciplining by my father was not fun at all to go through back then, my sisters and I are well aware of how well it shaped us and our lives for the better. There are so many verses all throughout the Bible, especially in the book of Proverbs, about the merits of disciplining a child. One that I recall clearly is from Proverbs 13:24 ‘Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.’ And my favorite, ‘Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart.’, from Proverbs 29:17. The disciplining would be dreadful, but my dear father was actually a softie at heart, and would then try to butter up us sulking girls post the ordeal. Those days would be the best time to ask for anything we wanted. New shoes or new clothes or any special treats we were craving for… The works!  It was essential for my parents, especially my father, that his girls were respectable, having an unflawed character that was never questionable. He never wished that we topped the class as ace students or compete in everything in school and win all the possible laurels. He just wanted us to be well-behaved girls. He was very clear and straight-forward, any place, every time. One memory that stands out for me, is this one time when I was in middle school, when I was on the phone with my friend, and we were talking about going somewhere, if I remember right. I told my friend that my father would drop me. And I’ve always called my father Appa or referred to him as my father to my friends. But you know that time in school, when you’re trying to act cool, and you don’t want to be called by your nickname ‘Baby’ in front of everyone, especially not in a grocery store (True story, in Spinneys of Shatti Al Qurm!). So during this phone conversation, I referred to my father suddenly out of the blue, just to sound cool, as ‘Dad’. I still clearly remember sitting on one of those beautiful cane chairs we had in the nook of our old Madinat Qaboos villa, and little did I know that my father was in the vicinity and that he had overheard me conversing on the phone. As soon as I ended the call, my father came up to me and made his point so clear in one sentence, that I remembered his words for life. He said to me, “Baby, no need to call me Dad and all.” He said it with all seriousness and I needed no further explanation at all. From that day on, I wasn’t awkward, pseudo or pretentious anymore, and I had no qualms referring to my father like how I normally did, by either calling him Appa or my father. An event as small as that made me so comfortable in my skin, put me right in my place, and made me so rooted.

My father loved to eat, and the one thing he could never resist was eggs! I still remember during my school days, eating with my parents, and my mother making us omelets. There would be one steaming hot omelet for my father and myself, each. But he would finish his fast, and then eye mine! Knowing my father wanted some more, I would happily give him a portion of the omelet on my plate. My mother would feel so bad that I couldn’t have the entire omelet she made specially for me and would then quarrel with my father to leave my omelet alone! But my father would pay no attention to her, and just smile with glee on getting the opportunity to eat more eggs! I used to be my father’s handyman. My father always knew that he could come to me for all the odd jobs. Polishing his shoes, ironing his shirts, sewing back loosened buttons onto his shirts, cutting thin slices of cucumber for him to munch on in the evening… Later on, I became his personal secretary, sending out emails for him, looking into our banking and finances, organizing his files… I was definitely his special little girl, spoilt with more than I could ask for. My father was a lot stricter with my sisters but I used to get away with little freedoms. Sleepovers, hanging out with friends, going out for movies with them, going away from my parents all the way to London to study… To this day, my sisters feel I was the lucky one and that they got no liberties. Nada! hehe…I do agree with them though. My parents, especially my father, were a lot more liberal with me. He was happy that I did fairly well in academics and that I went on to pursue a Master’s in Bioinformatics from London. But the one time I made him super-proud was when I topped my batch for engineering during undergrad and got a gold medal. He was so proud! During a party at our home in Muscat, my father who was feeling a little extra happy after downing a couple or more ‘smalls’, couldn’t resist but share his excitement with our family friends about his youngest daughter’s academic achievement! Some years later, when I was going through my father’s files, I found one file with color photocopies of the certificate I received for becoming the first ranker, and he kept each and every copy of the newspapers in which the news was published of me being the gold medalist in my batch. What a proud and happy father he was!

My father would always make sure that we were frequent churchgoers as a family. And he was so punctual! We would always reach church at the same time, and he would always sit at the same place, in the second or third row. He gave due respect and importance to the church, our faith, religion. My mother had a huge role in encouraging us as a family to pray together, and I still remember those evenings when we would all sit together, and my mother would sing hymns, followed by my father who would read from the Bible. And each time before traveling by flight, my father would ensure that we all stand together and pray for our safe journey. Over the years of going to church regularly, he was always in touch with bishops and the various vicars who have taken post. And my father would always unhesitatingly contribute to all the charitable proceeds through the church.

I remember going on road trips to the interiors of Oman and Dubai and on so many flights to India with my parents, but the two trips I fondly remember are the last two trips before my father passed away. One was right after I got married. I had to wait for my US visa to be issued and so I had to stay back in India for a little while. While I waited for the visa, my parents were invited for a family friend’s son’s wedding. And the wedding was to take place in where else, but lovely Goa! So I happily tagged along with my parents, and it was so much fun! We of course had some amazing food together, especially at the over-80-years-old Souza Lobo on Calangute Beach! Another trip I fondly remember is the trip my parents and I made to Kuttikkanam, around 2014. I still remember the lovely breeze we enjoyed from our room facing the tea plantations, with old Kishore Kumar and Mohammed Rafi songs playing on my phone in the background…

My father was an old soul at heart, who loved old melodies… Some of his favorites were classics such as ‘Alliyaambal kadavil’ from the old Malayalam black and white film ‘Rosie’, ‘Pukarta chala hoon main’ from the old Hindi film ‘Mere Sanam’, and old ghazals of Jagjit Singh… After my father passed away in July, my mother, sisters, nephews and I made a short trip to Cochin. The morning we reached Cochin, we stopped at one of my father’s favorite restaurants for breakfast, Dwaraka. And I swear I felt my father’s presence with us that morning. Through the speakers of the restaurant, I could hear one of my father’s favorite songs play, ‘Kabhi kabhie’ from the old Amitabh Bachchan blockbuster ‘Kabhi Kabhie’. It felt so peaceful and reassuring to hear that song…And some weeks later after that trip to Cochin, when my mother and I ate at a restaurant called Favorite in Kottayam, I was yet again reminded of my father with a song. Through the speakers, we heard the old Terry Jacks’ classic ‘Seasons in the sun’. It reminded me of my father, because I remember years ago, some of my family friends singing this song during a party in Muscat, and I remember seeing my father bobbing his head, enjoying the song. He was a happy person who loved to be merry, and made sure everyone around him was merry too…

Two months ago, I woke up that fateful morning in India, hearing my mother scream out my name again and again. It was just past 6 am in the morning, on July 13th, and I had a feeling something could be seriously wrong. Went to my parents’ room and saw my father lying very peacefully, with his eyes closed. I couldn’t believe it was happening and I felt that this just couldn’t be it! But it was. One of those dreadful moments of life… Death of a loved one. I’m facing it for the first time and it’s the worst, most painful incident that has occurred to me, by far. Over the last one year, I’ve envisioned this very moment, over and over again in my mind, maybe subconsciously to lighten the blow when the incident would actually take place. But nothing could prepare me for that morning. My mother and I were shocked and we literally couldn’t do anything. I still wasn’t convinced until the ECG was taken at the nearby hospital and as I saw my father’s face during the last few minutes before he was put in the morgue, I cried with sadness, disbelief and a little anger towards my father, questioning him in my mind “How could you, Appa? How could you leave us and go?” Soon my sisters, their husbands, my nephews and my husband arrived for the funeral. We were helped so much by my uncles, cousins, extended family. All of us got together to make sure my father had a beautiful final journey. God’s presence was truly felt all those days prior to the funeral. It’s amazing how God put a peaceful end to my father’s battle with illness and being bedridden for exactly a year.  I know of people who go through years of being bedridden or being hospitalized or being in a coma. But God was kind and merciful to my father, who’s condition was only getting worse month after month. I knew by seeing my father that morning, that God blessed him with a peaceful demise. Everything went well on the day my family and I, and several others, family and friends, bid my father one final goodbye, with white sheets and white flowers everywhere, and several wreaths and bouquets from well-wishers. I was amazed with the number of people who came to pay their respects. Just went to show what a great mark my father left in this world and in people’s minds… Being the monsoon season, we anticipated heavy rains but the kind Lord blessed the day with a clear sky and sunshine. I have always seen the procession on the roads of Kerala, with the ambulance carrying the body, with songs from huge speakers mourning someone’s loss, with the following of several cars. This time, I went through it myself.  By God’s grace, since it was a Sunday, there was no traffic on the roads whatsoever and it was a very smooth and peaceful procession. The bishop who took over the final rituals at the church before my father’s burial spoke such fine words, and all he said was so reassuring. He was right. My father was going on his final journey, but the most beautiful and peaceful one. And just like that it all ended, with my sisters and I covering my father’s face, the bishop pouring oil over my father’s head, and finally burying him in the family chamber. Just like that a wonderful person went away…

I wonder how many people are lucky and blessed like my father was. He truly was God’s special child, just like Job from the Bible. The day after my father passed away, my mother and I bought a white shirt to be worn by him for his burial, and it was a rather amusing shirt. My mother and I were just looking for a regular white shirt in the store for my father to wear under his suit. But it turned out to be not so regular. The day before the funeral, as I kept ready all that was needed for my father’s funeral, and removed the cover and pins over the new Louis Philippe shirt, I was amused to see the tag inside the collar. It read ‘Gods and Kings’. I felt it was such an apt shirt for my father and for the occasion! I was so blessed to be in India this summer a month and a half before my father passed away, and a month and a half after his demise. Seeing my father’s frail body was not easy when I got to India first, even though it had just been six months since I last saw him. A few months before my father passed away, he contracted pneumonia and he had a nasty cough that sometimes would not let him sleep at all. Whenever I was with him in my parents’ bedroom, I would always pat his hand as he coughed, just trying to reassure him that it would be fine. Some days I would even massage his frail legs, and I think he found it comforting. Although it was quite depressing all those days to see my father go through all that he was going through, I pushed myself to channel my thoughts and spend my time creatively at home. After ages I tried my hand at pencil sketching and watercolor painting. My mother and I would go out and I would share pictures frequently on Instagram of all the food I was eating back home. And all this temporarily helped me to stay strong and positive. A fond memory I have from this summer, is when my father was so happy to see me one day. That morning, my mother and I had to go out and my father was sleeping at the time. By the time we came back, it was past afternoon. Later when my father was awake, he was seeing me for the first time that day, and I cannot forget the happiness that shined through his eyes and the little smile he could manage with his lips. And then he slowly asked me “Where were you all this time?”.

My father was really quite a personality. I’ve heard infamous stories of his rowdiness whilst in college. He was obviously someone who was carefree and lived life on his own terms. A month after my father’s funeral, it was wonderful to go through his drawers back home and to learn so much more about him. I came across dozens, easily a hundred, business cards that my father collected over the years. I was left wondering about how many people a person meets on an average in his/ her lifetime… Going through my father’s collection of business cards, it was great to see the sort of evolution of the design of business cards. Most were made of sturdy paper, some with paper that looked deceivingly flimsy but were super sturdy, and so many other kinds. I learnt that my father through his 35 years of work in the Middle East, met so many people of various nationalities with interesting names, in the fields of engineering, medicine, finance, media, and these people had so many different designations from directors and chairmen to managers. I also came across business cards of restaurants, that are still operational in Oman to this day. Without a doubt, if a new restaurant opened in town, my father was certainly going to try it out that same weekend. Some of his all-time favorite restaurants in Oman were Curry House, which was right across his old office on the other side of the main road, Saravanaa Bhavan, which was his go-to place for breakfast after church, where he would somehow manage to eat a 4 or 5 course meal for breakfast (!!), Omar Khayyam for their delicious Indochinese and Mughlai food, Golden Oryx for great Asian fine dining and Passage to India for their kababs. He was definitely a connoisseur of great tasting food and because of my father, I’ve been introduced to some of the most amazing food in my life, some of which I’m still in search of to have a similar tasting experience today. Like those steaming hot, soft, melt in your hands parottas from an old restaurant which I think was called Kairali back then, and delicious grilled chicken sandwiches and chicken lollipops of Sindbad… Drool worthy! Going through my father’s drawers, it was a reaffirmation of how organized, meticulous and disciplined a person he was, with everything painstakingly filed. But the most amusing, was to go through his old passports and driving licenses. In some of the very old pictures in his official documents, my father looked so different that I couldn’t believe I was looking at a picture of him! It was amazing to see those old Indian passports, which looked slightly different back then, and one of my father’s earliest passports even had a red seal to mark the expiration and cancelation of the passport. It was like studying my father’s journey of over three decades… It amazes me that my father set out in 1974 on a ship to travel for days from Bombay to the Emirates. What an extraordinary experience it must’ve been… And my goodness! My father traveled so much in his lifetime, back then in the late 70s and 80s! Austria, Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, UK, Singapore, New Zealand, Yemen, Switzerland, France and the list goes on… It was amusing to see a little piece of paper pop out from in between some of my father’s old documents. It was a list of plants my gardening-obsessed mother asked my father to buy from the nursery on his way back from work. I’m smiling now remembering those days when my mother would almost pester my father for such purchases, and how my father would at first retort back saying that he was too busy. But the softie in him would always do everything to see his wife and kids smile, and so no matter how busy a day, he would go all the way to fulfill our wishes…

Evidently, I’m so proud of my parents, and being my father’s birth anniversary, I’m so grateful that I had the good fate of being his daughter. Will miss his deep, full voice and especially his birthday wishes over the phone, and his light pats on the shoulder and warm hugs when I’d see him after a long time. I still remember him coming back from work with video cassettes of the latest Hindi and Malayalam films, or coming back with a copy of my back then favorite Young Times. Remember going to Star Cinema with him and my mother, to watch the latest Malayalam flick in town… So many memories… like a thousand fireflies in a field, and I’m literally running all over the field, trying to bottle up and catch each firefly…

I hope to see you soon again one day, Appa. For now, I know you’re our guardian angel watching over us from above. I hope your incredible legacy will be carried forward for generations to come, and I hope you’re at peace, knowing you have done beyond and more for your family and scores of others who have had the good privilege of crossing paths with you… My father loved having bananas after a meal, especially after lunch. And today I’m commemorating the birth of this exemplary human being, with some sweet banana payasam. A little wish, a little prayer, that may my dear father’s spirit and memories always bring sweetness into our lives, and hopefully we will all reunite again in that beautiful paradise…

 

 

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