Posted by Chaitali Banerjee, New Delhi
It had become almost an unspoken tradition. Of giving my father a surprise on his birthday by turning up at my parents’ house in Kolkata unannounced. The look on his face would always be priceless. Two beautiful days of celebrations and back.
A quiet man. A man of very few demands. But you knew that this meant the world to him.
Due to exigencies on the home front, I couldn’t make it last year. Told him that I wouldn’t be able to make it to his birthday. But our reputation catches up with us at strange times … She is trying to surprise me again. I know her, she must be on her way! He kept going to the front door to check all day, sure that I was hiding somewhere (as indeed I had done sometimes in the past). Gave up only late at night.
This year, it was as though the stars had aligned to make the trip possible. My son’s board exams were obligingly scheduled to end on March 18th so that we could fly out on the morning of the 19th – on his birthday. Heartbreak then. As the coronavirus outbreak became worse, doctors advised against our trip since it could pose a threat to his fragile health (he had successfully beaten off cancer recently).
I was, for some reason, desperate to just reach him. But, well, couldn’t. Sensing my disappointment, he consoled that the lockdown would surely end by April 14th and I’d be able to travel. Wasn’t to be though.
On April 14th, after spending the day wishing his innumerable friends and extended family on the occasion of the Bengali New Year, he lay down in the evening and closed his eyes. Never to open them again. And all I could do was pray in faraway Delhi, a thousand miles from him and my mother and with no way to get to them.
In these impossible times, on his final journey, he had just five family members and friends for company. This for a man who was adored by many and who had always gone out of his way to be there for others. I don’t know how I’ll ever get over the image of him running to the door expectantly and coming back empty handed. The only consolation is that he knew that I would be there at the very next opportunity. I’m glad we made the best of the times that we did get.
Curators’ note: Blessed to have received the unconditional love of Chaitali’s father. He showered his affection in abundance on anyone who came in touch with him . He leaves behind a lacuna that even time will find difficult to fill.