It was Ekadashi, a day auspicious to Vaishnavites, when he collapsed on his wife’s bosom while she was trying to wash him up. She called to her sister in alarm.
“Call the ambulance. We have to take chetan to the hospital.”
He had lost so much weight over the past few weeks, refusing to eat chapatis, rice, bananas or milk. On good days he would have 2 spoons of curd rice and an ounce of custard or ice cream. And yet she didn’t have the strength to carry him to the bed from the bathroom.
“Call that Nepali watchman. Ask him to hurry,” she yelled out to her sister.
The Nepali man showed up before the ambulance and wrapped him in a bed sheet and carried him to the bed. He lay on the bed and took 2 or 3 breaths and then the next breath didn’t come at all.
Her sister called his children, one in Sweden and one in N. Carolina. His son immediately flew to Stockholm and booked his flights to India. The daughter was unreachable. In the morning when she woke up and looked at her phone, WhatsApp was blowing up with messages. Some were messages from people that she didn’t know. She opened one of them and it said: So sorry to hear about your father. God be with you, molu.
It made no sense. She had just spoken to him last night and he seemed to be fine. He had just returned from Apollo after giving a sample for biopsy. The doctors had started therapy a couple of days ago after weeks and weeks of endless testing and trying to find the primary.
She dialed her mom’s number.
“Hi ma. What happened to Papa?” she asked.
“Papa is no more. Didn’t anyone tell you?”
She slumped on the couch trying to make sense of what she had just heard.
“How? What happened? I spoke to him yesterday!”
Her mom gave the phone to someone else and they started talking some random stuff which didn’t even register. She excused herself and cut the call.
Almost a month ago, Papa went to the doctor for a check up. Mom had been pestering him to go see a doctor since August. He was losing weight although he was eating well and healthy otherwise. Whenever Amma nagged him he would say, “You’re always thinking negative. There’s nothing wrong with me.”
Only to prove her wrong did he finally agree to visit a doctor. After running some initial tests the doctor asked him to take a PET scan, which then revealed nodules in several parts of the body.
Amma called one day and said, “Don’t get upset, molu but Papa has cancer.”
She chided her mom for making assumptions without showing the reports to an oncologist. How can Papa get cancer? No way. It was some mistake. She imagined that he would live till 80 or more and celebrate his birthday at the temple in Thirukadaiyur like they did for his 70th birthday. The priests performed Mrityunjaya homam to ensure that he lived a long life. He was only 72. Even the temple elephant had blessed him by placing its trunk on his head.
Just a few weeks ago she had fasted on Vaikunta Ekadashi day hoping that his favorite god Vishnu would hear her prayers and grant him good health and a long life. The last time she had fasted was in 2015 and indeed a miracle happened. So why not this time? The very same day a girl from her daughter’s school dropped off a bag containing 1000 cranes or senbazuru. Legend has it that if one strings together 1000 origami cranes you get one wish. She didn’t string the cranes together but maybe this was a sign that her wish will be granted.
When the world was bidding adieu to 2021 and welcoming 2022 with new hopes, aspirations, and dreams, all she wanted was her dad to be cured. I want nothing more dear God, just please heal my Papa.
A few weeks before that when she was agonizing over her dad’s health, her daughter showed up one day with gifts for her—a small crystal angel and an amethyst geode. Wasn’t this also a sign from the angels that Dad would be OK? Her guides kept whispering to her that everything would be fine and that they will not abandon her.
But as she sat there wailing Papa Papa, she knew everything was a lie. She was so angry with the Gods. How could they snatch him away before she even got the chance to say goodbye? Why didn’t the doctors say that he didn’t have long to live? Why didn’t he ask her to come see him one last time?
Once when she was talking to him, he said, “A few years back I just got this feeling that I would get cancer and that I would be miraculously cured.”
As a healer she had witnessed and read about several miracles, so she believed him. But her subconscious mind tried to warn her much before any of these events unfolded. It was the strangest dream. She was in a crowded movie hall and Papa was ahead of her. Pushing past the throng she tried to get to him but it was almost impossible. She tried calling out to him but he couldn’t hear her over the din. Finally, he found his seat and settled down but the seats next to him were occupied. Confused, she tried to get his attention but he was engrossed in a book whose cover was obscured by brown paper wrapping. It was some book that was turned into a movie and copies were strewn around the theater.
Then she found herself alone in a box seat in the same movie hall and that’s where the dream ended. When she related this dream to her dad he had said, “You can’t go where I’m going!” It didn’t make much sense to her till his passing.
Meanwhile in Vaikkom, her aunt’s garden was producing an extraordinarily large crop of pumpkins. The old grandma next door took one look at the pumpkins and said, “There will be a death in the family. These pumpkins proliferating isn’t a good omen.”
Why didn’t she see any bad omens? Why, the day after Vaikunta Ekadashi her neighbor had gifted her a Ganesha that she had painted. Wasn’t that a good omen? She didn’t know anymore. It was like she lived in an alternative universe and failed to see the glaring signs.
The same neighbor recounted a dream she had about her in which she was crying uncontrollably. Someone close to her had died. Of course the neighbor thought it was a warning about her own father who was ailing. Only after her friend’s father passed away did she connect the dots.
All the riches of the world and all the powers to be can’t get her one second with her dad, now that he’s gone. Maybe goodbyes are not required for souls who remain connected through invisible webs of love through lifetimes. The hope that she will meet him again makes life bearable to her. Somehow she will make sure his love for her lives on till her last breath on earth.