The bottom has fallen out of my world. My marvelous father has gone – and I didn’t even get to say goodbye.
Some protective barrier inside our heads probably stops us from thinking of the inevitability of our own parents’ death. And so, believing that my dad would be out of hospital soon, I didn’t rush to Bangalore at first. When I finally did get there, he was gone and my brother just placed his watch in my hand. The next time I saw him was when he was draped in the Indian flag, unable to see for himself the touching send-off he received from the Indian Air Force.
They tell me that when I was learning the alphabet as a baby, A was for Aeroplane. And when I reached P, that was for Papa, Pushpak Pilot. When I grew up to be a bratty teenager, my dad still very much meant the world to me and was possibly the only one who could get some sense into my head. Oh, the lessons I’ve learned from him and his life. They’re too many to remember consciously, but I know straight off that one of them is that there’s no real option to give up. I tried that more than once, I must admit. I can’t see too great and when I tried to get my college to accept me as a psychology student (I adored psychology), they wouldn’t because they felt I would have too many problems coping with activities that required me to see as others do. I tried and tried and would come back home in despair only to be sent packing back by a dad who told me to tell them there are blind surgeons in this world. Finally, the department realized they’d never seen a more keen and persistent student and let me in. I did have problems, yes, but my dad patiently showed me that there are solutions to everything.
That isn’t the only lesson there for the taking from my dad. He was remarkably “other-oriented”. I don’t think there was ever a time when he was absorbed in himself. Not even when the discomfort of illness took over. I wish it was something I’d internalized but I can never hope to be as selfless as my father was, helping others even as he lay in his hospital bed.
I’m not sure who my dad’s first love was. The Indian Air Force or my mother. I know that one or the other of these two occupied most of his mind space. If he was offered something to eat, he would instantly look around to see what my mother would like to eat. If someone got him to cut a birthday cake he would say sure, that’s all very well but is it eggless because only then can Mohini eat it too. And as for his work, ah, it was never really work but intense involvement, immense fun, and total dedication. My dad was always thinking flying and testing. The Indian Air Force really was his family and having grown up in it, it feels like mine too. I’ll never be able to hear a non civilian aircraft without thinking of him. I’ll never be able to see the Indian Air Force’s colours without longing for just one more flying story from my father…
As I grow older I feel panicked at the thought that I won’t be able to grasp at my memories of my father. What was it he said exactly? Which precise green was his favourite colour? And why green? All the details I was impatient with as a youngster now elude me.
For the rest of my life, I will hear my father’s voice inside my head. Only, I don’t know how to listen to it without crying. Wherever he is now I know that he’ll still be upholding the Air Force’s motto – Touch the Sky with Glory.