Written by: Siddhartha Krishnan
The fear of this day had been lurking in our minds for several years. 33 years to be precise, ever since a tumour was found in his brain in 1990. Thereafter, he underwent a brain tumour surgery at Christian Medical College, Vellore. I was seven years old then, and my brother five. Although, he managed to come out of that ordeal, his body was destined to take a battering every 5 to 10 years. A prostate gland surgery in 1998, vertigo in 2002, a stroke that left him half paralyzed in 2007. And if that wasn’t enough a goof up by a barber left a big swelling at the back of his neck in 2011, which required surgical intervention.
When your body becomes your greatest enemy, the spirit of the warrior within is put to the ultimate test. Achen proved time and again that he was a fighter. He wanted to live for his loved ones. It ain’t over until it is over. Until our goals are achieved, our duties are fulfilled. His life for me was a lesson in enduring pain, and in believing that our hardships can never be greater than the goals we seek.
He got up from one illness after another. Which is why my mother, Meera, never left the hope that her Sachidanand would get up and walk again.
That night in the ICU after a round of bronchoscopy, he was wide awake. His cognitive abilities had miraculously returned. We thought he wouldn’t be able to speak, but he did. He was alert, the most alert he had been since admission to Apollo hospital, Kolkata.
“Acha we will go home soon”, I assured. He didn’t seem to happy.
“Don’t you want to go home?”, I asked.
“No”, he replied. I was startled by his reply.
“Why?”, I enquired.
“How will this get managed in the house?”, he asked.
It was then that I realised that the patient had taken a backseat, and the father in him had resurfaced. He didn’t want to cause any inconvenience to his children, as always.
“Acha you are the only fighter I know. You’ve fought this before, you will again. We are in this together”, I assured him, clenching my fist. He clenched his fist back at us. The fight was definitely on at that stage.
However, his body had aged, and with covid pneumonia and three deadly bacteria in his lungs, this was going to take a miracle.
We had no option but to hope for the best and to prepare for the worst. Do what we could with all earnesty, but not be a reason for his suffering. Not to be the ones to prolong his suffering. The next two months were the toughest for us as family, as we saw the virus gradually ravaging his body. He was at home under critical care nursing.
He left us in the morning of 20th June. Achen was a true blood Kolkatan and he passed away in the city he loved the most.
A flood of memories drowned me at Prinsep Ghat. The Ganga was calm that afternoon, and yet I was being lashed by sporadic waves of myriad emotions. My face puckered up every now and then, resisting a cry. How do I want to remember my father, I asked myself? I didn’t have an answer then. Such questions take time to get answered.
A few days later as I stared at nothingness some answers came my way.
Achen is a part of me. He is there when I think, he is there when I am sensitive, he is there in my speech, he is there in my writing and he is there in the way I deal with people. I am not him, but he is a part of me. He wasn’t perfect. He was a beautiful shade of gray.
A man with flaws. But not one to shy away from a challenge.
That evening when we were busy clearing the flat in Bhowanipore where three generations of our family had stayed, a lesser known fact revealed itself. A mountain of books lay on the floor. My father’s collection. As I sifted through it, to pick whatever I could, I realised that Achen read all perspectives of a known problem. He was open to new ideas and thoughts. I knew that he had the ability to listen patiently to opposing views, but was pleasantly surprised that he had invested time and effort to understand them as well. A well-read man.
He was a chartered accountant by profession. A rank holder. Smart, intelligent and articulate. One who could hold the attention of a crowd when he spoke. In his prime he was committed to social causes that mattered to him. People loved his company.
As he got older, he spoke less and observed more. When I revisit my life with him, many more avatars of his come to the fore. At 6, my superhero. At 10, my storyteller. At 15, my coach (a strict disciplinarian). At 21, my philosopher. At 39, my guiding light.
He is my Mufasa, my Lion King, always keeping watch on me. And whenever I am lacking, he will whisper in my ears, “Remember”.
Acha, I know you did the best you could and no matter what people say, you were a great father and a beautiful human being.