Posted by: Monideepa Tarafdar | August 16, 2012

My Father Stumbled

I went to the bank with Baba. The purpose of the visit was to inform the manager that the joint account he had with Ma was to be converted to a joint account for him and my sister. He and Ma had opened that account over forty years ago, perhaps it was their first joint account. I walked behind him as we approached the first of the two flights of stairs that led to the bank. At the foot, he stopped, so that I almost bumped into him. Then he stumbled and paused.  And looked up blankly up the steps toward the landing. I had never seen my father pause or stumble before. He walks carefully, steadily and with purpose. Never haltingly. What was he thinking when he stopped and stumbled? Was he wondering how he would climb all of the steps that he would face henceforth, without Ma? Was he remembering all of the steps they had climbed together?

And then a few days later, I sat beside Baba as he drove to the market. We were going to buy the weekly stuff – vegetables, fish, chicken and all of that. He, used to driving almost every day, was driving after almost three weeks. He said to me, “You need not have come, I could have driven by myself.” He was looking at the road, but it seemed he was looking much farther into the road than there was too look. What was he seeing? The countless times he and Ma had driven to the shops, to one of our houses, to see us off when we traveled, to just about everywhere? The drives in the future when he would not have her next to him? The market was a noisy and smelly bustle, as only markets in Calcutta can be. Vegetables, poultry, grains, groceries, all sharing the same spaces, separated by narrow alleys. And of course the fish – big, small, shining, slippery, black, silver, some still moving. Buying the weekly stuff, that is something my father always did by himself. When he got back home he would tell Ma about all of the stuff he had bought, especially if there was something that he didn’t usually buy, like Ileesh fish. Over the years, Baba had his chosen shops and shopkeepers. On that day, he swiftly and efficiently navigated the alleys, goods and prices, habit stealthily taking over. I followed hurriedly through the squawking chickens and squirming fish, trying not be left too far behind. When he had finished most of the buying he turned around and said, “Now we just need to get the Tangra fish for your Ma and then we’ll be done.”  And then he stood still. Rock still.  And looked far into the distance, farther than the shops, farther than the smell of fish would carry, far into a place that he did not want to see. Could he see those mornings where buying Tangra fish would be unbearable because Ma was not there to take them home to?

Another day I went with him to the medicine shop where we get our medicines from. We went to return a month’s worth of Ma’s medicines. “Have you changed the doctor?” they asked us. My father nodded. Was it a nod of relief that there would be no more pain, or one of disbelief that there would be no need for the medicines any more?

Several days later, after all the bank accounts and fixed deposits had been changed to different joint account holders, after a number of trips to the market that one of us invariably went with him on, my father said one morning, “I am going to buy vegetables. I’ll go by myself”.  No fish, only vegetables. And not to the usual market where he drove to, but to a nearby place that he would walk to. While putting away the stuff he got in the fridge, I came across green mangoes. Not something he would usually buy, but something he got when he wanted to have green mango chutney. When he wanted to have something special, he never told Ma about it, he would simply bring the stuff and say, “Here, I got this”.  When we sat down to eat, he saw the chutney and then looked at us. His eyes were wet, but after a long time, they were less bleak, less weary. What was he seeing? A life where it was perhaps possible to eat chutney without Ma? He said, “There is chutney”. I said “Yes, Baba. Again”.

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Responses

  1. Very well written Moni. Keep it up, the end is extremely touching. If this is real, sorry to hear about your loss.

    • Yes, Sekhar. It is true. Last month. Life has changed irreversibly.


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