DAD AND HIS BOX OF MERRY MEMORIES

Dad was in a pensive mood one fine evening a few weeks ago. looking out at the light drizzle, he said, “Venu Baba, just lend me Rs 250, I would like to open a petty pan shop. How long do I have to depend on you my dear son? I need to survive without anyone’s support.”

I smiled and stroked his hand reassuringly, “Is that enough? I can give you Rs 20,000 or even more if you wish. What would anybody do with a mere Rs 250?”

“Are you mad, we are getting your sister married in a few months, it’s just a pan shop, I say!” He thundered!

How do I tell him that a fancy fire pan costs Rs 500, nowadays?

The Alzheimer’s had taken a big toll on him, ever since he fell down a few years ago. His once robust health and memory had taken a big beating, and was declining steadily.

A good eighteen years of active retired life had been blissful; all of us so relaxed. He was always engaged in numerous activities. He would attend to all the home repairs personally, be it plumbing, electrical or tinkering around with the vessels. Never did he once complain that he was bored!

He would clean all the vegetables and the non-vegetarian food, ensuring everything was perfectly mis-en place. The Wife was forever happy. He would take a book at 3 PM to the JP Nagar mini forest, read till 5 PM and start his leisurely stroll with his walking buddies. They would all reminisce the bygone eras. He would tell some of their stories at the dinner table, our TV tucked away. Aabana and Bagi didn’t complain as the entertainment from him was far superior to the silly soap operas.

His life now is a clean slate, flickering every half an hour to one episode from his eventful life. He would point a forefinger to his head trying to think or remember when asked. If he gets it, he would promptly forget it in few minutes, but the smile and affection are never out of place.

Poor Mr Amjadulla

Amjadulla uncle was a close colleague of dad’s during their Avadi HVF tank factory days. He has been staying with his son since his retirement. Each time he would meet me, he would say that he wanted to visit dad. I would reply, “Uncle please don’t take the trouble of travelling so much, dad doesn’t recognise any one nowadays. There is no hurry, your health is also important.”

One morning, uncle turned up despite several attempts of me trying to evade him. “Oh my goodness dear Amjad, what a stupendous pleasure to see you pal. Do come sit, tell me which shift are you in.” Dad went on nonstop.

Uncle gave me a killer look. I felt my face going red with shame, barely managing to utter an honest apology. This dad can be a real danger.

Many stories were narrated, along with anecdotes of the bosses who were absolute tyrants. How these young technicians gave them a hard time with their mysterious pranks.

They laughed and joked for a good hour or so. Dad fell silent thereafter, reminiscing.  Suddenly, he looked up. Pointing his forefinger, he asked, “Who are you man, what do you want here?” I ran out of the room clutching my stomach, not wanting to offend uncle Amjad. Clean bowled situation. Amjad uncle came to the living room, guffawing till his joyful tears rolled out.

Of forgotten memories

“Venu, go to Kerala to fetch your mom back here to Bidar. She fought with me, being a new bride!” “Daddy, she died 25 years ago and we are in Hyderabad now, not Bidar where you grew up.” I replied with a tinge of sadness.

“Oh! Is it? Lucky lady, I shall join her soon enough so that we can fight nice and proper in heaven,” he winked conspiratorially. “She used to cook so well, you kids used to eat out of her hands, licking the fingers dry,” he added.  

Dad fell into a deep thought for a few minutes. He then raised his hands, “I am so hungry, haven’t eaten for a month. Get me few measly morsels. I have to manage with little food, now that you have turned into a super stingy miser. Can’t even feed your old dad, what days have come to pass. Kaliyuga, I say. After wards, I want you to finish your homework, or else the teacher will give you a good whack, mind it,” he went on and on.  

“That body builder maths master, Mr Thyagarajan really hits the kids and pulls them up by their side locks as if he is practicing dumb bells. Tell you, I must invite him for a combat one of these days.” He showed his biceps menacingly.

 “Oh dad, please don’t hit him, you have such rippling muscles, my master will die with just one punch. Have mercy, please,” I begged him. He moved his arms in a pardoning flourish and said, “As you wish my son, but do give him a strong message from my end”.

Whenever anyone visits dad, the first thing he asks if they have had food. He would then instruct our caretaker, Venki, with a warm smile, to get lunch.

“Let me go buy chicken from the market, see he came all the way from Avadi. I must take care of him,” he tells seriously and sagely. He would then get up purposefully, looking for the bag and walk till the bath room. Standing there, a bit confused, he would mutter, “Nowadays these markets have only toilets. Wonder where the butcher’s shop has gone?”  

I would lead him back to the bed, “You wait here, let me buy the chicken from the shop near the loo and come back quickly.” Smiling, he would lie down on the bed, content that his guests are being taken care of.

Gentleman dad

Dad is hilarious to the core, yet can be a handful sometimes. He hates anyone touching his stomach. Zip, the hand raises to strike. Mere mortals run, in fear of the aggressive eyes and raising temper. He has even hit the caretaker a couple of times, who is only wiser nowadays. “Sir, Babu is in a bad mood when woken up,” he would say, fearfully.

I asked dad, “Why are you so harsh and hitting him always?” “Oh Beta, when did I ever beat him. I treat him so gently as if he is an ant. Isn’t he the gentleman who feeds and bathes me? How will I do such an atrocity.”

The caretaker, who can’t comprehend the inherent Oscar talent at play here, shakes his head mournfully. He then goes into the kitchen to infuse our famous Hydrabadi Pona milky tea. I nod in tandem to dad’s musings, thinking about all the strong whacks I had suffered during my school days, mostly for all the mischief I would commit.  

Once I had placed red ants in his neatly pressed trousers, as he would always order us to press those ever-tired legs. My kid brother got it in style that day. But when the truth surfaced, it was my turn to face all the tsunami.

The saviour in a white coat

On a recent trip to Max cure hospital, Dad was watching the traffic keenly. He started counting the trees passing by. So joyous. “Are we going to Bidar to see my dad Mr Bidar kota Venkanna? Hope you are not leaving me behind to finish off my pending Urdu home work! Dad is so strict, he beats me always, but he is a great hunter.”

When he suddenly realised that his father had died long ago, he raised a big din wanting to go back home to sleep. All our persuasive tactics were failing, but we somehow managed to pull on with our special food offers, till we reached the hospital porch.

I told him that he is home now and can go to his own bedroom. Happily, he got down. But by the time we reached the doctor’s room, he started complaining that the food was not served and he was so hungry.

“Daddy, see this gentleman with the white coat is a good chef, he is preparing your favourite Hyderabadi biryani. Meanwhile just lie down on that bed to rest for a while after your long drive. We will draw the green curtain for your privacy,” I calmly told him.

Satisfied he closed his eyes with a smile just like a little boy trying to play hide n seek. “The chef will bring his plate any time now … yippee!” were his happy thoughts!

Venu Rao

1st Feb 21.

 

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