There was a sudden flip in system, is all he knew. Something made him dizzy. After a few bouts of vomiting, he felt a need for rest. As he clutched the railing of the restaurant, the waiters and the owner came running towards him. His eyes started drooping and, the images blurred. He could almost feel his heart beat on his skin. What was it? A heart attack? But, he felt no pain. And then, he passed out………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
A flurry of images played in his eyes – from the time his son was born till the present moment and, everything in between. And yet, the moment he held his son for the first time was etched in his memory. That vivid moment refused to smudge even as other memories had started becoming livid.
The day, his son was born was after all, special. A purpose to live, had returned. A verve to thrive in a lifeless loveless relationship returned. A love of a father that he got but never returned, returned. Yes, those tiny fingers, tiny toes, tiny eyes, tiny cheeks and everything tiny about the new life filled him with exhilaration. He had made a promise to the child that day – Come what may, I will fulfil all your wishes.
That was the year 1987 when Anant was blessed with a baby boy whom he named Vignesh. And now, 27 years had passed by. 27 years of ennui. 27 years of yearning. 27 years of expectations that never saw the dawn!
The reality had finally seeped into Anant – Destiny has its designs. No one understands it.
22nd August ‘2106:
On the fateful morning of 22nd August, Anant had faced once again, the repercussions of a troubled marriage, but this time with a greater force! After having done his pujai and japam, he was confronted by his wife Neeraja on the same issue that had been culling the peace of his home for 5 long years.
Neeraja: “Why don’t you sell your Chennai flat? We need money and, you know it!”
Anant: “Really? You never liked my family despite zero interference from any of them. And when the property deal came through, I agreed because I felt we should not burden Vignesh with our monetary woes. The Chennai flat that we have got from the deal is an earning member for us. It will get us rent. How can you think of selling it? Besides, every brick of that property belonged to my father. I did not earn it. It is inherited. And, I have my sentiments attached with it. We will not speak about this. Please!”
Neeraja: But, we have to pay back the loan I took from my sister to finance Vignesh’s MBA.
Anant: Neeraja, Vignesh could have taken a study loan too. That would have forced him to stick to the job in hand. Ever since you have filled his ears with the property deal thing, he is not focusing on his work and, is busy job hopping with little inclination towards saving! Neeraja, I don’t want him to be aimless like me. I want him to take responsibility. I want him to know the importance of money. Selling a flat to get a lumpsome is the most insane thing I have heard! And besides, why would someone sell a property in such a good location?
Neeraja: Why should he take loan to understand the importance of money when people are ready to help him? Why must he suffer all that? Sell the house and transfer the property to Vignesh’s name.
Anant: Think clearly, Neeraja – if we sold the flat like you said – transferred the property to Vignesh’s name while we are still alive, what will we do? Where will we go? What if, tomorrow he doesn’t want us staying with him after he begins his own family. Love for son is good. But, we should not go helpless to help, even if it is our own son. We will be doing the greatest harm to our child if we don’t let him comprehend responsibility.
Neeraja: My son will keep me. About you, I am not sure! Vignesh was asking again when you are planning to sell that house!
Anant was breaking away into a million pieces of regret, pain and shame from within. The harsh words never stopped. When he heard his wife implying coldly that his presence did not matter over years and now, it did not matter to either her or Vignesh, he felt like a soul struggling to escape the reality. He gulped his sorrow and, stared blankly into the portrait of his parents. And, a million possibilities arose and died a silent death in that instant!
What if, he had studied hard and, got into a stable job? (He was the most intelligent of the four with a quick wit and a sharp mind!)
What if, he did not while away his time as a youngster and, took his responsibilities seriously? (He thought about all the times when he had ignored his father’s repeated advice on taking responsibilities in life and, had meandered aimlessly with his peers)
What if, he had not married Neeraja? (He had the choice. After all, it was an arranged marriage)
What if, he had defied Neeraja and, pursued a career in Mumbai where a good job was waiting for him a decade back? (Neeraja had thrown a tantrum saying – No, why should you work? The rent money is enough!)
What if, he had talked openly about his state of mind with his brother and sisters?
What if – the two words with endless possibilities…..
He finally said – “I am not selling the house. As for the loan, I will pay the amount to your sister from the rent I get from that home. But, Vignesh shouldn’t be leaving the job now. Any job will have challenges. He has to face them! He cannot become like me!”
With a finality in his tone, he left for his work as an accountant in a small hotel. On the way while cycling down to his work, Anant remembered the countless sacrifices and compromises that had sucked the life out of him. He was supposed to attend every function at Neeraja’s place but, she would not reciprocate the same towards his folks. She wanted monetary benefits from his ancestral property, but did not want anything to do with it. She wanted help from his folks when Vignesh wanted to pursue MBA but, she would not communicate directly with any of them. A fleeting thought had crossed Anant’s mind then – What if, I had followed my heart and walked out?” What if…..
Anant had never dreamed big in life. He had taken VRS while, Vignesh was still in primary school. It was Neeraja’s idea. Ever since Anant had married, he had felt a strange thing about his marriage. He was not allowed to think. He was only permitted to act on the terms dictated by his wife. Having been a Math Wiz who played chess like a pro and, whipped magic with a deck of playing cards, he felt misplaced. Slowly, the feeling transformed into acceptance. Things will improve some day. He had thought so.
And, Neeraja too never encouraged him to seek a better job. They were content with the mundane life they lived in Thalassery. Looking back, nothing ever seemed amiss to either of them. To an onlooker, they would have appeared to be a simple couple who maintained a simple home and, lived a simple life. And, Vignesh grew up with unconditional love from his father under the domineering presence of his mother. Yes, Anant had nightmares about his son turning out exactly like him with no aim, no voice and no verve. As a father, he wanted Vignesh to aim high. He wanted Vignesh to touch the sky. He wanted Vignesh to seek enjoyment in whatever he pursued. Sadly and predictably, destiny rolled the dice and, Vignesh grew up with the thought process of his mother, turning Anant’s worst fears into a sad reality.
Post engineering, Vignesh joined a leading IT company. It was a welcome news for the family. Anant’s bank balance was nil now. His savings had depleted after Vignesh completed his engineering. And now that Vignesh had a job, things had started to look up. For Anant, it was a ray of light that gave him hope – “Yes! Vignesh has stood on his feet. He will do good for himself!” He felt proud when Vignesh announced that he was being transferred to Chennai. He thanked God – “Finally my son is flying from his nest. He will grow out of this aimless lifeless place. He will ascend the ladder of success by facing challenges. He will be fine, now!”
Everything was going well until 2013 happened – the year when the property deal was finalized. Vignesh had completed a year at work. His probation period was coming to an end. And, he was looking into a bright future. It was around this time, Anant received a call from his brother in law – “Anant, the property deal has come through. It will be divided squarely into four portions, each for each sibling. I know how much you need money at the moment. This deal couldn’t have come at a better time!”
For Anant, this was his father’s property. Although he had no heart to sell it, he needed money to sustain. He had no job. He had crossed 55. And, now he did not want to burden Vignesh with his monetary woes. Having faced a severe financial crisis, this came as a breather at the time for Anant. Money cannot buy happiness, says who? That is how the Chennai flat was to ease their financial pains. Anant thought – “All my worries will end now.”
Little did he know, a big curve ball was waiting to strangle him in near future.
A phone call put a lot of things on spin that day. 22nd August’ 2016. This day will be remembered by many for different reasons though. It had come around in the afternoon. Neeraja had picked up the phone and, the voice on the other end sounded heavy and tensed,
“Mrs. Anant, I am calling from the restaurant. Your husband just collapsed all of a sudden. We are taking him to Maithri hospital near by.” Neeraja stood there with an expressionless face as, Vignesh came out of his bedroom. He looked at his mother’s frozen eyes and instantly understood.
Meanwhile, at the hospital the doctors were trying their best to revive Anant. His ECG was normal. His BP was normal. And then, the doctor had suggested the MRI scan. Anant on the other hand was drifting between unknown worlds. He suddenly felt calm and composed. It was as if he was ascending somewhere but, he did not know where. He saw some familiar faces. For a moment, he thought he knew them, but memories were fading away very fast. He looked around to see if Neeraja and Vignesh were there. No, they weren’t.
His eyes started spewing water. The MRI scan showed a massive brain hemorrhage in progress. The blood was spilling out of his veins at an accelerated rate. The middle aged doctor took one look and knew the two possible outcomes of which one was the less painful to both his patient and the family. He wished him peace.
“Vignesh, right? Ok. See, your father has suffered from a massive brain hemorrhage. Usually, it is triggered by unchecked blood pressure, which he may have ignored. Now, I will come to the point. His survival chances are bleak. Even if survives, recovery will be a long bumpy road. And, at the moment, we cannot undertake a surgery as the hemorrhage is massive. If he doesn’t respond to the drugs at this stage, we will take the final call for surgery tomorrow.”
Vignesh sat in stone silence. The doctor could not make out what the boy felt at that moment. After all, he could only give him a hope that was not a hundred percent sure whether it would work its way out!
All his life, Vignesh had grown in a shielded environment that was guarded by Anant and Neeraja. He remembered some of the best moments he had spent with his father around. However, what he remembered in particular were the last few days with him, that were filled with fights, arguments and stand offs over selling away the Chennai flat.
On the other side of the glass, Anant was locked in a maze of coils and wires with beeps resonating intermittently. He opened his eyes for a brief time, a few hours before the final call. He reminisced every joyous moment he had lived with his family. Although he knew he was not a valued human as a husband or as a father, he still embraced the memories of having lived a family life with warmth and grace. He did not care about what would become of his home. No, not anymore. And suddenly, he felt relieved of worldly burdens. He looked up and saw his amma and appa with outstretched arms. He heard a voice – “Come with us, son! You have suffered enough. It is time.”
Oh yes, It was time to say good bye.
23rd August ‘2016
At 11:00 AM, Anant had passed on peacefully. Neeraja looked empty but was not grieving. She was perhaps thankful to God for not letting her husband live like a vegetable for the rest of his life. Vignesh had handled his father’s demise with elan, so it appeared to all. Relations were informed. Cremation was arranged. News of Anant’s demise spread like wild fire. Until then, Neeraja and Vignesh were not aware of how a small town was going to pay homage to the one man it adored!
Anant may have been an insignificant human in his home. But he had a different image outside. He was seen as a benevolent human who believed in giving a helping hand to people. The many students he had tutored for free, the many unknown faces he had helped in their time of need and, his employer who had seen and cherished the honesty of a departed man, shed tears that welled from the hearts.
The shock pinched people as they came in droves to come in terms with a biting reality –
The warm eyed smiling Anant will never be seen again cycling down the road to work.
The warm eyed smiling Anant will never again be taking Math tuitions for free.
The warm eyed smiling Anant will never be a part of temple proceedings any more.
The warm eyed smiling Anant will never be able to share his spiritual richness with the people who adored him.
Because, the warm eyed smiling Anant had left abruptly and, for ever!
10 days had passed since Anant’s demise. His portrait hung in the living room with a garland of fresh flowers. Anant’s smiling face crowded the air for some reason. Neeraja had learned to live without talking with her husband for some years now. Yet, she was not sure if she was capable of dealing with the physical absence of a man she had taken for, as a life partner. As she peered deeply into the once warm eyes of her late husband, Vignesh stepped out of his room. He was perhaps getting ready to go somewhere. For a brief moment, he looked at the portrait of his father. And then, he announced – “Time to sell that damn flat!”
P.S: The above is a piece of fiction. However, such incidents do happen around the country. We hear a lot about all kinds of misfortunes and tragedies. And some snippets find voice in the form of stories and fiction. So, let’s say this this fiction is inspired from the adage – TRUTH IS STRANGER THAN FICTION.