The first man I ever loved, and how I miss him.

Before I even start writing this post, I have to thank two people for making me finally talk about this publically after all of twenty years. The first person is Sukanya Verma, a friend I have yet to meet in real life, and Annie Tomlin, who does not even know me but I have been reading her blog – off and on –for the past five years or so. Yesterday, while talking to Suku about life and other things, I found myself telling her about my dad and how much it ached to not know about him. Today, I visited Annie’s blog after many months and read her simple but touching post about her father, whom she lost recently. Both these events combined to make me think why have I never shared what is so precious, so important, and so worthy. So today for the first time in my life, I am going to talk about my dad and tell you how I really feel.

My memory of my father is beautiful. He was my tall, dark, and handsome man. Being a single child, I have always been super close to both my parents. But dad was also scary to the little me. Mathematics and dad have always been two words that if used in a single sentence would result in me crying buckets. I would tremble if he lost his temper, but I would also run into his arms every evening when he returned from work.

Dad was an army man, and not always around on my special days. I specially remember my ninth birthday, when I was waiting for his training to be over on my birthday but he came a day later with the exact dress for my Barbie that I had wanted. This is much bigger than what you think considering we lived in a remote cantonment in east of India, hundreds of kilometers away from markets that sold Barbie dolls and their fancy clothes.

In late 1988, soon after my tenth birthday, he left for Jaffna as a part of Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF). At ten, I was too little and completely uninformed (ensured so by my parents) about the seriousness of this posting. I was used to dad not being around for months, and I got his letters on the blue inlands every week. I lived in this blissful ignorance for four months, and then the news came.

Mrs. S, our very friendly neighbor, asked me to sleep over with her girls that night. Mum was on the phone, talking to uncle and granny. I was not sure what exactly was wrong, but something was massively wrong. Next morning, I woke up and padded down to my house, where I found my uncles and my granny, who had traveled from Delhi overnight. There were other people in the house too, I do not remember who they were. Mrs. S took me to meet mum, who hugged me and cried. Mum’s eyes were red and I did not want to look at her. The days that followed are like a blur film in my head.

Someone asked me if I knew what was happening and I said, “Yes, of course. Do you think I am so dumb?” I knew that the army said my dad was dead. They said he died bravely while fighting the LTTE. But I did not want to talk about it to anyone.

There was a visit to the army doctor who gave ten strips of Librium and Calmpose without a question when Mrs. S told him stuff I did not want to hear. Mum either cried or slept. I do not remember how many days these went on for and then things changed out of the blue.

My uncle talked to the orderly who came to hand over my dad’s luggage. My mum talked. Then, they all talked to each other, to other army officers posted in Jaffna. They talked to everyone but me. I did not mind it. Mum cried lesser now, she also did not eat Librium every night.

We came to Delhi with my granny. I left my school midsession; no one seemed to care much about it. There priority was to get my dad back!

After those numerous calls, my mum and my uncles (referred as folks from this point onwards) realized that things were fishy. As per the law, if an officer dies on the battlefield and the army has to cremate him there, they must get his personal belongings like ID card, watch, rings or any such thing on his person, and give it back to the family. This never happened. The army said that his briefcase, which had these items, got lost at the airport. The officers who were posted there but wanted to stay off record came to our house and told my folks that five people, four jawans and my dad (their commanding officer) were never found. There was no cremation. The rumors in the unit were that those people were taken prisoner of war (POW) by the LTTE and the Indian army wanted to keep it a secret because it was shameful that they let a colonel be taken POW. There was also a probable conspiracy within the command, where the brigade commander refused to send the backup ammo when dad called for it, due to some personal tiff that had. There were pictures in the magazine Frontline that my folks and I spent months observing under magnifying glass because we were so sure that besides the ammo that LTTE was displaying, they also had picture of the POW in the shadows.

My folks met the Red Cross.

My mother met Rajiv Gandhi, our Prime Minister then.

My mum fought with the unit and the officers. She refused to take what they called his pension. She refused to accept the Maha Vir Chakra (MVC), which the army requested her to accept. If refused, the refusal goes straight to the President of India and the army promised, they’d help in sorting things out, investigating more. Mum accepted the medal, but not the family support perks, like petrol pump or gas agency that comes with it.

Folks filed a case against the Indian army in the High Court, which dragged for four years. At the end of five years, somewhere in 1994, they gave up the fight and turned to God.

It has been twenty years since. More than half of the people who believed in us have passed on with old age. My uncle, my mum, and I, however, are still in the quandary. We may not pray every day for his return any more, but if he turns up all old and grey at the gate tomorrow, none of us three would be surprised, only relieved.

If he does not turn up tomorrow or ever, we will just live on. But we will never know. “Closure” is a just word out of books.

I could not talk about this until I finished college. I told everyone that my dad was posted out of station. School kids believed me. College friends did not. They assumed things. They assumed shameful things, maybe an estranged family, cheating husband, alcoholic. I am not sure. I never asked anyone. It was in 1999, eleven years later, that I told the truth two friends who mattered the most then. After that I could bring myself to talk about it, but I have only told the story to a handful of people.

When I was in school, I would come home every day hoping to find my dad sprawled across the couch in the drawing room. I dreamt of hundreds of different situations in which he might end up coming home. On pessimistic days, I would dream that he’d come home supporting himself on a crutch, and it still seemed okay.

Today, I miss my dad in strange ways. I miss him when my father-in-law does something exceptionally sweet for me. I miss my dad when I scroll though my phonebook list and see the words “papa” but the one who answers the call is someone else, however wonderful he may be.

To think that I only spent ten years with him, and twenty without, breaks my heart. Even today.

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11 Responses to “The first man I ever loved, and how I miss him.”

  1. I read the post and knew I had to leave a comment though I don’t know what to say. So, *hugs*

  2. You’re so brave, Anu. So brave. It’s so difficult to hold on without hope and you’ve kept it all within without letting anyone having the remotest idea. I’ve never know anyone so young to be this dignified about their suffering.

    I cried as I read your words because, under different circumstances, I have felt the same pinch. Not a day goes by when I don’t think about my father. I’d do anything to know his voice.

    Warm hugs.

  3. Hey Anu,

    As Suku said, you are brave indeed. Your post filled my heart and made me want to reach my hand out to yours and give it a tight squeeze.

  4. Swati Sani Says:

    Dear Anu,

    Words fail me, but I still wish to write something. I want to reach out to you and hug you.

    You are courageous, and, you are a daughter your father, wherever he is, would be proud of.

    Hugs.

    Swati

  5. Damn it! I always knew life was unfair after my mother died in my arms when I was 15 but Damn it again!! there has to be a limit to the unfairness of it all. If I could have I would have sued God for your dad’s recovery.

    I am crying as I write this BUT damn it what is the point, even saying I know the hurt of what is to grow up without a parent seems so inane

    Lots of hugs for now – if we meet some day I will cry with you once again… can’t seem to find words for anything more.

  6. 2BigChefs Says:

    Bakshi, my Sunshine Gurl, when I think of you, your dad, and everything about it, I picture a little you and your daddy with long legs — that one photo that I have seen of him. Never told you this, but I saved it on my desktop the day I saw it. Well I have saved very many pics of yours on random days in random moods with happy people, sad people, happy-sad people.

    I will not forget that one evening when you called me up on my cell phone and said — ok, I have to tell you something important and since you are close to me now, I think I should talk to you about it. — And you told me about your dad. I did not know how to react to the whole story, so I asked very matter-of-factly questions.

    And now, after reading this post, I still do not know how to react. So, I ramble.

    When I stayed over at your place two years ago for a very joyous occasion, I did not tell you this, but I prayed for your uncle. Everytime I saw him pass the hall or run an errand, I blessed him in my heart. I do not know his story, but I know that your Uncle tried to be a part of your story.

    I don’t know if people come back or not. I don’t know what to think of people who moved on/passed away/went away. But I know the yearning, the longing, the love. And when it is your dad, I know it all the more.

    Will stop for now. Maybe more later some day.
    I Love You.

  7. Oh God. I used to think that the pain of losing a worshipped father when i was in college, was bad, but this is terrible. not to have the closure. not to grieve and be stuck in this weird sort of limbo. I hope, i do hope he does come back someday.

  8. I read this twice, thrice. I still dunno what to say, not that anything will make a difference. Hugs to you and your Mum.

  9. sunshin3girl Says:

    Thanks everyone for your thoughts. Frankly, I have no idea how to respond to your comments. I definitely was not looking for sympathy, but just wanted to talk about this to one and all. I have only shared this with people I am extremely close to, but now, I have to talked to all. It will help in some way, I think. Thanks again.

  10. i really feel i should say something, but am not sure what to. you are brave and i really look up to you. hugs!

  11. Dear sunshine girl,
    This page was sent to me by my husbnad, who, I am sure, must have found something touching and common between our lives.
    My father was in the Indian Army. After retiring for 10 years after serving the army and living for his family, he passed away suddenly 5 years back, a day after christmas. I must say this with shame and a confessional tone that the last words he heard from me was ‘I hate you’ following a small fight we had. I was filled with remorse and guilt that those words the ‘best’ thing I could do for him before he left the world. It was almost as if I killed him.
    I learnt that no matter how much you hate a person, you should never tell that you hate them. It might be the only words that they go down with, and you might not have even meant it.
    After his death, I fumbled for mental peace when I met my husband and for the first time spat out my feelings to him.
    Though now, I know that papa has forgiven me, what probably pinches me most is that how less I had spent knowing about him. I was 23 when he died. He was a man of great knowledge and wisdom, the strength and health of an 18 year old and funny in all terms with a great imagination.
    I still miss him terribly, more for the things I never knew about him. I salute my mother and younger brother who lived through this sudden tragedy.
    Dear sunshine girl, I appreciate greatly your love for your father. I am sure for the years you spent without him, waiting for him, you have learnt much to make yourself a better human…who knows the value of life, the value of loving, the value of knowing your parents.
    wishing you love and happiness always…

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