After I had signed papers to put you back on the ventilator, the doctors did not let anyone in. That morning, lying amid machines and tubes that criss-crossed your body, you said, “Get me a mirror.”
You died that evening on the fifth floor of the hospital run by the hugging saint’s trust. It was March 2, 2008.
I know I am late, because I want to set this record straight. You were angry that moment when you asked for the mirror, and several nights over the past two years, you had woken me up just to argue with me throughout the night. Because of you, I have been late to office several times, until a Buddhist monk friend in Bhutan told me to tell you the next time you visit, “Don’t argue.”
But even if you had asked me with that voice – the deep missionary baritone of yours that had proclaimed Jesus is coming soon – I would not have been perturbed like the many you had baptized. How could you die in peace, if you knew the rich dark beard that laughed at the simple follies of my mother, was shaven off by nurses to paste and stitch many wires that ran to money making machines.
I have always seen my father with a beard. I didn’t want to shatter that thought in you, “My son has never seen me without my majestic beard.”
You haven’t told me, you have been too proud to admit that. But your wife, and daughter –my mother and sister – had told me you never wanted to look weak before your son.
Do you remember the last football game you played? That was before I was born. You were the star on the field. But a careless dribble buckled you down. You limped all your life from that day, except for the last eight days in bed. As a child, I remember your futile attempts to attach a thicker sole to the right shoe so that your limp was not very visible.
You were hurt, but didn’t tell me anything, when the neighbor asked me to imitate how you walked. I walked on just one slipper and demonstrated to an applauding audience. Mummy was waiting at the courtyard of our small mud-tiled house with a guava stick. You didn’t scold me because; you didn’t want to know you were hurt.
Another information: Maruti 800, India’s largest selling car, is stopping production. When you knew we didn’t have enough money to buy the favorite car of yours which you hired for my sister’s wedding, you were willing to be satisfied with a Maruti 800, the cheapest car in India. More than anything, this is my biggest regret. We never had the money to buy it. And they call it the people’s car.
A few of your pastor friends, whose children could fly to America or England and earn better money, had pitied your inability to buy a car. One of them didn’t stop when you asked for a lift. Another, after his weekly sermon, asked me how much I was earning a month. I was a rookie reporter then.
“Rs 2,500 (around US$ 60 a decade back),” I said. The pastor then detailed how much his daughter, a class mate of mine, was earning then abroad. By the way, he had a car then.
The Seventh-Day Adventist church in my part of India had been talking about the American Dream for almost a century. If you get a visa to the United States, you are blessed by God, that was the general message.
It was in the heat of this, that, as a 16-year-old, you accompanied me to enroll me in college. I had enough marks to join a Science and Mathematics course which would have made me a doctor or engineer and gained me a passport to the American blessings.
“You son wants to join humanities. Tell him he will do good in Science,” the college principal told my father. Hundreds of students were waiting outside for a Science seat.
But I was sure I will do bad in Science. Though I had marks, I was afraid of the subject.
“I leave it up to him,” you told the principal. That day I joined millions of students who had taken dry arts. You were hurt that I didn’t satisfy the American dream. But you respected my decision.
When I started reading literature that you thought was anti-Bible, you didn’t ask me to stop it. But we argued long into nights whether the world was made in six days.
One politically volatile afternoon, I stormed with hundreds of other students carrying flags, shouting slogans as armed police readied to pounce any moment. You didn’t stop me. You followed the agitated procession, managing yourself with difficulty on the tiny scooter. That night, we had an argument on the rights and wrongs of life. You didn’t chastise me for not subscribing to your political beliefs. We just argued fiercely, as a worried mom looked on.
I have heard you shouting at mom for allowing too much ‘free thought’ at home.
I know you would not agree to this. But it was she, a simple school cashier, who bought me all those Russian classics on an installment basis and wanted her son to become a man of letters.
However, let me tell you this now, two years after I escorted your still body to the mortuary in our little town.
While mom bought me books that kept me home, you took me to out to the world. Clasping my tiny legs around your neck, I sat on your shoulders munching crackers, as you clapped to a speech by Rajiv Gandhi, who became the Indian prime minister after his mother’s assassination. As a small child I don’t remember arguing with you. But you were my hero. You had regular discussions to your five year old son about in-fighting in the Indian National Congress. You shook hands with political leaders, and I watched in awe. Inspired, I once led a procession around the house with a banana leaf as a flag; my three-year-old sister was the only follower, shouting my praises. Remember, the tiny arguments we had on who took the front page of the morning newspaper and dashed to the toilet first.
You believed in the boys don’t cry theory. You lived up to it. But I have seen you cry once. It was when, you walked with the coffin of my mother’s elder brother, who first told me, as a six-year old, that I can become a writer.
And then, the day before you left this world: were you crying? You couldn’t talk, as you were under heavy medication and on a ventilator. But as we held out arms, your heart beat rose, the machines said. Your eyes welled, the machines couldn’t say why.
Today, I participated in a meditation, almost an hour of silence.
I thought about you.
I know you would be angry if you knew I participated in a non-Christian meditation.
If you are angry, then come tonight. Let’s argue, I can be late to the office tomorrow.
See you soon,
PS: Born December 1, 1953, late Pastor Samuel Skariah Marutayathu, a senior minister of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church in India, was a trade union leader of the Indian National Congress before he took the spiritual path. He is survived by his son, daughter and wife.