Baba, the more he changed, the more he has remained the same.

Posted on: June 3, 2015

I thought of writing this blog several times earlier. Every time, I collected my thoughts, I made an excuse not to pen them down. Strangely though, this perpetual desire to delay, perhaps, came from my unjustified fear that I might have to go through the pain once again.

But today, I forced myself to write it. I felt an internal push to flush out all fears and apprehensions that I have developed in the past two years. It is certainly cathartic.

In fact, a piece written by one of my ex-colleagues on her ailing mother, in a way, inspired me to start writing it. In that blog, she mentioned, how her mother cannot recognise anyone after she met with an accident some months back. After reading it, I was reassured that life is all about sudden changes and we should gracefully accept them. And we are not the only ones dealing with it.

The other thing that inspired me to write this blog is the film, Piku, which, I thought, is based on a father-daughter relationship (For me, it was not just about constipation of an aging man but something more). I watched it with Baba and both of us could relate to the main characters – Bhashkor and Piku.

Both of us enjoyed the nuances of the relationship. I could see Baba smiling and laughing, every now and then. Sometimes, he cross-checked the names of the actors with me. He looked very involved in it.

These days, very few things amuse Baba. So when we see him smiling, we feel relieved that he is happy. We keep a constant watch on his expressions because he doesn’t articulate his feelings as immaculately as before.

Yes, all four of us – my father, mother, sister and I- live a life, which is clearly demarcated into two phases – before and after. The event which divided our lives into two separate phases is my father’s cerebral stroke on April 3, 2013. The stroke paralysed his right side. It robbed him of his speech too.

But after rigorous sessions of physiotherapy and speech therapy, he is now able to walk with the help of a stick and he has regained his speech, to a certain extent. But his comprehension skills have been badly affected which delays his speech. Sometimes, he fumbles. He takes a little longer than usual to gather his thoughts before he can speak.

But this has been a long, very long journey for him. When he came home after spending 17 days in the hospital, he was no less than a little baby, who had to learn everything afresh. He was nose fed for a week before he could start eating through his mouth. After many months, he learnt to eat on his own, using his left hand. He learnt to pronounce words and speak in sentences. Initially, it was very difficult to understand what he wanted to say. We repeatedly failed at our job but he never gave up. Now, we don’t make guesses anymore. He is coherent and clear in his speech. He also learnt to write with his left hand but surprisingly, his handwriting remains as artistic as before.

These days, his job is to write short sentences and essays to let his thoughts flow. As part of his therapy, he makes small additions and subtractions too. I am proud to see his diligence and sincerity in doing his homework. His honesty and hard work remain the same as it used to be before, when he ran a fire bricks factory as a works manager on the outskirts of the mining town, Dhanbad in Jharkhand for more than three decades.

In these two years, there have been many ups and downs. Some days, he would walk well but then, there would be phases, when his pace would slow down. He would sink into bouts of depression, when he would refuse to speak and would gradually forget basic words of communication.

Every time, the pace of progress is lost; there has been a whole new process of starting things afresh. But if we cajole him to keep trying, he makes an effort to overcome these hurdles. He, truly, has the spirit of a fighter.

For the past two years, many have questioned his abilities to cope with physical deformities. It is difficult to convince people that he is doing enough to live a normal life but it’s not easy for a stroke patient to recover fully. Only a few understand that his journey from the hospital ventilator two years back, where he was lying like a vegetable, to a casual evening in a nearby theatre today, has not been easy. He is not suffering but he is struggling. He is struggling to live a “normal” life.

On many occasions, I have asked myself, why does my father have to go through all this? Why a stroke? Is stroke worse than cancer? I must confess that there have  also been occasions, when I have secretly envied acquaintances whose parents are hale and hearty and can move around alone.

That’s when I also remembered what my father always said, ‘you are better off than many, in many ways.’ After reading my ex-colleague’s piece on her mother, I am clearly convinced that we are better off than many.

People who know my father well remember him for his sense of humour, which is laced with sarcasm. He is a man with immense knowledge about practicalities of life. He is an intelligent man who has made the most of his resources.

As his child, I have always been in awe of  his spontaneous thinking. Whether it is making protective gear with unused welder’s glasses for us to watch the solar eclipse or covering the damp walls of my room with Rajasthani paintings in Delhi’s Outram Lines, he always thought on his feet. Even now, when his brain functions only partially, he has surprised us by thinking on his feet, more than often.
Whenever I try to remember our lives before Baba’s stroke, I feel, as if, I am talking about some past life. It feels a little distant because a lot has changed in these two years.

But it’s my mother, whose life has certainly changed in a big way in this period of two years. A homemaker, who preferred to spend most of her afternoons reading Bengali novels and watching television, she was oblivious to the world’s various games. But now, she has stepped up in a much bigger way than we could imagine. Someone who needed guidance in her bank proceedings or to book a taxi is now handling everything all by herself. She always looked up to Baba for every big or small advice but now she has only her own judgement and wits to rely upon. Not like Baba can’t help her decide but these days, Baba chooses to be nonchalant about worldly matters. Sometimes, it is difficult to cope with his insouciance.

Earlier, Baba used to call the shots on every occasion but now his interest lies only in deciding what time he will go for a walk or what snack he would like to munch in the evening. (He insists that he should be fed  “phuchka” every day but his demand is difficult to meet with).

But as a daughter, I celebrate my association with him for a lot of things. I love the way he has lived his life on his own terms and conditions. He has never toed the line. He has never taken the easier road. He has always taken a stand. Perhaps, it is his rebellious nature that pushed him to participate in the uprising in Bengal in the 70s.(Many young men in Bengal in the 70s were part of the movement).

Since childhood, I have heard many stories from my grandmother and Aunts about how he had to be away from home, for months. Once, he came to our north Calcutta house to see my grandmother. The cops got to know about his whereabouts and chased him. He would have been shot dead if a neighbour hadn’t helped him jump off the boundary wall of the colony and flee.

Every time, I have heard these stories, I basked in the glory of my father’s “not so glorious” past. I developed a sense of pride to be the daughter of this rebel. I have shared these stories with people I trust.

Baba is well versed with Mao Tse Tung’s The Little Red Book and Lenin’s ‘What is to be Done?. Baba deeply believes that it is important to challenge the establishment. He has always been a great supporter of the masses. An avid follower of the Leftist ideology, he strongly believes that there will be a resurgence of the Left.

It is some of these ideologies that make him different from others. But let me also confess, as a child, I felt deprived because he didn’t behave like any other father. For example, when our school bus would break down, he would come to school, on his motorbike, to check why his kids haven’t reached home yet but would not take them along with him. Instead, he would go to the BCCL (Bharat Coking Coal Limited) office and ask them to send another vehicle to fetch all kids from school. (Just a backgrounder, most school children in Dhanbad used to commute in buses provided by the BCCL).

That was in the late 80s. In the early 90s, when he graduated into a four wheeler, in similar occasions, he would invite other kids of the neighbourood to come with us in the vehicle to ensure they don’t feel deprived.

When we used to visit Calcutta during vacations, I remember, my father used to buy clothes for all our paternal cousins. For him, every child (we are seven of us in the joint family) held equal space in his heart as his daughters, sometimes even more. He always felt indebted to his brothers who took care of him after his father passed away. He was only 11 then.

All his life, he accumulated memories. But these days, he tends to lose them, bit by bit.

My father is the salt of the earth. Just like before, he will be the first person to offer help to anyone. Since his mobility is restricted these days, he expects us to execute duties which he would have done earlier.

In these two years, I have seen an ebullient man slowly turning silent. I have seen a workaholic, forced to be confined to home. But I am happy that certain things that make him special such as his temper (I inherited it from him), his straightforwardness and his ever-forgiving heart (which my sister has inherited) remain with him.

He loves people unconditionally just as before. Till today, he is a big fan of women who make it big. He continues to be a liberal thinker. He would always encourage his daughters to fight for their rights. He would want young women to make a career before focusing on marriage. He would advice us to work for our own satisfaction and not for money. (He followed this principle all his life.) He is the same man who would prefer to wear a shirt worth Rs 50 if that fits him well. He still abhors branded clothes.

He continues to remain someone who we can fall back upon. But yes, sometimes, he responds, sometimes, he doesn’t.

But even now, he continues to be my confession box. When I complain to him about a frustrating day at work, he says, “Take it easy.” When I confide in him that I have been drinking a little too often, he says, “Be careful. Don’t make it a habit.” When I tell him, I am dating someone, he curiously asks, “Are things  serious?”

I realise, the more he changed, the more he has remained the same.

There is something else that remains unchanged. It is his love for music. He starts his day, listening to his favourite singers – Begum Akhtar. Manna De. Shyamal Mitra and Geeta Dutt. Even today, he flawlessly sings his favourite Shyamal Mitra number, ‘Na na na jaabo na, mono jete naahi chaaye.Ei shundor prithibi chhere..mono jete naahi chaaye.” (No, I won’t leave now. I don’t want to leave this wonderful world, now )


8 Responses to "Baba, the more he changed, the more he has remained the same."

heartening piece which takes me to a place where i often prefer not to tread – last few days of my parents. unfortunately i lost them before they could muster confidence and courage to fight back. Piku is a movie which deals with constipation just on the outside. this is easily replaceable with lot more things that come with advanced age.

I feel a lump in my throat. I really appreciate your courage for writing this piece. Baba is an inspiration. Thank you Shonai for this.

Thanks Souzeina for your kind words! It took me a long time to gather some strength to write it. Baba is an inspiration, for sure.

What a genuine and genious effort…. the mind, the heart and the eyes were all in sync…. i disagree when people say words lack limbs.

Thanks, Deb for being there, always

What a beautiful piece Sonia. Such bittersweet memories!

That is a lovely one Sonia.. and I can relate to so many things that you mention …

Memories truly have a special place in the treasure trove called life. And your memories shine like jewels in this piece.

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